This little job is actually for my best chum, so it needs to be right. I’ve used solid wood on parts that I felt would benefit from being done to a good standard. The doors and face frames are Poplar (Tulipwood here in the UK), but all the other sheets parts are in MDF or MRMDF. There was just a little bit of fitting required for the applied mouldings on the doors. I did that then went to see if this while thing fitted in the corner it was designed for. Thankfully, it did!
In the relatively short time I’ve lived in Hackney myself, I’ve seen a radical shift in the use of the canals in the area. For one, more and more people are living on them, with the costs of a barge and berthing being preferable to living in a minute flat with sky-high rent attached.
The Regent’s and Hertford Union Canals were of course mainly used for trade and transport, with the timber trade featuring heavily. Carolyn Clark has just produced a wonderful booklet, which you can download here, in the form of a quiz.
East End Canal Heritage Quiz
There is some great information there, my favourite being a quote about Vic Veneers which reads:
‘Places like Vic Veneers…just inside Ducketts, you could actually look under the wharf, it was built above the water and they used to take the veneer timber into soak, and when they were nice and wet, soft as anything, they put them to the knife….they’d lift it out, put it on the shaver which was like a flaming great pencil sharpener and spin it up. You’d get a great long strip of veneer like flipping toilet paper, it might be 50-60 foot in length and 10 foot wide.’
Apologies for the lack of woodworking posts, all my spare time has been eaten up recently, running back and forth to a small house renovation. The whole house has been re-plastered, lots of electrical work and some re-plumbing. I’ve been steadily getting the house back to a decent state, with the last month being dedicated to decoration. The house has a period cast-iron fireplace, with working flue now and I plan to spend a good while making some good built-ins for storage.
When I set out on this project in September, I planned ‘a little painting and maybe a new kitchen’. Only now am I getting round to gutting the kitchen and working out underfloor heating in there, as well as a million other small details that need to be attended to. I fitted the new (old) door last week, which lets lot of light into the hallway, a big improvement on it’s predecessor.
Well, it always takes longer than you think it will and I guess I’ve saved a lot of money by doing most of this myself and I’m also blessed with a few local trades who always turn up when they say they will. I’ll get there eventually.
Several older joiners and cabinet makers I have met over the years have mentioned ‘Cubitts’, part of which was based at Grays Inn Road in London.
After a few enquiries on the internet a gentleman named Tom Broughton, of (the presumably unrelated) Cubitts spectacle sellers sent me some photos he had sourced from the London Metropolitan Archives. I’m quite thrilled to have these and have published them below, as nothing now remains of this factory and its importance is not to be understated. The full account below of Thomas Cubitt and his work is taken from Grace’s Guide online. (All copyright of the text remains with Grace’s).
Thomas Cubitt was born at Buxton, near Norwich, on the 25th February, 1788.
In early life he worked as a journeyman carpenter, and with a view to improve his circumstances, he made one voyage to India, as a ship-carpenter. With the savings he then made, he, on his return to London, commenced business as a master-carpenter, being at the time about twenty-one years of age.
His first work of any extent, was putting the new roof on the Russell Institution, in Great Coram-street, under the superintendence of Mr. John Shaw, then architect to Christ’s Hospital, London. This was completed to the entire satisfaction of the committee and of the architect, so that when tenders were advertised for, for the building of the London Institution, in Finsbury Circus, Mr. Cubitt’s offer was accepted, mainly on the recommendation of those who knew how well his work had been done at the Russell Institution.
The foundations were laid in May, 1815; and, shortly afterwards, as appearances of success began to manifest themselves, he took a tract of land from Lord Caltharpe, on the east side of Gray’s Inn road. Here he commenced the erection of large workshops, purchased horses, carts, and materials, and engaged gangs of carpenters, smiths, plumbers, glaziers, painters, bricklayers, etc with a foreman for each class. Before that time, the building trade had not become, as now, a regular business, but was divided among different branches, which, in a manner, worked independently of each other. Finding the inconvenience of this, he employed workmen of all these classes, and consolidated them into one establishment.
As this increased, he found, at times, a difficulty in obtaining a constant succession of work, so as to keep his men regularly employed, without the necessity of discharging them, just as they had become used to his system. This first led him to take ground to build upon, a species of speculation which afterwards became the employment of his life; for as these engagements became greater, they gradually absorbed his capital and attention, until he finally relinquished the general business at Gray’s Inn Road to his Brother, William (the present Alderman Cubitt, M.P. Assoc.Inst.C.E.), and, with very few exceptions, entirely devoted himself to building, from his own designs and on his own ground. His plan was to take a large tract of unoccupied land, sometimes from several distinct land-owners, and to lay it out on one great plan of squares, streets, roads, &C., as a whole, sparing no expense in the outset, in drainage, forming gardens, planting, laying out wide streets, and using every endeavour to keep up the character of the whole.
His first undertaking of this kind was at Highbury, occupying a commanding site in the parish of Islington. Here he erected some moderately-sized villas, with good gardens, which were soon eligibly let and sold. He next raised detached villas and row of houses on a piece of land between Newington-green and the principal street of the parish, and, in this instance, he had to make roads of approach to the proposed new buildings.
He then purchased, and made freehold, a nursery-garden and grazing-ground, six acres in extent, called Barnsbury-park, abutting on the Liverpool, or Northroad. This land he laid out for streets and squares, and built a few houses and villas as examples, letting off the remainder to other builders, who erected houses on a smaller scale.
About the year 1824, a large tract of land in the parish of St. Pancras, within a short distance of the establishment in Gray’s Inn Road, attracted his attention. Having taken a lease for ninety-nine years from the Duke of Bedford and Lord Southampton, the ground landlords, he successively built the houses of Upper Woburn place, Woburn-buildings, Gordon-square, Tavistock, Gordon, and Endsleigh-streets, as also nearly the whole of Gordon-square, with part of the south side of Euston-square.
Perceiving the tendency of the fashionable world to move westwards, Mr. Cubitt, in the latter end of 1824, or early in 1825, fixed upon a tract of land, upwards of 140 acres in extent, belonging to the late Marquis of Westminster and Mr. Lowndes, near to Buckingham Palace, and known as the Five Fields, Chelsea, with the ground adjacent. On this locality, Belgrave-square, Lowndes-square, Chesham-place, and other ranges of houses, were erected.
In 1829, Mr. Britton wrote the following remarks on this district, for ‘The Picture of London,’ then reprinting:- ‘Within five years, this land has been nearly covered with houses of the largest size, surrounding spacious squares, or on the sides of wide and handsome streets. Of all the extraordinary building-works carried into effect by a London gentleman or tradesman, we may fairly adduce this as unparalleled. Most of the houses surrounding one large square, (Belgrave,) have been erected, some of which are finished and occupied, and several others of equal dimensions and value are nearly completed. When we consider the capital advanced for such hazardous speculations – the peculiar difficulties of the times – the immense augmentation of parochial and government taxes – with the employment they have given to thousands of merchants, manufacturers, tradesmen, artificers, and workmen, we cannot but admire the mind that projected and carried into effect so many novelties, and ventured upon such a large amount of expenditure.’
Mr. Cubitt subsequently further engaged to cover the vast open district lying between Eaton-square and the Thames, now known as South Belgravia. He also carried out similar operations at Clapham Park, a large open tract of land, 250 acres in extent, about four miles south-west of London. This he leased of Mr. Atkins Bowyer, the lord of the manor, and distributed it in lots for detached mansions and villas on a large scale. He formed wide roads, four miles in extent, purchasing adjacent property to enable this to be systematically accomplished. He commenced building large mansions, and invited the public to take sites for others; and from that time to the present these works have been continued, until the whole ground is now nearly covered.
At a later period Mr. Cubitt had the honour of being sent for by Her Majesty, to advise upon the alterations of the house at Osborne, in the Isle of Wight, and he eventually designed and constructed the new marine residence there, to the entire satisfaction of Her Majesty. He was also employed to build the east front of Buckingham Palace, and other works of magnitude connected with the Crown.
Mr. Cubitt felt a deep interest in the question of the sewage of the Metropolis, and in 1843, he wrote a pamphlet for private circulation, advocating the views on the subject now become general. These were afterwards embodied in a letter to the ‘Times,’ when the subject began to attract genera1 interest.
He took great pains to stop the smoke nuisance from large steam chimneys, and completely effected this object at his extensive factory at Thames Bank, which he had erected after leaving the establishment in Gray’s Inn Road.
He was a great advocate for leaving open spaces, for recreation, in the midst of London; and took a principal part in the plan of Battersea-park, of which he was one of the originators. When the scheme was attacked by Mr. Disraeli, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, he offered to buy the whole of the land and the bridge, from the Government, at the sum they had expended upon it.
Anticipating a great increase in the size of London, he urged several times, on the Government of the day, the policy of buying tracts of unoccupied land along the river banks above London, in order that they might be devoted to public parks, before the value had become great, from the increase of building. In the embankment of the Thames above Vauxhall-bridge, he was the principal mover, and constructed about 3,000 feet at his own expense, adjacent to South Belgravia.
From his long experience of building, and great practical knowledge of all its details, his advice was constantly sought by various branches of the Government, on questions of this nature. He was frequently examined by Committees of the House of Commons on the same subject, and took a leading part in the preparation of the late Building Act.
He gratuitously undertook the negotiation for the purchase of the property at Brompton, on behalf of the Commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851, for which he was well qualified, from his great experience in such transactions, and to this he devoted a great deal of time in the latter years of his life. He was also one of those who guaranteed a sum of money to carry on the Exhibition of 1851, when its success was doubtful.
Shortly after the commencement of his great undertaking, a monetary panic occurred, which caused almost general ruin, but his undaunted courage and perseverance carried him through the difficulties which arose from it. To accomplish his multifarious works, sometimes with urgency and rapidity – at others, with caution and apparent timidity – required unabated vigilance and circumspection.
At times, more than two thousand men were employed, all of whom had to be regularly paid, in addition to superintendents, clerks,and foremen, besides providing materials, and for the wear and tear of machinery.
One instance of his equanimity, as well as his interest for his workmen, deserves to be recorded. When his premises at Thames Bank were burned down in 1854, and £30,000 worth of damage was done, his first words on hearing of the loss were, ‘Tell the men they shall be at work within a week, and I will subscribe £600 towards buying them new tools.’
Through life he was the real friend of the working man; and among his own people he did much to promote their social, intellectual, and moral progress. He established a workman’s library; a school-room for workmen’s children; and, by an arrangement to have supplied to his work-people wholesome refreshments at low rates, did much to establish habits of temperance amongst them, in place of those of drinking which formerly existed. To those under him, and holding responsible situations, he was generous and kind, blending his position as master with that of a friend. He was a liberal benefactor to churches, schools, and charities, in those places with which he was connected, and always valued, in a peculiar degree, the advantages resulting to the poor from the London hospitals.
Mr. Cubitt joined the Institution as an Associate in the year 1839. He contributed two Papers to the Proceedings, one ‘Experiments on the Strength of Iron Girders,’ giving the results of experiments on sixty pairs of cast-iron girders, varying from 7 feet 6 inches to 27 feet in length; the other ‘Experiments on the Strength of Brick and Tile Arches,’ being the result of an investigation as to how the greatest amount of strength could be attained in fire-proof floors, with a due regard to the space occupied, and the cost of the structure.
He was much attached to the Institution, and constantly had recourse to it for information. His career was very eventful, and he was decidedly the pioneer of the great building establishments of the metropolis, and in the principal provincial cities and towns. Like the engineering contractors, the great builders have grown out of the peculiar wants of the period, and few men have gone through great labours and executed gigantic works with such equanimity as Mr. Thomas Cubitt.
He deservedly accumulated very considerable riches, and acquired reputation, and at his decease, which occurred in his 61th year, at 1hs seat, Denbies, near Dorking, on the 20th December 1855, he was surrounded by the members of his family, by whom, and by a large circle of friends, he was deservedly beloved and regretted.
(Text from http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Thomas_Cubitt)
Back in September last year, I had the pleasure of visiting a wonderful violin shop and its restoration workshop called Bridgewood & Neitzert.
If you look at the slideshow, you will see the superb cabinet work of Michael White. I asked Gary Bridgewood for more information about Michael and how he came to meet him. His response via email was such a lovely portrait of Michael that I asked if I could reproduce it in full. Gary’s email is below, with some pictures he also kindly forwarded to me.
I started this blog because I wanted to show the work and skill of proper traditional cabinet makers, joiners and woodworkers like Michael and I hope to connect with many more like him.
Michael White made all of our cabinets, sadly he died nearly three years ago, and he is terribly missed. He worked with us for 18 years. It’s quite an interesting story, an artist friend asked me to help her deliver a painting she had made of a woodworker. She had been commissioned to paint the inside of a lid for Micks tool cabinet. Mick lived in the Goswell Road in a tower block on the 14th floor. His tool cabinet was truly incredible.
He had started out as an apprentice at Cubitt’s, I think in the Grays Inn Road. He was a sea cadet and involved in D-day but as a skilled woodworker was conscripted to stay repairing London during the blitz. The cabinet was about 8 feet high with another bell shaped cabinet below, which had a pull out section made of exotic woods. He had inlaid the old three penny coins around the edge. He had never finished adding to it and amending details, it was truly a superb piece of work. My artist friend painted Mick planing some wood with his tool cabinet in the background.
We got on very well and Mick was very interested in violin making, which I was doing a lot more of back then. I invited him to come and visit and said if he ever wanted to use any of our machines in our basement he would be very welcome, as they rarely got used.
I didn’t see Mick for about 6 months when one day he arrived in his best suit at our door. After tea and a good look round he was ready to leave and once again I offered use of our facilities, Mick said he’d think about it. About four months later Mick arrived in his work wear and asked me what I wanted doing first! I was quite taken aback and said why he hadn’t brought his own work; Mick said he’d prefer to help us first. Anyway this conversation was to be repeated for the next 16 years, only towards the end when Mick was not well did he decide to finish his cabinet and the last job was finishing the pull out section with carousel which was full of drawers and hanging sections which had a handle in the top and could be removed when working on site. I supplied Mick with pieces of ebony, rosewood, and quilted ash and of course violin maple for the drawer fronts, it was spectacular when finished.
Mick kept finding things to do and useful places to make a cabinet or shelf to maximise storage, his last project was our violin/viola/cello case display cabinet which was finally finished and installed by my friend Hugo.
Mick told of his master whose name I think was Spirro, he trained at the Vatican and Mick said his training was not only woodwork but carving, gilding , drawing/painting and stone work, his apprenticeship lasted 16 years! Mick was lucky enough to train under Spirro at Cubitt’s. He also told many, many stories. One was for one of the old carpenters who worked at Cubits whose tool chest doubled as his coffin and was kept at the end of his bed.