Boot Polish, Breweries and Boat Building

Gillian Clegg Reveals Some of The Illustrious Industries That Began in Chiswick

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The History of Chiswick

The Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society


This article has been reproduced with kind the permission of Open Chiswick - a project of the Thames Strategy – Kew to Chelsea’s Chiswick Heritage Working Party. Their aim is to further reveal Chiswick's compelling natural, social and built environment – thus re-weaving its past and current heritage.

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CHERRY BLOSSOM Perhaps the best-known product to be produced in Chiswick was Cherry Blossom Boot Polish. It was invented by a chemist working for Dan and Charles Mason, two brothers who were running the Chiswick Soap Company by 1878. It was launched in 1906, at 1d per tin and was an immediate success.

The company expanded into a triangular-shaped site between Hogarth Lane and Burlington Lane (where the Hogarth Business Park is today) and began manufacturing a whole range of shoe and household polishes, including Mansion House. Imported waxes were brought by barge to Church Wharf where, in 1952, the company built a large warehouse. The company also acquired Boston House in 1922 for the use of its female staff. The Chiswick Soap Company changed its name in 1913 to the Chiswick Polish Company and went public in 1916. The name changed again in 1930 when Chiswick Polish amalgamated with the Nugget Polish Company to become Chiswick Products Ltd. In 1954 the business was acquired by Reckitt and Colman.

CHISWICK PRESS This private printing press was a forerunner of the private presses started by William Morris and others later in the 19th century. It was founded by Charles Whittingham (1767-1840) who had acquired a patent for extracting tar from old ropes. The hemp was pulped to produce a paper with a strong and silky finish while the tar was used to produce printing ink. In 1810 Whittingham took out a lease on High House (demolished 1880) in Chiswick Mall which he equipped as a printing works with a paper mill next door. The riverside location was probably selected because of its proximity to the draw dock where barge loads of old ships' ropes from London and other dockyards could be unloaded. In 1818 Chiswick Press moved to larger premises at College House, Chiswick Mall. After Whittingham's death his nephew, Charles Whittingham (1797-1876) took over the business and continued printing at Chiswick until 1852 when he moved the Chiswick Press to its other office in Tooks Court, Chancery Lane. Chiswick Press specialised in the production of small dainty volumes, noted for their woodcut engravings. The books were printed by hand on iron presses (one of the presses belonging to the Chiswick Press is now in Gunnersbury Park Museum). The Whittinghams not only pioneered a movement towards finely produced books at reasonable prices but also to smaller-sized books which were easy to fit in a pocket. They thus posed a threat to other publishers of the time which favoured big books at big prices.

ERAGNY PRESS This private printing press was founded by Lucien Pissarro in 1894 and operated from his homes, first 62 Bath Road and, after 1902, The Brook, Stamford Brook Road. Thirty two books were printed on Japanese handmade paper with Lucien's own beautiful woodcuts decorating the text. Pissarro also designed his own typeface which he called The Brook Type. The press was forced to close in 1914 when war broke out since it was impossible to obtain the right paper and continental subscribers were lost.

FULLER SMITH & TURNER Chiswick's award-winning Griffin Brewery stands between the A4 and Chiswick Mall. . Brewing has been taking place on this site since at least 1701 when the brewery was bought by Thomas Mawson. He sold it to a Chiswick family called Thompson in 1782. John Fuller joined the firm in 1829, providing a much needed injection of capital. In 1845 his son, John Bird Fuller acquired the brewery and, along with Henry Smith of Romford brewers Ind Smith, Smith's son and son-in-law John Taylor, formed Fuller, Smith & Turner. Descendants of these families still run the brewery today. It became a private limited company in 1929 and went public in 1981/2. The brewery was named the Griffin in 1816, when the Thompson family unofficially adopted the Griffin name from a brewery in the City belonging to Meux and Reid when this partnership broke up. Legal wrangles, though, prevented Fuller, Smith & Turner using the name as its trademark until 1892. Fullers now owns over 350 pubs throughout the country.

LAMB BREWERY The brick tower off Church Street which can be seen from the Hogarth Roundabout was once the premises of the Lamb Brewery, which rivalled its next door neighbour, Fuller, Smith & Turner in importance during the 19th century. Its origins are a trifle obscure, since both Fullers and the Lamb claim to have begun in the brewhouse of Bedford House on Chiswick Mall. However, by 1790, the Lamb Brewery belonged to the Sich family who had purchased it from the Thrales, brewers in Southwark. The Tower building, put up in 1901, was built as such since tower breweries were then thought to be the most efficient way to brew, deploying gravity. In 1920 the Sich family sold the Brewery to the Isleworth Brewery which was taken over two years later by Watney Coombe Reid (later Watney, Mann, Truman becoming part of Grand Metropolitan, now Diageo). Brewing ceased on the site and in 1922 the building was bought by Fullers for warehousing. Shortly afterwards, Fullers sold it to the Standard Yeast Company. This firm occupied the building until 1952 after which it was converted into offices.

LINOLEUM This ubiquitous floor covering was created in Chiswick. Its inventor was Frederick Walton who had been born at Sowerby Bridge near Halifax in 1834. In late 1860 or early 1861 Walton took a factory and house on the west side of British Grove. Walton had been experimenting with oxidised vegetable oils to produce a waterproofing material similar to india rubber. Walton took out several patents for his invention, the main patent in April 1863 for a product he called `linoleum' from the Latin linum for flax and oleum for oil. Although there were various applications for his product, its potential as a floor covering was quickly recognised and it soon became apparent that the British Grove Works were too small for the enterprise. In 1864 the firm moved to a factory in Staines.

LONDON GENERAL OMNIBUS COMPANY This company, later called London Regional Transport, opened its large maintenance and engineering works on the site opposite Gunnersbury Station in 1921. It employed 3,500 people and maintained 6,000 vehicles. In 1956 London Transport transferred vehicle maintenance to its Aldenham works (near Elstree) and the Chiswick works concentrated on engineering until it closed in 1988. Chiswick (business) Park now occupies the site.

RECKITT AND COLMAN In 1954 this Hull-based company, now Reckitt Benckiser plc, bought Chiswick Products Ltd, the company that produced Cherry Blossom Boot Polish, and built new premises on the Hogarth Roundabout in 1967. The company also had a large warehouse on Church Wharf, known locally as `Lenin's tomb' (demolished 1980). Reckitt and Colman were employing some 1,500 people in Chiswick shortly before all production was moved to Hull in 1972. The company retained its corporate headquarters at Hogarth Roundabout until 1998 when they moved to Windsor.

SANDERSONS Wallpaper manufacturer, Arthur Sanderson & Sons of Berners Street WI opened a wallpaper printing works in Chiswick in 1879. Many wallpapers produced at Chiswick were printed by hand, by wooden block, in the time honoured method, but Sandersons also led the way in producing good quality machine-printed wallpapers. The business grew and, in the early 1880s, the original factory was sold to the Army and Navy Stores and a second factory built on adjoining land in Barley Mow Passage. Another building was put up in 1892-3 and in 1902-3 an additional building on the other side of Barley Mow Passage, connected to the main works by a footbridge. This distinctive white-tiled building was designed by CFA Voysey and was his only industrial building. Now offices, called Voysey House, it is a listed building. On 11 October 1928 a terrible fire broke out in Sanderson's older building. It took 17 fire engines and around 100 firemen to bring it under control and reduced to ashes machinery, stock and much of the premises. For a week a mountain of smouldering paper `glowed like a volcano'. The local fire brigade described it as the `worst fire we have ever had to deal with'. Although the firm was up and running again within three months the fire had caused damage to the business as well as its premises. It prompted Sandersons to look for a larger and more modern factory and in 1930 the firm moved to Perivale. The old factory is now the Barley Mow Workspace.

THORNYCROFTS The name, Chiswick, doesn't have the ring of Tyneside or the Clyde when we think of shipbuilding. Indeed, Chiswick seems an unlikely venue for such an industry, but, at the end of the 19th century, large vessels were regularly launched from the works of Thornycroft & Co on Church Wharf. When John Isaac Thornycroft (1843-1928) was 17 years-old he built a 36ft steam launch called Nautilus in his sculptor father's studio. It caused a sensation on Boat Race day since it was the first steam launch able to keep up with the Oxford and Cambridge eights. In 1864 Thornycroft's father bought some land belonging to a boat builder at Church Wharf to enable his son to set up in business. John was joined in 1873 by a partner John Donaldson. The firm first specialised in high-speed launches, progressing to torpedo boats, of which 222 were built for the British and foreign navies between 1874 and 1891, followed by the first torpedo boat destroyers. Thornycrofts also made steam-powered vehicles and experimented with the new internal combustion engine. As the boats increased in size the difficulties of negotiating the bridges downstream led to Thornycrofts purchasing a yard near Southampton in 1904 and winding down the Chiswick operation. This closed completely in 1909, although Thornycrofts retained the Church Wharf premises until 1919 which were rented out.

Written by Gillian Clegg and reproduced with kind the permission of Open Chiswick.

July 16, 2007