Hackney London Practical techniques Restoration Slideshow

Bridgewood & Neitzert

Bridgewood & Neitzert Ltd, Violin Repairers, Dealers and Makers, 146 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0JU.
I had such a nice reponse to the first photoset about London makers I made, that I wanted to do another one. I was therefore delighted that Gary Bridgewood of Bridgewood & Neitzert Ltd took me up on my offer to photograph inside his building. My brief visit to the shop in London confirmed to me that this must be one of the most intriguing and skilled crafts still in demand today.
I asked Gary for a few brief lines about the history of how the business came about for my intro on the photoset. His story was so interesting I thought I’d reproduce it fully in the post instead. The business is owned by Gary and his business partner, Tom Neitzert.

Tom and I met whilst students studying at the London College of furniture. We were in an amazing workshop in Henriques street (I think formerly Berniers Street) renamed as one of Jack the Rippers attacks happened here!
We were on the first floor of an old Victorian school building overlooking a primary school with a theatrical company hiring the floor above for prop storage. What was so brilliant about this place was we all had keys and so the workshop was nearly always open until the early hours and often never closed at the weekend. We were a very small group, each year had 4 students and there were 4 years with a total of 10 students. I guess we all thrived on this time and the positive shared knowledge and competition between one another. I flitted between this department, Early Musical bowed string instruments e.g. baroque violins, viola da gambas and lutes and the modern office style building across the road where I learned violin making from William Luff.
Before the end of college I and three others started our own workshop in Dalston at 2 Crossway above an old East end gambling office called Sid Kikki jnr. This was quite an experience, we were on the second floor above a bespoke furniture maker called Kirk, in fact this was smoke screen for his rather more insalubrious activities as a drug dealer and pimp. On a Saturday morning we would be visited by one of Sid Kikki’s associates, a bovver boy called Mark, who collected the rent. We always felt relieved that we could pay the rent!
I shared a workshop with Robert Louis Baille (French), who is now a successful violin maker/dealer working in Seville and Tom shared a workshop with Craig Ryder (South African) who is a very fine bow maker working now in Paris.
We moved from here, our friends Robert and Craig moved to France, to Ilex Works in Northwold Road. Our Landlord, Mr Schwarz, had been in Auschwitz. He used to bring a few dolls house toys which they had somehow saved from this horror which I repaired for him; they were made from Olive wood, extremely hard. We had a good relationship with him, and would carry out repairs to the building for an occasional subsidy to our rent. Sadly this all turned sour when he mortgaged this property to improve his other Covent Garden ones. Strettons Estate Agents came in and very quickly we no longer could afford to stay.
We moved to Stoke Newington Church street after this and have been very fortunate to have a very suitable building for our needs.


My dad’s toolbox

Months ago, I was asked by a photographer friend of mine, Joakim Blockstrom, to contribute to his ‘Heirloom Project’. Joakim photographs heirlooms, special things that have been passed down through families and that have a special meaning to the person now in possession of them.
I asked that he photographed my father’s toolbox, which strikes a very personal note with me. Yesterday in the Guardian newspaper, the project rightly got more recognition, when the newspaper published some of the entries in it’s Family section. Here’s a link if you’d like to see some of the entries and read about the project.
For me, making something that is good enough for your family to use every day, goes right to the heart of what heirlooms are. That home-made piece of furniture, with all it’s quirks, maybe a few mistakes. Years on, hopefully it’s still surviving, but with the added patina of use, the wear from everyone’s bum, the lost paint from the inevitable knocks. Then one day someone asks, ‘do you want this? We don’t use it enough any more’. And the reply, ‘yes, of course, I remember when dad made that’

Andre Jacob Roubo Hackney London Practical techniques

On Workbenches, London, and space being relative…

There’s an interesting project going on over at Wyatt Childs Inc in Georgia, USA, which I think most people interested in woodworking would describe as the last word in workbench builds.
roubo 1
Roubo 4
Roubo 5
If you read many woodworking blogs, you’d find it hard to avoid the trend for making one’s own bench in ever-more expensive materials. Chris Schwarz in particular has done an excellent job of promoting the work of the French cabinet maker and author André Jacob Roubo, including editing a re-print of his seminal volume The Art of The Joiner. And given all the interest in traditional technique, Roubo and ‘slow woodworking‘, it was perhaps inevitable someone would raise the bar sooner or later. That workbench build has now arrived.

Six of the world’s best-known woodworkers have come together to create the French Oak Roubo Project. It certainly looks like the last word to me. With bench hardware from the excellent Benchcrafted, and French oak from Versailles, (possibly even from the same trees that Roubo himself would have walked past), it’s going to be epic.Click this link for the project description. I’m wondering when I can hijack the next shipment of this oak from France to the US. (A Benchcrafted video is now online showing the whole build).
Roubo build 1
Roubo build 2
Roubo build 3
When I look at the acres of space in the Wyatt Childs workshop, I have to admit my heart sinks a little. Never does space seem to be so freely available and cheap, as when you look at ‘Pics of the New Shop!!’ from the likes of US woodworkers such as The Wood Whisperer, Marc Spagnuolo!

In London however, space is at a premium, and Hackney in east London, is terribly fashionable right now, with what seems like every square inch rented out to another graphic designer/music producer. Any commercial space that might have been utilised for workshops is usually converted into something good enough to fill with a few desks, high-speed internet and let out as ‘deskspace’. Anyway, my search for a small, cheap space continues as I look further east.

Which brings me to the subject of ‘making do – how much space do you really need to make things anyway?’.

My friend Joe recently visited the beautifully restored Cutty Sark in Greenwich, London. Restored after the blaze that destroyed much of the vessel, (while it was already undergoing restoration), the finished ship is now housed in an amazing cocoon of glass and metal and open to the public.
Joe sent me a picture of a tiny room used by the ship’s carpenter, Henry Henderson (who incidentally would have also been a petty officer on the ship). He would have undertaken repairs to parts of the ship on what looks like a small shelf?! As much as I’d love to be making a French oak Roubo bench, I think I’m very much more impressed by Henry.

Henderson came from Kincardine in Firth and was a master shipwright on the construction of the Cutty Sark. It was he who selected the timbers that went into her construction. He then sailed in the ship as ship’s carpenter and served under the first three captains. He was a firm favourite of old John Willis. The jury rudder was made up of spare spars and iron stanchions in conditions which were severe. The gale was still blowing and heavy seas were still sweeping the decks but at the end of six days the job was completed but not without drama. On one occasion, while working the bellows on the brazier needed for forging the ironwork, the captain’s son was covered in embers when the brazier was overturned in the force of the gale. On another occasion the sailmaker narrowly missed having his face burned by a red hot bar when the blacksmith was swept off his feet. The rudder was worked by chains linked to the ship’s wheel and the whole operation was an amazing feat of seamanship. For his achievement Henry Henderson was awarded a testimonial and a cheque for £50 by the owner who recognised his genius. However, the owners had ample reason to reward Henderson’s achievement. It later transpired that both the ship and the freight were uninsured. When the ship arrived home Captain Moodie, who was still furious with the owner’s brother, resigned his command and transferred to steam.


Hackney London People Slideshow

Goodbye to W.H.Clark

W H Clark originally opened as H.M.Presland & Sons in 1797. It became W H Clark in the 1890s and has traded as Daniel Lewis & Sons Ltd – The One Stop Metal Shop since 2002. The shop will be leaving Hackney Road this summer and I wanted to photograph the premises before that event.
W H Clark was originally opened as ‘H.M.Presland & Sons’ in 1797. it became W H Clark in the 1890’s and has traded as ‘Daniel Lewis & Sons Ltd – The One Stop Metal Shop’ since 2002. This picture shows the premises as it now stands at 493-497 Hackney Road. If you want to visit this shop, do it quickly, it will be closing this summer.
Part of the original shop-front sign that would have stretched across the whole frontage.
The colourful sight that greets you on entering the premises. I love the ordered way that so many varied items are presented. You can tell the shop has grown organically over the years, changing to suit the needs of the stock presentation. David told me that up until the 60’s, it was commonplace that a driver would turn up on a bare-chassis lorry, then proceed to order doors, seats, rear panels, windows, everything he needed to drive off and complete the build to his custom requirements. Amazing.
This Queens Royal Crest was hanging outside Garrard’s (Crown Jewellers) in Regent st. London and when Garrard’s closed, David purchased several of them. This is the largest of the selection and it’s made of fibreglass.
Going down the hallway you get an odd sense of daylight. The space seems to be ready to open out again. Here you enter a covered courtyard. A new modern roof covers an area where before there was an open street. Some of the larger metal-cutting jobs are done here.
Some of the large cutting blades from a circular saw.
This part of the premises holds the longer lengths of metal. Sheet and tubular metal has now taken over as the main business. The racks on the left of the picture date back earlier and would have held lots of wooden ‘fellowes’, (quadrant parts of the main circular part of a cart wheel) and also wooden spoke parts. W H Clark specialised in producing wooden wheels for carts and carriages, and this area would have been stacked high with wheels at various stages of production.
Turning left and entering that part of the former street, you are greeted with an amazing sight. A wonderful old road topped with cobblestones and further in, granite sets over bricks. This is a street that dates back to Roman times. You have to imagine this part of the premises without the roof and shelves. This was an open street, with carts and horses trundling in and out, delivering all sorts of cargo, to and from the address. It’s worth noting that horses were always used by the company and last used to do deliveries around London until 1918, just after the war. W H Clark started using commercial motor vehicles then, and coincidentally those also had wooden wheels with rubber tyres, until about 1929. David pointed out depressions in the granite sets on the floor. Over years and years, where the horses had been rested and tied, their hooves had worn shallow craters as they scraped back and forth.
Turning and looking right into the corner. A beautiful disorganised mess. Underneath this pile are some large flagstones, one of which David said he lifted one day and revealed a small stream which continues to run under the street.
Here David showed me one of the many wonderful remnants. A sack of turned spindles, which to me look like the sort of spindles that would have supported a plinth around the top of a piece of period furniture. There must be thousands in the sack and some guy stood there, turning them by hand on his lathe.
Part of the original metal sign from the shopfront. This is the ‘493’, from ‘493-497 Hackney Road’.
Into the bowels of the place. I can’t even tell you how many small rooms there are like this. Stuffed to the rafters with screws, nails, hinges, every type of hardware you’ve ever seen.
On a shelf, original paper packs of nails, never even opened.
I like the fact that someone bothered to paint some decent typography for these stock shelf numbers.
Back in the central space, we’re looking up at the first floor.
You enter the first floor space via a wooden ladder. This is pretty amazing. I already felt like I was in some Dickensian world, but heading up here, I can almost feel the guys running around with orders.
The view back down the steps.
A lot of these shelves have already started to be emptied for the move, but they still show the diversity of the stock that W H Clark held. A lot of these components are for horse carriages. Special bolts, window hinges, a lot of other items I don’t recognise.
Another corner of this first room. On the lower right is a threading machine. This would cut a thread on a bolt, such as the one held in it now. The power for the machines would have come via pulleys, which would have in turn been powered via a steam furnace. Behind this room, there was a Vulcanized Rubber Tyre fitting machine for placing solid rubber tyres on ash and elm carriage & cart wheels.
A ‘Mustad’ horse nails box, now containing small rivets. When I asked David about his stocks of nails, he replied he had ‘some sizes of Cut Nails, Horse Shoe Nails, Wagon Wheel Nails & Carriage Rivets… Mustad Nails, Clasp Nails, Twisted Bright Wire Nails and the usual everyday Round Wire Nails, Ovals, Floor Brads, Annular Ring Nails, Panel Pins, Blued Tacks…’. And I suspect that was just the start!
I gingerly walked out over the modern roof, (with David’s guidance) and took a shot looking back at the first floor doors from the outside. Where I am standing now, would have meant I would have been hovering 15ft in the air over a street, if we went back 150 years.
Looking from the outside into the second, farthest room.
And looking back toward the main courtyard space. If you look at the doors, you can see the swingarm that would have swung out and allowed people to lift goods up from the street and in through the doors.
Inside the second room.
Another shot of the stock shelves. Pretty much all these shelves in the premises have been built as needed. A lot are made of ply, sandwiched in galvanised panels, so they are incredibly strong and well-made.
Walking back down the steps, we go through the modern shop area and go up some wooden steps into the office area.
‘You can’t make a craquelure finish like on those panels’, said David. This comes from burning coal and the earlier years when everyone smoked in the office.
An old pencil sharpener from the 50’s sits on the wall. It works superbly of course, unlike a lot of the plastic crap we are sold these days.
A wonderful photograph hangs on the wall of the office, circa 1880-1890, and shows W H Clark as it looked back then. The railway bridge is still there today, but it doesn’t have steam trains puffing across it any more. Next to W H Clark you can see the Chandler & Wiltshire Brewery, now no longer there.
Another view into a corner of the office. W H Clark used to supply the GWR (Great Western Railway), and in turn the GWR supplied W H Clark with wooden panels which they lined their train carriages with. These panels now line the main office.
Looking out from the next door room over the roof toward the workshop rooms.
The sight gladdened my heart. This is a presentation case made by ‘GKN’- Guest Keen & Nettlefolds, a leading manufacturer in the Midlands, of fasteners such as screws, bolts and the like. This case was built to show their products for the Festival of Britain in the summer of 1951. Funnily enough, my father worked as a sales manager for that firm. He died when he was much too young, but he would have chuckled to see me poring over this case, whilst visiting this wonderful Hackney business, W H Clark.
London R.Melhuish Tool Makers

R.Melhuish bench for sale

Even I take a break sometimes from talking about old tools and perusing woodworking manuals, and if, like me, you enjoy watching Drew Pritchard’s ‘Salvage Hunters’ on the Quest channel, you might like this piece he’s just listed.

Melhuish bench 1
Melhuish bench 2
Melhuish bench 4

It’s a lovely carving and joiner’s work cabinet, by our old friend Richard Melhuish, formerly of Fetter Lane, EC4, London.

Item listing reads:

An exceptionally original carving and joiners’ work cabinet.
An early compact multi-functional carpenter’s cabinet with two side cabinets, brass bat wing handles to six drawers, lid to reveal working bench and removable vice.
British made with makers mark and patent “RD Melhuish & Sons Fetter Lane London EC” “Patent No 735”
CIRCA 1910-20.

Price is listed as £1,895, and god, do I wish I had some space in my small house.

(Addition: Toolerama Press have catalogue pics, showing how it would have looked with new, shiny tools.)