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The Modest Wonders Of Hackney Wick

April 10, 2016
by the gentle author

As you descend from the Greenway into Dace Rd, leaving Victoria Park behind you and with the Olympic Park looming up ahead, you are aware of entering another territory altogether. In this atmospheric corner of Hackney Wick, a few narrow streets lined with dignified Victorian and early-twentieth century brick structures survive to tell the story of East End industry, revealing a hidden heritage of rubber clothing, fancy chocolate, dry-cleaning, spectacles and more.

Although these buildings are protected within the Fish Island & White Post Lane Conservation Area, the Swan Wharf Stable Block is currently under threat from developers, challenging the nature of the entire Conservation Area. So I took this opportune moment to make a photographic survey of some of the modest wonders of Hackney Wick, and historian Tom Ridge kindly agreed to supply background architectural and industrial information.

Main entrance to the courtyard in eastern part of Bernard Birnbaum’s Wick Lane Rubber Works built 1886-89 on Smeed Rd with adjacent four-storey waterproof clothing factory which is the now Bridget Riley Studios. This building is London’s and possibly England’s only surviving nineteenth century rubber works.

Smeed Rd

Dace Rd

Bernie Birnbaum’s rubber works started off in Spitalfields and, at first, he was getting his rubber solution from other countries to spread onto the fabric. But here, in this huge factory in Hackney Wick, raw rubber could have come by canal to Old Ford Lock and then been hand-carted to the back of works where they processed it, turning balls of raw rubber into a solution to spread on fabric.

Former of Percy Dalton Peanuts, Dace Rd – another company that began in Spitalfields. The building beside the gate was 1898-99 gatehouse for Britannia Works which extends westwards in matching cottage style 1902, 1907 and 1910. Four storey building on right built 1882 as a waterproof clothing factory as part of Bernard Birnbaum’s Wick Lane Rubber Works.

Britannia Works, Dace Rd, seen from the west with surviving eastern part built 1898-99 for the Britannia Folding Box Company Limited (formerly of Leonard St, Finsbury). The company were also printers and lithographers, and moved to Hackney Wick when they needed space for steam-powered print works.

Algha Works at corner of Smeed Rd and Stour Rd, built 1908 as a printing works for Waterlow & Sons Ltd of Shoreditch, taken over in 1932 by Max Wiseman & Co as a spectacle factory, where gold-rimmed glasses were manufactured for the National Heath Service, including those worn by John Lennon and Mahatma Ghandi.

Swan Wharf multi-storey stable block, 60 Dace Rd, was built 1906-12 by and for cartage contractors trading as Henry Crane, while the loading doorways were probably inserted around 1929 for twine manufacturers.

Swan Wharf

Crown Wharf was formerly engineering workshops and a forge built in 1904 for Safety Tread Syndicate Ltd

Bream St

Bream St

Surviving western part of Broadwood’s Piano Works built 1902 with tapering square stock stock-brick chimney shaft with blue-brick ornamental cap. This end of the works included a saw mill for imported timber brought by barge to the company’s timber yard on the nearby Hackney Cut.

1899-1900 circular red-brick chimney shaft with blue-brick cornice on Roach Rd, built by J Chessum & Sons for their builder’s yard on west bank of the Hackney Cut. Subsequently occupied by the timber yard and cabinet works of Abraham Younger. The shaft bore the name Younger until 2000.

Clarnico’s 1913-14 six storey chocolate factory, now Mother Studios and The White Building from the east side of White Post Lane bridge. The steel plate girder bridge over the Hackney Cut was built 1899-1901 but the original stone capped piers were replaced in 2013. The two storey white building was built by Clarnico circa 1897 for the roasting and processing of imported cocoa beans, brought from the docks by barge.

Clarnico’s from the west with White Post Lane rising up to cross the bridge over the Hackney Cut. It has yellow stock brick walls with a blue brick base and curtailed blue-brick piers. The south-west corner was rebuilt following damage in World War II as was the roof of the cocoa factory but all the other Clarnico buildings in Queen’s Yard were damaged beyond repair.

Former Achille Serre Ltd dyeing & dry-cleaning works, 92 White Post Lane. This photograph shows the back part of the 1904-05 building on White Post Lane seen from the south. Both buildings here have transverse pitched roofs between parapetted gables, but the southern buildings’ roofs also have lanterns for extra daylight on the top floor ‘spotting room,’ where dry-cleaned and pressed clothes were inspected before being sent back to the shops for collection by customers.

Doorway at Achille Serre, White Post Lane

Everett House, 43 White Post Lane built in 1911 as offices for Achille Serre with transverse pitched roofs between parapetted gables. This western part of Queen’s Yard was the first of Achille Serre’s three works and was established in the mid-eighteen seventies as the first dry-cleaning works in England.

Achille Serre, Britain’s first dry-cleaning works

Central Books, 99 Wallace Rd. Clarnico’s printing works and cardboard box factory built around 1900. Chocolate boxes were probably made here for the Clarnico chocolates manufactured in Queen’s Yard.

The former Lord Napier public house built circa 1865 on the corner of White Post Lane and Hepscott Rd – is to be restored and reused under the London Legacy Development Corporation’s Hackney Wick Central Area Masterplan.

Portrait of Tom Ridge by Lucinda Douglas Menzies


The Fish Island & White Post Lane Conservation Area was designated in 2014 by the London Legacy Development Corporation, who also identified thirty-two non-designated heritage assets in the Conservation Area – mostly late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century industrial buildings which according to its Local Plan are to be “restored and reused.”

These are now the only large group of historic industrial buildings surviving in the Lower Lea Valley, which is the capital’s largest waterside industrial area, dating from when London was the both largest industrial city in the world and the greatest port.

Between 1880 and 1920, the best multi-storey industrial building were being built there, with brick load-bearing walls and internal metal frames of cast iron columns and steel beams or steel stanchions and steel beams. There are thirteen industrial buildings with such ‘transitional structures’ in the Conservation Area, which is probably the largest group of these buildings in London.

Should the London Legacy Development Corporation allow Constable Homes to simply retain the Swan Wharf stable block’s three-storey walls facing on Dace Rd and build a five-storey building on the site behind, a planning precedent will be established. In time, this precedent would almost certainly result in the loss of all the other historic industrial buildings in the Conservation Area, replaced by new buildings with just a few retained facades.

Please help me fight to save this unique industrial Conservation Area and ensure that the London Legacy Development Corporation and developers observe the relevant local and national policies.

Click here to sign the petition to Save Swan Wharf in Fish Island, Hackney Wick

You may like to read my profile of Tom Ridge

Tom Ridge, Historian & Campaigner

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    April 10, 2016

    Over the Easter weekend, I myself along with my partner did exactly this walk, we also took lots and lots of photos of all the same buildings. I have walked this area at least once or twice a week for over 50 years since I was a young boy and, although many of these historic buildings are still being used in some way, I can remember the days when this area was a hive of manufacturing employing literally tens of thousands of people. Now with the demolition of many existing buildings already underway as part of the grand ‘regeneration’ ? scheme, it is now set to become the location for tens of thousands of ‘luxury’ ? ? flats – ‘regeneration’ ? ? Stretching slightly further off this route is the new Olympic Park that is laid out across the area where Carpenters Rd and Waterden Rd used to be, areas that provided thousands upon thousands of jobs for local people now gone and replaced with thousands upon thousands upon thousands of blades of GRASS. Yes it all looks much cleaner now, indeed almost clinically clean in fact but ‘regeneration’ ? ? I suppose the only thing I have to admit is that I suppose it will at least provide a pleasant backdrop for the people who are going to inhabit the soon to be built ‘ticky tacky little boxes’ (or to give them their official status ‘luxury flats’) that will be built on what’s left of Fish Island so they can spend their days looking out of their little boxes across the sterile wasteland laid out before them while they ponder what to do with the rest of their lives. Still at least the authorities are ‘regenerating’ ? ? this area of one-time mass employment and making it look nicer, HOW MARVELLOUS.

  2. Doreen Fletcher permalink
    April 10, 2016

    So pleased to see Tom Ridge still going strong and fighting to preserve East End heritage. I first came across him on blustery hot August day in 1986. He was sifting through rubble near Limehouse Cut and in danger of serious sunburn! I and my partner fell into conversation with him and he was telling us all about his fight to create the Ragged School Museum, which he was successful with. A wonderful character and lovely person.

  3. April 10, 2016

    Signed the petition. I went to Hackney Wick once to listen to poetry under the A12 flyover, it was a magical experience. I love these atmospheric industrial neighbourhoods, they tell us something about our history and who we are, they give us something those bland commercial redevelopments never could. Good luck on the campaign.

  4. April 10, 2016

    Good luck to Tom Ridge, hope his petition will be successful. Valerie

  5. April 13, 2016

    For me Clarnico didn’t mean chocolate, but the best peppermint creams. White discs with a thick (pre-decimal) penny with a crisp sugar crust. First thing I looked for in my Christmas stocking! Thank you for highlighting the threat to these buildings

  6. April 14, 2016

    have signed.

    I wonder if you have come across the London Centre for Book Arts, set up by the lovely Simon Goode. Continuing the print tradition in Fish Island and keeping old presses maintained and put to good use…

  7. James permalink
    April 23, 2016

    @Capital Walker Old fashioned sweets are such a memory trigger. I too was plunged back into my childhood by the Clarnico name. There are more photographs of the Clarnico factory (and of their brass band and fire engine) here
    and here
    Sad that there are so few enterprises now with even a trace of the commitment to their local community that these paternalistic Victorian businesses had.

  8. Vanda Human permalink
    April 26, 2016

    Such beautiful old buildings that have been destroyed with graffitti. Why must people deface property that does not belong to them.

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