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Made In London

December 6, 2022
by the gentle author

Contrary to popular belief, London continues to be a city of manufacturing and a new book, MADE IN LONDON by Carmel King & Mark Brearley with additional text by Clare Dowdy, presents a wealth of inspiring examples, many of which have been running for generations – it is my delight to publish this East London selection today.

Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, Walthamstow

Blackhorse Lane Ateliers were established in 2015 by Han Ates, a second-generation Londoner with Turkish-Kurdish ancestry and a family that has deep roots in the textile industry. These days, the twenty-three staff produce more than ten thousand pairs of high quality denim jeans per year. Ates and BLA are part of a rapid revival of tailoring and garment production in London, with the city now hosting around three hundred workrooms and factories whose output is fast expanding.

Freed of London, Hackney

Freed of London is the only company in the world that hand makes pointe shoes for the mass market, available off the shelf. It also custom-makes shoes for individual dancers, and its first famous customer was the prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.  The main production site has been in Well Street in Hackney  since the seventies. There its eighty members of staff include twelve makers who are each able to produce around forty pairs a day. Next to the pointe shoe workshop is a bigger workshop where ballroom, Latin, tap, character and stage shoes are made.

Kashket & Partners, Tottenham

Beefeaters, colonels and royalty get their ceremonial and parade uniforms from a factory on a industrial site where the sixty staff produce more than five thousand bespoke items a year, from scarlet tunics and riding breeches to ladies’ regimental ball gowns. The fourth-generation business describes itself as Europe’s biggest bespoke tailoring factory that hand makes from scratch. There is some competition from Savile Row, ‘but we are bigger’ says Nathan Kasket. The Ministry of Defence requires the business to be no more than twenty miles from Wellington Barracks, in case of emergencies.

James Ince, Bethnal Green

Richard Ince’s family started making umbrellas in 1805. He’s the sixth generation, having taken on leadership in 1998. Today the nine strong business makes around seventeen thousand umbrellas a year in its Bethnal Green workshop. Around seventy per cent of production goes to central London retailers, though over the years they have adjusted to fashion and to supply different industries. Extra-big or specially designed umbrellas have been produced to suit welders on the railways or for hotel doormen, newspaper vendors or bookmakers. In a production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days a James Ince umbrella burst into flames on the London stage every night.

Barber Wilson & Co, Wood Green

When property developer Jeremy Bigland heard that the premises of Barber Wilson & Co. were for sale, he was initially interested in the site as a potential residential project. But when he visited London’s oldest tap factory he changed his mind, and in 2018 he and his business partner Andy Warren bought the business. Today Bigland is adamant that the business is not going anywhere. ‘for me, it was important to keep the heritage of the company, in London, alive’, he says. Twenty-five London staff roll forward this hundred-and-twenty-three-year-old business that is based in the factory they built in 1905.

Bellerby & Co, Stoke Newington

In Bellerby & Co Globemakers’ workshop, a team of twenty-five make around seven hundred globes per year. Each sphere is made in-house from resins, Perspex and plaster of Paris sometimes inlaid with hessian fibres, using a mould created by Formula 1 fabricators. The pieces of world map – known as gores – are carefully glued to the globe, then painters apply layers of watercolour to represent oceans, mountain ranges and vegetation. It can take as long as eight weeks to paint a large one. Many of the globes are bespoke, and more than half are exported.

BIZ Karts, Brimsdown

BIZ Karts, founded in 1994, are one of the leading go-kart producers. Almost all stages of production take place in their forty-five thousand sq ft factory, from the manufacture of chassis and components to the finishing touches on the karts. Each chassis is fully hand-welded and straightened before the chassis is painted and the kart’s components are added in the assembly section. Currently around twelve hundred are made each year by the forty-strong business, and they continue to grow. A sales office opened in Florida in 2017, and now roughly forty per cent of all karts are exported to the Americas.

Electro Signs, Walthamstow

Welshman Richard Bracey came to London, learnt the neon-sign trade and in 1952 set up his own business making neon advertising signs, including the enormous glitzy ones for Soho’s cabarets such as Raymond Revuebar. Matthew Bracey, grandson of the founder, runs the Walthamstow business today, with a team of sixteen they make hundreds of signs each year, using both neon and LED. The booming London film industry is a major source of work, and the factory’s creations can be spotted in Superman, Batman and James Bond films, as well as Mission Impossible, Lost in Space and many more.

Jochen Holz, Stratford

Jochen Holtz produces organically shaped lampworked glassware. He works alone in his studio in Stratford, surrounded by tools, bunsen burners, oxygen bottles, variously sized glass tubes in boxes, two kilns and a workbench. Before setting up on his own, Holtz spent three years training as a lampworker to make scientific laboratory equipment. He works with borosilicate glass, heating it using torches, giving texture and shape to some pieces by pressing the molten glass against surfaces such as perforated metal or burnt wood.

Cox London, Tottenham

In their building on the Millmead Industrial Estate, Cox London designs and makes highly sculptural pieces of lighting and furniture. Every piece is commissioned, and around ninety per cent of production is based on the line of products shown on the company’s website. Most commissions come from interior designers furnishing private homes. The business has its own foundry within the twenty-thousand sq ft factory, so they can cast bronze, and they have hefty forging machines. At the twelve noisy workstations, items are hammered, wrought, welded and assembled.

Aimer Products, Brimsdown

Glass blowers Aimer Products has its origins in the early 1900s, originally a business that pioneered X-ray tube production in a small workshop off Tottenham Court Rd. They have been in Brimsdown since the mid-1990s. The main focus had been petrochemical glassware – products used in the testing of crude oil and aviation fuels around the world – but in 2021 they branched out, adding a new business, Leverint, which designs and makes glass lighting. There are now plans to bring in a handful more people to the te-strong business, to work on Leverint as it enjoys significant success.

Kaymet, Peckham

This seventy-five-year-old business produces deluxe anodised aluminium trays and trolleys. Around twenty-five thousand trays per year emerge from their factory and are sent to forty countries. In the heyday of the business, sixty years ago, there were not far off two hundred people. In 2013, the business nearly faded away but since then turnover has tripled. The company bought a home for itself in Peckham, and today it employs a dozen who are racing to keep up with burgeoning demand.

Grant Macdonald, Borough

With eighteen staff, Grant Macdonald are one of the biggest silversmithing workshops in the Capital, producing bespoke objets, clocks, trophies and ceremonial swords. They are based in a glazed twenty-first-century building in Borough, where a team of craftspeople mix new technology and tradition. From a concept, a prototype is 3D-printed and shown to the customer. A model of the whole item, or of separate elements, is 3D-printed in wax, and then cast in sterling silver or gold. If there are separate elements, these are welded, soldered and bolted together to create the final piece, which is then polished, plated or lacquered.

William Say & Co, Bermondsey

In a side street near the Old Kent Rd, cans for Fortnum & Mason’s Turkish delight and Myland’s paint are rolling off the production line. William Say & Co’s factory stands on a vast site for Inner London. Inside, a high-speed Soudronic machine turns sheets of tin-plated steel into cylinders, which are then fitted with bases and a variety of lids. Fifty shop-floor staff make eight million items per year. The cans are filled with anything from cakes to paint, polish and aircraft fuel. William Say stamps the bases of its tins with messaging about being made in London using the site’s solar power, and being hundred per cent recyclable.

The Posticherie, Stoke Newington

Catriona Lim’s wig and hairpiece workshop, The Posticherie, is thriving because it provides for one of the many niche needs of London’s vibrant theatre and film economy. Established in 2013 the business is one of the newer ones amongst the city’s cluster. The Stoke Newington location is close enough to London’s theatreland, and many filmmakers, to make it easy to meet clients for fittings. The increasing number of high-definition films – which have higher resolution – has led to good looking hair becoming more important, and hence hairpiece requirements have become more exacting.

Gavin Coyle Studio, Walthamstow

Gaving Coyle runs one of London’s growing number of bespoke and small-batch furniture workshops. For several decades this type of making was in steep decline, but now it is on the up again and today there are at least two hundred and fifty businesses doing this kind of work in the city. Coyle’s is a small set up, just three people in a former car mechanics workshop in Walthamstow. They carry out about nine big fit-out projects a year, with smaller jobs filling in the gaps, and a sideline making items such as the Chirp bird sculpture that is sold through shops including Heal’s and Twentytwentyone.

Hitch Mylius, Ponders End

Hitch Mylius have been making simple, superbly designed and well crafted furniture since 1971. The founders, designers Tristram and Hazel Mylius, acted on frustration with the lack of modern design in British-made furniture, compared with output from Italy and Scandinavia. Of the company’s thirty-four staff, around twenty-five are in production, making five to six thousand pieces a year, from footstools to corner sofas. The first Hitch Mylius design – the MH11 seating system – was a success in Liberty in the early seventies, and it is still sold today as HM18.

Nichols Bros, Walthamstow

On a quiet residential street, behind a grass-green door, hundreds of wooden stair parts are made each day. Inside the floor is thick with sawdust, wood chips fly from the machinery and the walls are adorned with spindles. Nichols Bros’ workshop has changed little since it opened in 1949. ‘It’s very old-fashioned’, says co-owner Geoff Nichols. With the firm’s specialist machinery, including a hundred-year-old wood-twisting machine, Geoff believes, ‘we’re the last proper woodturners left in London, because we can tackle any woodturning project’. That could be a doorknob or ‘an enormous great column for a front door’.

Wyvern Bindery, Hoxton

Craft bookbinderies have been declining in number, and of the dozen or so left in the capital, Wyvern is unusual in that it has a shopfront, so passers-by can see work in progress. It all happens behind the big shop window of a long, deep unit in Hoxton, to where the bindery moved in 2020 from Clerkenwell. At the back of the bindery are big, wide workbenches,  with shallow drawers holding traditional marble endpapers. Elsewhere are stacked rolls of leather (mostly goatskin), fake suedes, and cloths used for covering hardback books.

Tate & Lyle Sugars, Silvertown

In buildings and tanks of different shapes, sizes and ages spread across a twenty-hectare site, fifty per cent of the sugar sold in UK shops and eighty per cent of the sugar used in restaurant kitchens and canteens is refined. Mechanisation has led to the elimination of many repetitive jobs. These days the sugar refinery has four hundred and fifty workers, and Tate & Lyle Sugars has a further three hundred support and office staff across their two London Thameside sites. The output is greater than it was in the fifties, when it was the biggest cane-sugar refinery in the world and employed eight thousand people, and substantial investment is further increasing capacity.

Diespeker & Co, Bermondsey

Terrazzo, which originated in sixteenth century Italy, is made of marble, quartz, granite, ceramic or glass chippings set into a cement or resin binder. It is either poured in situ or precast into slabs, to make flooring, wall tiles, worktops, reception desks and furniture. At Diespeker & Co’s Bermondsey base it is even turned into fountains, fireplaces and plinths. Of the company’s forty staff, twenty are on the factory floor. The bespoke workshop has not changed in years. It is known as the ‘green shed’, and uses traditional methods to hand make terrazzo items using each client’s chosen aggregate mix and dye colour.

London Stone Carving, Peckham

Since 2015, London Stone Carving has been specialising in high-end stone carving. They are near the Old Kent Rd in a sturdy brick and concrete sixties unit with lifting equipment at the front and good yard access. The four-strong team take on commissions for lots of architectural restoration work such as the big Soane roses for Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing. Being based in London is a key selling point as clients want to come to the studio, because half the enjoyment for them is seeing the process. Work includes replacement carvings for old churches and other historic buildings, and production on behalf of artists and sculptors.

Wax Atelier, Poplar

Five years ago, two designer/maker friends – Lola Lely and Tesenia Thibault-Picazo decided to collaborate on an experimental project, and picked wax as their material. After making their own tools, sourcing beeswax from a neighbour, and teaching themselves to dip candles by watching YouTube videos, the two fell in love with the process and the product. Today Wax Atelier products, produced by the company’s staff of ten, are stocked by over two hundred retailers worldwide. They have recently moved from Barking to a larger factory space at Poplar Works and they plan to expand into homewares.

Photographs copyright © Carmel King

Copies of MADE IN LONDON can be ordered direct by clicking here

You may also like to read about

James Ince, Umbrella Makers

Nichols Brothers, Wood Turners

Bellerby & Co, Globe Makers

Wyvern Bindery, Bookbinders

Freed of London, Ballet Shoe Makers

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg T permalink
    December 6, 2022

    Blackhorse Rd …. a return, of sorts. Because the large building opposite Blackhorse Rd tube station ( on the E side ) … used to be a shirt factory!
    As for Electro signs, they are a hoot & their local self-advertising is great to see.
    I have a second-hand large Kaymet tray.
    I regularly go past the wood-turners, too.
    I find the geographical distribution of these enterprises … interesting

  2. Alex robertson permalink
    December 6, 2022

    What a fantastic collection of small businesses .
    Most of us who visit London regularly have no idea that these manufacturing firms are working away successfully in their own niche markets.
    Long May they continue.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. December 6, 2022

    Another tremendous story from the GA, and what a superb variety of small businesses.

    My sweetheart likes to quote Mad Men’s Donald Draper,

    They can’t do what we do. And they hate us for it.

    Harsh. But fair.

    (ps, I love my clients. most days)

  4. December 6, 2022

    Nice to see that not EVERYTHING has to come from China these days. May traditional production in London continue for many generations to come!

    Love & Peace

  5. Jan permalink
    December 6, 2022

    Brilliant! A riposte to the endless bleat that we don’t have skilled people in the UK and we can’t manufacture products on a scale to make it worthwhile, hence it all has to be imported from China. I’d rather pay a fair price for one pair of uk well made jeans than half a dozen cheap imported ones.

  6. MikeH permalink
    December 6, 2022

    Such a lovely heart warming article today, it’s great to know that we still have the skills to produce quality goods in this country and in London in particular. Thank you.

  7. Tom A Andrews permalink
    December 6, 2022

    That was absolutely fascinating! I enjoyed every word. I knew of some, but the vast majority, of course was not aware. The talent and skills are very impressive. I would love to visit some of these (if that was possible) and see the facilities and observe the craft and production techniques. I find all that irresistibly fascinating. Well done, more such articles please. Cheers

  8. Paul Loften permalink
    December 6, 2022

    Thank you for showing these hidden treasures of London crafts . With a government that wallows in populism and convenient distractions , the natural international markets that offer easy and cheap transport to our nearest neighbours has been made so difficult and costly to reach . Let’s hope this situation doesn’t last forever.

  9. December 6, 2022

    So wonderful! The heart beat of a great City.

    I so appreciate that the Gentle Author makes us aware of these earnest, focused, specialists.
    And super photography, also.

    Love this well-timed shot of optimism today.
    Onward and upward.

  10. Jane Heavyside permalink
    December 8, 2022

    There is nothing to compare to these superb manufacturing sites in North America. It’s also refreshing to see young people continuing with these these skills.
    This is a fabulous work on your part GA! Inspiring and hopefully many will see this.
    Vancouver Canada

  11. P. Taylor permalink
    December 10, 2022

    My spirits have been lifted by this wonderful post – thank you.

  12. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    December 13, 2022

    Absolutely spell-binding post, thank-you, gentle author. What a fine collection of industries and crafts and skilled people.

    The happiest of Christmas and New Year times to you and all your readers from the Land Down Under.

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