Tuesday 14 June 2016

Art Deco on West London's Golden Mile

Most people have heard of Blackpool's famous Golden Mile of sand and occasional sunshine. Fewer will be familiar with what was once known as West London's Golden Mile, the Great West Road north of Brentford. Opened in 1925 to bypass the then traffic clogged Brentford High Street, the road was soon flanked by a number of factories - many in the art deco style. 
Former Curry's building
Several well-known British and international firms set up home on the Great West Road in the late 1920's and early 1930's - Smith's Potato Crisps, Gillette, Curry's, the Firestone Tyre Company, Jantzen Knitting Mills and Coty Cosmetics. The nearby Syon Lane Station opened in 1931 to bring in the many workers who found employment here whilst new housing was also built close by during the 1930's.

I recently visited this part of London and was able to photograph some of the remaining art deco structures. This is not the most convenient part of the city to visit on public transport as it is a twenty minutes walk from Osterley Tube Station on the Piccadilly Line and most of the walk is on the side of an extremely busy dual carriageway. However, it really is worth persevering or if like me you don't have a car, persuading a friend to drive you there! Incidentally, Osterley Station is also worth a look, built in 1934 to the designs of Stanley Heaps. Shame about those huge trees that make it hard to photograph though!
Former Gillette factory, tower and lamp post
Former Gillette factory, main entrance
Approaching from Osterley, you will see the former Gillette factory, at the junction with Syon Lane. The factory was completed in 1937 and was designed by the magnificently named Sir Banister Flight Fletcher. The main body stands two storeys high with a series of decorative metal aprons on the facade. The dramatic main entrance is encased in speed lines, the lower ones reflecting the steps below with the Gillette name overhead in stylised lettering. Even more dramatic is the tall, narrow tower that sits above the entrance with its four faced clock that at least originally was illuminated at night. A series of lamps stand on plinths along the main boundary wall guarded by sculptures of cherubs.

Gillette ceased using the factory in 2006, moving the work to Poland. The building was then sold to be the subject of a £150 million development that was to include a hotel and business park. Work commenced but then ceased due to the recession and the factory was again sold in 2013. When I visited there were a number of cars parked within the perimeter of the which seemed to indicate some use. However a high wire fence has been put up, covering most of the gates and I have been unable to find out what if anything is going on with this Grade ll listed building.

Architect Sir Banister was quite an accomplished chap. Knighted in 1919, he was elected President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1929 and Master of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters in 1936. He previously had a career in the law, having qualified as a barrister in 1908 and worked, somewhat appropriately, on cases involving property matters. He also published a major work on architecture and an annual prize is given in his name for the best new book on the subject.
Former Coty Cosmetics factory
The former Coty Cosmetics factory stands a little further along on the opposite side of the road. Designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, it was completed in 1932 and until 1979, lipsticks, perfumes and other beauty products were manufactured there. Now home a branch of a private health care company there is a link of sorts with Coty as amongst other things, the Syon Clinic performs cosmetic surgery. 

I love the elegant simplicity of the Coty factory with its almost completely white facade, straight lined crittal windows and just a touch of colour with the green line at the upper level of the facade allowing itself a little upwards flourish at the corners. But the main feature is the entrance with its fins, discs conforming to the rule of three and recessed doorway. Wallis, Gilbert and Partners were hugely successful architects and real leaders in the art deco field. As well as the Coty factory, they also designed Victoria Coach Station, the former Hoover Factory in Perivale, the former Daimler Hire Garage in the West End and the tower of the Alaska Factory in Bermondsey, all of which are still in use albeit not necessarily for the original purpose.

They also have another building on the Great West Road - the former Pyrene Fire Extinguisher Company's factory a little further along. Construction was completed in 1928 and the company took up residence in 1930. Long and rectilinear with a stepped, decorative main tower it has brightly coloured tiling around the main doorway, the patterns of which make reference to ancient Egyptian motifs. Its position on a slope and the outer gates being locked makes it difficult to see the full glory of the main door or indeed to photograph it without standing in the middle of the dual carriageway, which is not recommended. Pyrene became part of the Chubb company in 1971 but have long been gone from here and although the internet has some oblique references to a residential development there was no sign of any activity when I visited. The building is listed with Grade ll status.

Former Coty Cosmetics factory 
Former Coty Cosmetics factory
Former Pyrene Fire Extinguisher Company building
Former Pyrene Fire Extinguisher Company building
Detail, former Pyrene Fire Extinguisher Company building
The fourth and final building is my favourite. Currently occupied by the international marketing company JC Decaux (and also pictured at the top of this post). Built in 1936 and designed by architect F E Simkins, it was sensitively restored in 1997 by Norman Foster. The red metal window frames are a vivid contrast to the plain white facade which leans in to the central clock tower. As with many art deco buildings, this one has a beautiful entrance with its red door frame and white, rounded canopy. Unfortunately works were being carried out to the facade when I visited so it wasn't possible to get unobstructed pictures and additionally the workman was pretending to be shy and kept shouting "no pictures". He should be so lucky.  I am planning to return to look at some of the other remaining deco structures so will try again.

I came away with mixed feelings. Its great that so many of these treasures are still standing but worrying that some of them are empty with no apparent plans. Some have already been lost, including the former Firestone Tyre Factory which was demolished on a Bank Holiday weekend the day before a preservation order was to be served. All that remains of the factory which was yet another Walls and Gilbert project are part of the main gates, pillars and fence. It is to be hoped that positive use can be made of the Golden Mile's vacant deco buildings in order to ensure their future.

Former Curry's building with shy workman
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You can see more pictures of London Art Deco buildings here


  1. The most dramatic architecture in my opinion was the Former Gillette factory because its main entrance was so dramatic. Ditto the tower placed directly over the steps leading up to the front door.

    The former Pyrene Fire Extinguisher Company building was also impressive because the approach to the main entrance was so monumental. I hope all these buildings are soundly Heritage Protected.

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