Beating The Blackout

Finished in a subtle grey geometric wallpaper, my home study is a calm, child-free environment in which I can focus on my various projects. It was created a couple of years ago from an unloved, seldom used dining room, and has proved to be an excellent investment of DIY graft. So proud was I, that a blog was even penned, concluding with a list of essential items that I felt would further enhance my Shangri-La. One featured ‘want’ was an original 1930’s Anglepoise lamp, the gorgeous semi-industrial design icon that revolutionised desk mounted work lighting. Having decided that one would no doubt surface at a flea fair sooner or later, I didn’t give it much more thought until recently.

Earlier in the summer I took a trip to Redditch to take some snaps for my Streamline Worcestershire book (now with its own dedicated website). It’s a fairly sizable, if somewhat unremarkable, settlement in the North of the county with a strong manufacturing history. On the itinerary was a visit to the former Danilo Cinema (now tastefully revamped as a Wetherspoons), and expeditions to a clutch of industrial buildings including a local landmark called Millsborough House.

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The original Millsborough House, built 1912.

The original Millsborough House, built in 1912, was a huge office and factory complex for the well established Redditch firm Herbert Terry & Sons. Initially specialising in the manufacture of needles and fishing tackle, Terry’s quickly diversified into all manner of metal tools, clips and hooks, ultimately becoming best known for their springs. As if all this wasn’t glamorous enough, in 1934 the firm would cement their legacy by entering into a licensing agreement with Bath based designer George Cawardine to manufacture and market his new invention; the Anglepoise Lamp. This revolutionary product, that enabled the user to tailor the position, and angle the beam of light to their needs without moving the base proved to be a huge success. Numerous variations on the theme were developed into a range of lamps of differing sizes and designs for different purposes, while licences were granted to a select few overseas manufacturers.  

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1937 advert

The late 1930’s was an exceptionally successful period for the firm, and in 1937 a vast new extension was added to Millsborough House. Large parts of the original factory were replaced (some had been lost during a fire in 1932) in addition to new buildings on a facing site. Apparently designed collaboratively by F.W.B. Yorke (responsible for many large scale constructions in the area) and his son F.R.S. Yorke (a prominent modernist author and architect, later behind the 1950’s expansion of Gatwick Airport), the extension bears no resemblance to the earlier Edwardian buildings whatsoever.

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The immense, yet surprisingly slender modernist frontage stands on Millsborough Road. Two towers flank the central triple height section, fenestrated with banks of metal framed windows, each capped with a decorative geometric etched lintel. To the south, an adjoining manufacturing wing has a distinctly different appearance thanks to its glazing and pair of asymmetric pitched roofs. The Northern wing is the most rewarding, with three thin vertical insets, each topped with a small hexagonal window. It then drops down as it corners onto Ipsley Street following similar themes before rising back up to eventually meet the remaining original Edwardian building.

At the outbreak of war Terry’s famously marketed the lamp as a means to ‘Beat the Bogey of Blackout Lighting’, enabling the user to clearly see the task in hand without infringing on regulations after dark. As the war progressed production was altered to aid the war effort, this included the development of a smaller battery powered lamp for the RAF. These were used in a number of applications, most famously in bombers, illuminating the navigators charts and maps while on raids.

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1939 advert

Post war production continued, but by the late 1970’s Millsborough House had become outdated and inefficient. The company relocated and areas of the building were demolished and altered to convert it into smaller units. Today it serves multiple businesses in different sectors, and has recently had planning permission granted to convert some of the vacant space into modern warehouse style apartments.

Having concluded it would be in extremely bad form to continue working on a book that featured the Anglepoise factory  without the benefit of my own lamp, I hit eBay. The original production of iconic ‘1227’ lamps ran until 1969 (although it’s back in production again now) encompassing subtle alterations with each generation. Early models are the most sought after, and tend to command high prices. Dating the lamps is relatively easy with various online guides including one on Anglepoises‘ own site. I personally favour the comprehensive guide on 1227, a whole site dedicated to the lamp. Having scoured the listings for a few weeks, I concluded that I was probably going to have to opt for a later generation item rather than hold out for an elusive pre-war model, and ended up buying this sexy number. It’s from the 1948-1960 period, but doesn’t really vary greatly from the original (the larger lamp holder being the most obvious difference). Illuminating it gives my study the instant ‘I’m up to my eyeballs in it and working late to meet a deadline’ look that I was after! An interior design icon that was made locally, who’d have thought.

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Airfield Activities – Flywheel 2016

flywheel 043I’m a bit of a classic car fanatic and make no apologies for it. I’ve always found the sensuous curves and roaring fume-belching engines of mid-century sports cars totally intoxicating. Its a hereditary trait that I’ve picked up from my eccentric father, now well into his 70s, who spends practically every waking moment battling with old wrecks in his Olympic sized mancave. As the only male in our household, this love of bygone automotive achievements is usually kept strictly separate from family life, but occasionally I concoct a cunning plan to mix the two.

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1934 Fort-Type Watchtower

Having greedily soaked up several magazine articles on it, I was eager to find an excuse to visit Bicester Heritage, a former RAF bomber base in Oxfordshire. This huge pre-war airfield had been laying derelict until it was resurrected in 2013 as a centre for historic motoring and aviation. Now a hive of activity, it is host to over 30 independent businesses, all providing different services for the classic car and plane buff. From the photos I’d seen of the architecture (most of which is from the 20s & 30s) it looked absolutely breathtaking. The sympathetically restored red brick hangers and support buildings are a perfect fit for the ethos of the centre, and provide a romantic backdrop impossible to create in a modern industrial unit.

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Unit 93, now home to Pendine Cars

The excuse I needed to combine a family day out with a good nose around this fine destination came in the shape of the second annual Flywheel Festival. A celebration of automobiles, aeroplanes and vintage culture for young and old. Surely this was the perfect opportunity to fill up the picnic basket and spend a jolly good family day out in our old Daimler!

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With everything prepared and packed the night before, we bundled everyone into the car first thing Sunday morning and set off on the 90 minute journey. Travelling with young children tends to lead to anxiety of emergency toilet stops and frantic mopping up of travel sick, putting a potential dampener on any day out. But thankfully, today passed without any such issues. The car was also in fine fettle, its v8 engine burbling along the M40 flywheel 009.jpgeasily keeping up with modern traffic and shaming them with its superior beauty.

We arrived in good time and found a spot in the classic car enclosure. Our 3 year old daughter Dot immediately spotted a pink Cadillac and demanded a photo, before jumping in elation at the sight of the vintage fun fair. The festival is laid out on the airfield, with a makeshift figure of 8 track for motor demonstrations, off road area for tank rides and grass runway for the light aircraft. flywheel 010.jpgStatic WWII displays, vehicles & planes run the length of the field with a flea fair, period music tent, silent cinema and paddock separating the classic car park from the action.

From the paddock you can gain access to the main Bicester complex and stroll around freely. A long tree lined avenue runs from one end to the other with smaller lanes intersecting it. On this occasion we weren’t able to enter any of the buildings, but wandering around the place was more than enough to stoke the emotions. Individual vintage motors scattered around the virtually deserted site gave the strangest sensation of literally stepping back in time.

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1935 Douglas C-47 Skytrain

On returning back to the airfield we were just in time to witness a fabulous synchronized aerial display from a swarm of Tiger Moths. This was followed by flypasts from a Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire and a very impressive mock dogfight complete with anti-aircraft fire and smoke.

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Supermarine Spitfire mkIX doing final checks before takeoff
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Chap on his smart phone while driving a 1901 Toledo!

Full access to the paddock was also granted, giving the chance get up close and personal with the cars. A feast of automobiles ranging from very early veteran cars like a 1901 Toledo through to iconic 1950s racers were lined up ready for action. Action that came in the form of a makeshift track surrounded by hay bales. Each car screeched off the line one at a time, pounding around the figure of 8 to the cheers of onlookers. Commentators

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A 1937 Frazer-Nash BMW powers away from the line

housed in the original 1934 watchtower competed with untamed engine roar, trying to guide the uninitiated through each vehicles’ merits.

Before heading off Dot fancied a go in the miniature aeroplanes provided by the Joystick club. 50p secured her some bright yellow wings. She pedaled around in a circle for while making her best engines noises while we tried to ignore the swastikas on the side of the plane!

I came away eager to write up the event and spread the word, my only regret being that I didn’t take more photos. But I will return, you can count on that!

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The lost art of the family picnic

So the conversation might go a little something like this..

“Darling?”
“Yes dear”
“You’re not working this weekend are you darling?”
“No dear”
“Why don’t we go out for a picnic on Sunday? You know how much Dorothy loves to dine alfresco, and I’m worried about Beatrice, she spends far too much time playing in the nursery with that penguin”
“Do we have scotch eggs and ginger beer?”
“I think so darling”
“Sterling idea then dear. We could take the Daimler, head over to that old trust place near Leominster”.

And of course one expects the outing to look a little like this…
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Unfortunately the reality is usually a far more harrowing experience. Half empty pom bear packets flying off in the breeze, leaking bottles of fruit juice reducing the sandwiches to a heavy playdoh like consistency, dairylea triangles & half eaten cherry tomatoes as unwanted cushions, and melted wrapper clinging kit-kats all take the edge off the enjoyment. In fact here I am.. drinking supermarket own brand chocolate milk direct from the bottle, surround by a mountain of filth. Oh the shame! Even Dorothy looks embarrassed to be photographed in such depravity! 2016-03-17 13.10.55

This is clearly unacceptable and can’t go on, so this summer I’ve called time on 21st century nastiness ruining these otherwise enjoyable days out. All food must be removed from their wrappers at home and placed in suitably chintzy Tupperware containers, drinks should be served in a suitable breaker and poured ideally from an attractive glass bottle, napkins will be used rather than baby wipes, chairs and possibly even a folding table with decorated cloth will be required. Cutlery? I should jolly well hope so! To top this all off the most important addition will be a portable gramaphone. Preferably blasting out a pre-war recording of the teddy bears picnic or similar.
Only once these rules are abided by will I be able to sit back in my picnic chair, cucumber sandwich in one hand, cup of tea in the other and say..

“oh how lucky are we to be out here soaking up the treasures that only our green and pleasant land can provide. England how thee warms my soul…”
“daddy?”
“what is it sweetheart, are you have a wonderful time?”
“daddy, I need a poo!”
“greeeeaaat”

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The Reshuffle Pt1 – A Study in Grey

2015 is going to yield some fairly major changes in art deco magpie hq. The forthcoming arrival of our second bright young thing has required us to have a rethink about the layout of the flat and presented a September deadline. The plan is to convert a huge dark cellar room currently used for logs and garden tools into a stylish 30’s inspired kitchen diner, transform our existing kitchen (at the other end of the property) into a third bedroom and use the dining room as an office/study. It may all sound a bit extreme, but trust me.. it’s the only way we can get an extra bedroom in a sensible location. It’s bound to end up being a tedious and expensive project, but should be a huge improvement in the long run.

Old Dining RoomNo major work can be undertaken until I’ve had a massive disused oil tank removed. So in the meantime I decided to work backwards by creating my dream study in what was a rarely used dining room.

The walls were previously decorated with a bland pale pastel green emulsion. I had planned to give the room a somber 1940’s austerity feel with some light grey paint, but after a successful pre-Christmas experiment with wallpaper in the lounge I opted continue along a similar path with the study. The chosen design is Cavern in Dove Grey, once again by Graham and Brown. The sample looked great, the first few lengths applied… less so. It’s a very angular geometric pattern that when presented in its full glory is perhaps more suited to a brutalist mid-60’s inspired theme. However, we’d committed so it seemed churlish to back out and rip it off. Papering continued, and as we completed each wall and tested pictures and bits of furniture against it the design rapidly grew on us.

study 005I’ve already got a few decent bits and pieces to use in the room, which I’ve split diagonally to create two areas. One half centered around a burr walnut veneered desk (an up-cycled dressing table) and filing cabinet (will probably be replaced with an oak one when acquired), the opposite side a reading area with a 1930’s Globe Wernike stacking bookcase and a club chair liberated from our bedroom. Everything sits on an original handwoven Chinese Art Deco rug bought on the cheap a few years ago. It’s got a whopping great stain in the middle, hence the bargain price, so I’ve booked some professionals to clean it in a few weeks.

I’m guilty of injecting a pretty eclectic mix of 20th century items with my pre-war paraphernalia here. A 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica globe (originally free when signing up for the complete set), 1960’s Poole Pottery Helios lamp & drinks cabinet along with contemporary artworks, but I’d like to think they sit fairly comfortably together.  In addition to the filing cabinet, my wish list includes an original Herbert Terry Anglepoise lamp, an old glazed notice board & a groovy swivel chair of some kind. Other than that I think we’re done here.

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