11 July 2019

Charles Baker, optical and surgical instrument maker, 244 High Holborn

Earlier this week, whilst hunting for something else in amongst my suitcases of collected bric-a-brac, I rediscovered my small collection of opera and field glasses.
Oh what a distraction!
Beautiful little pocket-sized binoculars made of brass (and other metals) and/or bakelite, many with mother-of-pearl, leather or shagreen embellishment. And most of them still in their perfect little pigskin pouches. OK, that was just for alliteration – I mean carrying/protective cases.
Someone recently suggested to me that they were not worth much, that they had no value, and asked me if I used glasses at the opera these days. A bit of a daft question as I don't go to the opera! And also daft because one could say that Chinese tea caddies and Victorian children's dresses are also not used these days but that doesn't mean they aren't worth anything. I believe what he meant was that these are just collectables; they aren't top dollar items. Certainly not worth insuring.
Nevertheless I thought I'd do a bit of research on them.
Silver metal with hinged centre and mother-of-pearl inlay on the handles 
The pair that it turns out to be most intriguing, for me as a Londoner, is the pair that when the centre wheel is at full twist, words can be seen on the shafts that read; "Sold By C. BAKER, Optician" on the left side, and "244 High Holborn, London" on the right.
Kelly's – just up the road
So I got got to googling etc. It seems Baker was listed as a company as early as 1765 and by 1854 they had moved from premises at 51 Gt Queen Street, to 244 High Holborn, listed as an "optical and surgical instrument maker".  Interesting that the engraving reads "Sold by" rather than 'Made by". Hmmmm. Ponder, ponder.
My Kelly's Directory of 1895 shows that Baker was at No.243 with his instruments and also at No.244 as an optician. By 1915 there are five companies listed at No.244 address including another optician.
The 1939 directory shows that 242-243 has become The Holborn Empire music hall with Baker as scientific instrument maker at no244 sharing the building with Ascot Gas Water Heaters. At this time ads show Baker is making full use of the theatre next door as a signpost. I like to think he would have had a display of opera glasses in his shop window ready to catch the eye of theatre-goers.
Moving forward quickly... in 1963 the Vickers company acquired C.Baker Ltd's microscope factory which later became Vickers Instruments
It's all here on Grace's Guide if you want to read it for yourself.

Of my other binoculars, the ones that also interest me are my two compact late-20s/early-30s Bakelite pairs made by A. Kershaw & Son of Leeds. I am particularly fond of the ultramarine blue ones like these but bright blue. In 1920 the Kershaw company had various premises across the UK including offices/shop at 3 Soho Square. They had previously claimed to produce "the World's first cinematograph projector". By 1964 the company was swallowed up to the Rank Organisation.
And I also have some diddy little opera glasses made by Colmont of Paris; a company that I am told was one of the best French companies of this type back in the day. Ooh. More research needed.

5 July 2019

An elephantine enigma

Can anyone help with any information about this little theatre/cinema that used to be on Market Road mid-way on the north side between The White Horse (Gin Palace) and Caledonian Rd? 
As you can see it had dancing trumpeting elephants on the front. 
My pic from June 2008
It has since been demolished and replaced though it can also be seen in the Google Streetview 2008 which also shows that it had been demolished by 2012. 
Kelly's 1939 directory
I can't find it mentioned in Chris Draper's Islington Cinemas and Film Studios book. And it isn't listed in the Kelly's street directories – the 1939 listings show a couple of gaps in the numbering, so this would have been at 12-14 or 22-26.
One friend who grew up in the area says he recalls it being called The Electric Cinema or similar.
All help welcome.

3 July 2019

Goodby to Niclar House – an art deco delight

Shocking news.
On Sunday last I was leading my Art Deco Spitalfields tour and we were heading northwards up Bishopsgate. The next stop was to be Niclar house with its 1930s castellated faience tiled façade. I had already pre-warned my group that this end of the street was in the process of being renovated and that the building we were about to see and talk about had been behind nets and scaffold for the past few months – but never mind, I had pictures to show them and plenty to talk about.

Nicholls & Clarke's Niclar House in 2018 (Google streetview)
But when we got there, oh the disappointment and shock (and tongue-biting frustration):
Pic taken from the top of a bus (Sunday 30 June 2019)
Where is façadism when you really need it?
Norton Folgate sits at the upper end of Bishopsgate and has for years been cause of dispute about the conservation of its last remaining historic buildings. However, the buildings that abut Norton Folgate were not included as they did not form part of the same street – they appear[ed] to be a continuation but they actually form[ed] the first section of Shoreditch High Street, which had become separated from the rest of that road when the railway arrived.
Niclar House at No3-8 Shoreditch High Street was the swanky public/street-facing offices and showrooms of Nicholls and Clarke, plumbers' and builders' supplies who, since 1875, had made very good use of the adjacent railway to ship their products all over the country from their huge warehouses in Blossom Street at the rear (often used as a film location).
In June the demolition crew arrived. The Art Deco façade was covered with scaffolding, netting and opaque sheeting and I rather hoped that it was being protected and saved.
But no.
The powers-that-be and the developers obviously don't think that Victorian and unique Art Deco buildings are significant. This would also further explain the loss of The Water Poet public house. I am still unclear what will happen with N&C's still partially-erect evocative Victorian warehouses as shown in the pic above. I wonder what happened to all those tiles? Were they saved? Will the be reused individually or rebuilt en-masse? Answers on a postcard please.
Also see The art deco clock.
Nicholls & Clarke still trade today.