Hale History: Meet Paul Collier, author of A Romance with Furniture History

Paul

At Anthology, we place great importance on retaining the history and character of the area in which we choose to build our new homes. For Hale Works, our name and logo were both inspired by the history of the Harris Lebus factory, with the newly named ‘Lebus Street’ running through Hale Village, building on the site’s ancestry. 

So, when we heard local resident, Paul Collier had written a book about the history on which this development was founded, we happily co-sponsored his book and had a chance to speak to him about his connections to the area and what inspired him to tell this story.

Hi Paul! First, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
That would be 58 years to summarise in a paragraph! I feel fortunate to have been raised in Bath - a vibrant city which oozes history. I came to London to study -where one of my favourite modules was Historical Geography – and stayed. Then, in 2004, I fulfilled a childhood ambition and graduated from Middlesex university with a fine art degree and, around that time, I won the '21st Century painting of Bruce Castle' competition. I've since exhibited across London and sold some paintings, and I’m pleased I can now add author to my list of achievements. 

What made you decide to write a book about the Harris Lebus furniture company? 
I knew nothing about Lebus furniture until I moved on to the Ferry Lane estate in Autumn 2007. There were tell-tale signs that buildings were here in the past; the iron railings, Victorian brick wall and solitary iron gatepost at the top of the estate were a big clue! 

A newsletter I received from Ferry Lane Action Group (FLAG) mentioned the Lebus factory and, coincidently, Haringey History and Archive Service at Bruce Castle Museum were organising a major Lebus exhibition for the following year. With their help I tracked down Oliver Lebus who was there when the company folded in spring 1970. I met Oliver at his home several times during 2008 and he subsequently donated his family and business archives to Bruce Castle before he died in spring 2009. 

A series of coincidences took me by surprise; the date I moved to the estate, September 22 2007 was 100 years and one day since the death of Harris Lebus on September 21 1907, and 100 years to the day he was laid to rest. I've never written a book before, but I was drawn in. The project has taken me 13 years to complete.

Can you give us a brief history of the factory and its impact on the local area? 
The Harris Lebus factory opened in Tottenham Hale in 1901 as an extension of the business which had been established in the east end of London. The 'Harris Lebus Finsbury Cabinet Works' - designed by a young architect Samuel Clifford Tee - was steam powered and set a precedent for other factories to set up. As a result, the area changed from being rural with market gardening, to industrial with many more houses and infrastructure following. 

What can readers learn from your book?
On one level the reader can indulge themselves in a nostalgic journey through furniture design, from the finest arts and crafts pieces lovingly hand-made, to furniture style with a nod to the futuristic, produced by 'robot-like' machines.

The book is much more than a conveyor belt of furniture designs through the decades. It’s the story of a life, a business, a family and a workforce community, with the personal stories of individual workers weaved in throughout. Many of these individuals left their indelible mark on history, and their stories have been told using their own words.  At times, I felt like I was writing a period drama.

Do you have any interesting facts to share with us? 
The conveyor which ran right under Ferry Lane was a real surprise to me. It ran in a continuous loop through the largest of a series of arches to connect the older parts of the factory south of Ferry Lane to the new warehouse where Hale Village is now.  It was finished and in operation by 1956, and took around 1.5 hours to complete its circuit, carrying completed items of furniture to the warehouse. At 25,000 square feet, the warehouse could accommodate 35,000 items. 

Finally, can you tell me a bit about why you’ve linked up with Anthology on this project?
Anthology is doing today what Lebus did 120 years ago - re-shaping and regenerating the local area. Anthology will complete the jigsaw puzzle of change with its tower built right over what was once the huge warehouse and distribution point for Lebus lorries.

When at the height of its success and influence, the Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald had described Lebus as being in '... a romance with the furniture trade'. This was my inspiration for the book's title. This may be the beginning of the end of my romance with the Lebus story...but it is the start of yours.

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‘Harris Lebus: A Romance with the Furniture Trade’ is available now from Libri Publishing. If you’re interested in owning your own piece of history at Hale Works, you can book a one-to-one appointment with one of our Anthologists by calling 020 7760 1583 or emailing haleworks@anthology.london

Hale Works

Published on 03|08|2020

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