Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Our industrious past

Hero for Our industrious past
(Credit: Mark Amies / Amberley Books)
By Mark Amies 11 February 2022

When you think of London do you think of it as a place of manufacturing? The chances are that if you are under the age of 40 then the answer is likely to be no. However, you would only need to go back a few decades to see the last vestiges of industries that once dominated the metropolis, and in Barnet there were a considerable number of factories. When you think of London do you think of it as a place of manufacturing? The chances are that if you are under the age of 40 then the answer is likely to be no. However, you would only need to go back a few decades to see the last vestiges of industries that once dominated the metropolis, and in Barnet there were a considerable number of factories. 

I have been interested in London’s industrial history for many years and growing up in the 1970s and 80s I was aware of the factories that were gradually beginning to close. I found it sad that these once important places were fast disappearing, never to return. It seemed tragic that the buildings were then demolished, often to make way for anonymous retail or warehousing sheds. A few years ago, I wrote a couple of short articles about these lost industries, and this eventually led to me doing a series of regular slots on the BBC Radio London’s Robert Elms Show. As many of you will know Mr Elms is familiar with our part of London, having spent his formative years growing up on the Watling Estate in Burnt Oak. Whilst doing these appearances I produced a book, called London’s Industrial Past which was published by Amberley in the summer of 2020. I have been interested in London’s industrial history for many years and growing up in the 1970s and 80s I was aware of the factories that were gradually beginning to close. I found it sad that these once important places were fast disappearing, never to return. It seemed tragic that the buildings were then demolished, often to make way for anonymous retail or warehousing sheds. A few years ago, I wrote a couple of short articles about these lost industries, and this eventually led to me doing a series of regular slots on the BBC Radio London’s Robert Elms Show. As many of you will know Mr Elms is familiar with our part of London, having spent his formative years growing up on the Watling Estate in Burnt Oak. Whilst doing these appearances I produced a book, called London’s Industrial Past which was published by Amberley in the summer of 2020. 

The book is not a complete account of every industry in London, as this would require a huge tome, instead, I chose specific types of manufacture. In addition, I decided to concentrate on the 20th century, as I thought it would be more relatable to the reader. I featured several companies who were based in the areas that now make up Barnet borough, and chiefly they were aircraft makers, but I have also included Schweppes in West Hendon and Dubreq, makers of the stylophone, who had several sites in Cricklewood. The book is not a complete account of every industry in London, as this would require a huge tome, instead, I chose specific types of manufacture. In addition, I decided to concentrate on the 20th century, as I thought it would be more relatable to the reader. I featured several companies who were based in the areas that now make up Barnet borough, and chiefly they were aircraft makers, but I have also included Schweppes in West Hendon and Dubreq, makers of the stylophone, who had several sites in Cricklewood. 

There were many aeroplane manufacturers due, in part, to the existence of Hendon Aerodrome, which had been established in 1910. Colindale boasted two major manufacturers during World War One, Grahame-White Aviation, who were on either side of Aerodrome Road, and the Aircraft Manufacturing Company, who were up on the Hyde. The latter company, (who were more commonly known as Airco), boasted having the World’s largest aircraft factory in World War One, covering both sides of the Edgware Road. The only surviving buildings from this enterprise are the former office block, now used by the Beis Yaakov School, and one of the many factory blocks, which has been a KwikFit since the 1970s, (this building features on the cover of my book, photographed in 1917). Without a doubt, the longest-lasting and most productive aircraft company were Handley Page, in Cricklewood, based in the area from 1912 to 1965. The factory turned out large bombers and civil airliners that were known across the world, giving large numbers of people jobs and skills, and contributed valuable money to the local and national economies. There were many aeroplane manufacturers due, in part, to the existence of Hendon Aerodrome, which had been established in 1910. Colindale boasted two major manufacturers during World War One, Grahame-White Aviation, who were on either side of Aerodrome Road, and the Aircraft Manufacturing Company, who were up on the Hyde. The latter company, (who were more commonly known as Airco), boasted having the World’s largest aircraft factory in World War One, covering both sides of the Edgware Road. The only surviving buildings from this enterprise are the former office block, now used by the Beis Yaakov School, and one of the many factory blocks, which has been a KwikFit since the 1970s, (this building features on the cover of my book, photographed in 1917). Without a doubt, the longest-lasting and most productive aircraft company were Handley Page, in Cricklewood, based in the area from 1912 to 1965. The factory turned out large bombers and civil airliners that were known across the world, giving large numbers of people jobs and skills, and contributed valuable money to the local and national economies. 

Other notable Barnet concerns included Johnson’s of Hendon, who made photographic supplies and equipment, and they had a factory, the site of which is now covered by part of the Brent Cross shopping mall. That most humble of products rawlplugs were made at in a factory of Hale Lane, Mill Hill, and that is now a trendy loft apartment block. Just next to Schweppes on The Hyde was the firm of Duple who made bodies for coaches and commercial vehicles, as well as large parts of Handley Page Halifax bomber aircraft. The site was cleared after Duple left in 1970, and was taken over by Boosey & Hawkes, the manufacturer of musical instruments, who also had a more established site in Edgware. The Duple site is being redeveloped once again for a large residential complex, which the current occupier Sainsbury’s will have a store within. Other notable Barnet concerns included Johnson’s of Hendon, who made photographic supplies and equipment, and they had a factory, the site of which is now covered by part of the Brent Cross shopping mall. That most humble of products rawlplugs were made at in a factory of Hale Lane, Mill Hill, and that is now a trendy loft apartment block. Just next to Schweppes on The Hyde was the firm of Duple who made bodies for coaches and commercial vehicles, as well as large parts of Handley Page Halifax bomber aircraft. The site was cleared after Duple left in 1970, and was taken over by Boosey & Hawkes, the manufacturer of musical instruments, who also had a more established site in Edgware. The Duple site is being redeveloped once again for a large residential complex, which the current occupier Sainsbury’s will have a store within. 

Many thousands of people who lived in the Barnet area worked in other factories across North-West London and the capital as a whole, and you will find these in my book, with big names like Hoover, Firestone, Smiths Crisps and Kodak, to name but a few. So many of the former factories have gone, wiped from the landscape, and in the process removing the ability to prompt historical enquiry. Many thousands of people who lived in the Barnet area worked in other factories across North-West London and the capital as a whole, and you will find these in my book, with big names like Hoover, Firestone, Smiths Crisps and Kodak, to name but a few. So many of the former factories have gone, wiped from the landscape, and in the process removing the ability to prompt historical enquiry. 

One thing that can’t easily be wiped away is the collective memory of so many people, and it is those memories and passed-on stories that keep the industrial past alive. Factories not only provided employment, but they also provided a valuable social function, and gave identity to areas, who were proud of the products were being made in their part of London. Many companies provided social and sports facilities and thousands of friendships and marriages were created in these environments. One thing that can’t easily be wiped away is the collective memory of so many people, and it is those memories and passed-on stories that keep the industrial past alive. Factories not only provided employment, but they also provided a valuable social function, and gave identity to areas, who were proud of the products were being made in their part of London. Many companies provided social and sports facilities and thousands of friendships and marriages were created in these environments. 

To many people the factories that were scattered across London represented so much more than just a workplace, and there was a sense that they would always be there providing work and generating opportunities. Despite an apparent boom in the 1950s, a general decline set in during the 1960s and on into the 1980s. One by one the factories closed, unemployment rose, and local economies suffered. Some people moved out, looking for work in other areas where industry was still going, others found new jobs in different types of employment. Of course, London’s industrial growth and decline is just another stage in its history, and it moves on, finding new areas of development. To many people the factories that were scattered across London represented so much more than just a workplace, and there was a sense that they would always be there providing work and generating opportunities. Despite an apparent boom in the 1950s, a general decline set in during the 1960s and on into the 1980s. One by one the factories closed, unemployment rose, and local economies suffered. Some people moved out, looking for work in other areas where industry was still going, others found new jobs in different types of employment. Of course, London’s industrial growth and decline is just another stage in its history, and it moves on, finding new areas of development. 

In October my next book, Flying up the Edgware Road will be published, and it takes a more in-depth look at the early days of aviation at the Hendon Aerodrome, and how the growth of the aviation industry changed North West London, from Kilburn through to Edgware. In October my next book, Flying up the Edgware Road will be published, and it takes a more in-depth look at the early days of aviation at the Hendon Aerodrome, and how the growth of the aviation industry changed North West London, from Kilburn through to Edgware. 

If you want to get a copy of my book, London’s Industrial Past, you can take advantage of a lower price by ordering from Amberley Books, using the special code LonInd22 for 10% off the publisher’s priceIf you want to get a copy of my book, London’s Industrial Past, you can take advantage of a lower price by ordering from Amberley Books, using the special code LonInd22 for 10% off the publisher’s price