Above: Bartlett’s Export Packers, Battlebridge Basin (north-east corner)
Timber from the far reaches of the world came through the docks to timberyards, sawmills, and veneer factories that dominated the canal banks. Anderson’s timber merchants took over Harris Wharf in City Road Basin from a plywood importer in 1937 and used barges to transport wallboards. The company supplied timber for sets at the Gainsborough Film Studios and made prefabs and Hurricane bombers during World War Two. Tony Byfield said: ‘there were two or three timber wharves in City Road. They paid tolls for 3000 tons a year whether they had it or not – one barge every 2 weeks.’ Post-war, many timber companies switched to road transport.
Above: Timber barge towed by a tug, 1960s.
Ted Harrison saw ‘barges come up with big logs on them. They used to dump them off the barge and let them float in the water chained up. They kept them wet to stop them ‘shaking’ – when they dry out, they split open and it spoils the veneer.’ Brine Veneers in Arlington Street was ‘more like a visit to a museum in fine wood than a normal veneer store’. In the 1950s, Brine’s claimed: ‘it’s no exaggeration to state that the majority of decorative veneers used by shipyards in the British Isles originate from Brine’s veneers.’ The Royal Yacht Britannia and the Canberra were included. The plentiful supply of wood fed furniture and cabinet makers such as Dubetzky in New North Road. Negretti and Zambra had its own wood work shop making cases for scientific instruments like barometers. Cheaper woods were used by packing case manufacturers, such as Bartletts.
Above: Inside the wood workshop Negretti and Zambra
Above: Timber deliver to Henry Howell and Co.
Above: Timber stacked in a canalside yard near Southgate, in the 1900s
Exotic woods were used by pipe and walking stick makers near the canal. George Sims had a little workshop in Islington and a customer recalled: ‘he sold me many in-teresting pipes, including several ‘coffee pipes’ as he called them. Miniature apple style pipes, each big enough for a smoke over a cup of coffee. He happily showed me his machinery in the back of the shop, although his sister, who was often present, kept trying to get him to stop gossiping and go back to work!’ Henry Howell & Co at 180 Old Street was a world leader in the production of quality walking sticks. The Howell archive is held at Kew Gardens because of its international importance in the history of manufacturing in wood.
Research: Hannah Archer, Carolyn Clark, Giles Eyre, Ayman Faris, Marian Farrugia, Ken Flaherty, Gerry Harris, Celestine Kasongo, Linzi MacDonald, Jen Pedlar, Nic Shore, Louise Thomas, Lou White.
Oral histories: Dom Bergonzi, Tony Byfield, Celeste Chapman, Albert Churchwood, David Day, Ada Fisher, Bernard James, Ted Harrison, Steve Havens, Kathy Hawkins, Fred Heil, Carol Noble, Anna Perkins, Ernie Philips, Fred Rooke, John Rowlinson, Richard Savage, Hazel White.
Thanks to Islington Local History Centre, London Metropolitan Archives, The Waterways Archives/Canal and Rivers Trust, British Transport Police History Group.
Maps: Jane Smith: janeillustration.co.uk
London Metropolitan Archives, Richard Savage, Bernard James, The Waterways Archive, Islington Local History Centre, Angus MacBean, Historic England.
Exhibition created by Carolyn Clark. This presentation of the material designed by London Canal Museum
Note - Online Exhibition
This exhibition was created for display in the London Canal Museum and appropriate permissions obtained. Due to the closure of the museum during the coronavirus epidemic we have presumed the co-operation of rights-holders with the transposition of the exhibition to online display
Book by Carolyn Clark
A book by Carolyn Clark, the community historian behind this exhibition, is now available. It covers the stories of ordinary people living and working beside the canal in east London. Unusually it looks at the social history of those working in industry on and beside the waterway, an area that has been little-documented. The book is available to buy from London Canal Museum by post.