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JOEL Joel's Blog

Where the Factory Was


Most of the time the makers names on old tools are just that - names in abstract. But when you think of it at one time all these companies existed, had a factory or two, people went to work there, and there was a surrounding neighborhood. Now with the aid of Street View and Google Maps we can easily save the air fare and take a trip to the old factory site and see if anything remains. With street view on google even if the building no longer survives in many cases you can look across the street, go up the block, and see contemporary buildings that give a flavor of what the area was once like.

Spiers was on 10 Rivers Street in Ayr, Scotland for most of its existence. Unlike the other places visited, amazingly, the building still survives. It's the white building on the right with the Bed Shed store. The building is mostly unchanged since the 19th century. A picture exists of Steward Spiers and his staff standing outside the building. The factory was on the second floor and maybe third floor, a second floor row of windows has since been sealed up. There was a sign saying "Spiers Iron Plane Maker" hanging on the left side of the building between the second and third floor row of windows. If you wander around the neighborhood you can see that most of the buildings would have familiar to Mr. Spiers and maybe he even visited the Harvest Bar which is around the corner. Take a look for yourself, save the air fair and stroll with Google street view maps.

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Alex Mathieson and Son, the giant Glasgow firm that made everything including a fine line of infill planes was for most of their existence (1854 - 1966) at 11 & 13 East Campbell Street in Glasgow. Nothing remains, although I am pretty sure the newish block of flats replaced the factory site. A walk around the neighborhood shows lots of traces that this used to be an industrial area which has now fallen on hard times.

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Holtzapffel, the ornamental turning lathe makers had a factory here a 11A Sharpleshall Street in London from 1898 - 1914. The buildings across the street are probably contemporary but the factory building has been replaced with modern residential flats. Their earlier factory at 127 Long Acre Street, is a main shopping street now - with a Body Shop at that location. What you see here is the remains of a pretty common mix of industry on a small scale and residences. Up until WW2 most people had to live within pretty easy walking distance to their jobs - and this was especially true in London where manufacturing was just one more activity in a bustling city. The original factory was probably a bunch of fairly old, low density workshops and at some point the new flats were build completing the transformation of the block to pure residential. If you go around the corner there is a row of stores that are probably contemporary.

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There are hundreds more places to visit and it's kind of fun. And not just tools sites. I might do another tour at some point if I find something special. Just for fun I leave you with a view of one of the more interesting and older building sites in Britain - Stonehenge.

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Join the conversation
01/11/2011 brian
I would love to see a Brooklyn based list of these sometime.. and I'm sure you have it at your fingertips. Anything to make driving around to worksites slightly more interesting.
01/11/2011 r francis
Longacre not Long Acre street: see for a history.
There are lots of variations in spelling but in London where the street is it is known by two words Long Acre (search in google maps for Long Acre Street London).
01/12/2011 Konrad Sauer
10 Rivers St. is on my bucket list Joel. Thanks for this post.

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