Michelin House is still standing proud

Michelin House

I’d somehow completely forgotten about this building, so it was a real pleasure to stumble upon it again in Chelsea the other day. Here’s a potted history from Wikipedia:

On 20 January 1911, Michelin House was officially opened. The building offered everything the motorist of the time required. Fitting bays at the front of the building allowed motorist to have their tyres speedily changed by Michelin fitters from the stock of over 30,000 stored in the basement. Tyres were brought up on a lift and rolled to the front of the building along the purposely sloped floor. To the left of the front recipient, a ‘Touring Office’ provided maps and writing implements for the keen motorist to plan his or her journey.

Within a year of opening, work started on an extension to the building to provide additional office space and included a second floor. The extension was built along the Lucan Place side of the building. A further extension was built in 1922, ten years after the first. Located where a garage had stood, it reached three floors.

In 1927, Michelin built a factory in Stoke-on-Trent using the firm of Peter Lind & Company of London. The factory started producing the first British made Michelin tyres and in 1930, the company moved their head office to Stoke-on-Trent. Michelin continued to use the basement and the ground floor of the building, but over two-thirds were left empty. Between 1933 and 1940, the upper storeys were let as a furniture warehouse, a workshop and offices for the Air Ministry.

In 1940, because of the risk of bombing, Michelin removed the three stained glass windows. They were carefully packed into wooden crates and sent to the Stoke-on-Trent factory for safe keeping. After the war, Michelin returned its headquarters to London. The reduced staff meant only the front original part of the building was occupied, while the rest of the building was leased. In 1950, a long term lease was signed by a new tenant which consisted of the space created in the 1912 and 1922 extensions. In 1952, an extension was added for the tenant. A steel frame construction, it extended part of the second floor and added a third floor along the Lucan Place side of the building.

In 1960, Michelin and their tenant began a modernisation programme for the interior of the building. The programme went along with the general taste of the time. Although the work concentrated on the interior of the building, the possibility of update the exterior of the building with a cement rendered facade was one option considered. The modernisation involved splitting up the open plan office and the heavy use of wood panelling.

On 15 April 1969 the original front section of the Michelin Building was given a Grade II listing. Despite this, outline planning permission was granted to demolish all but the listed part and build a ten storey office block. Michelin instead decided to spend the money on a new factory in North America.

I’m thankful for that, because it’s restored and still there. I think it might be my favourite building in London.

Michelin House

Michelin House is still standing proud

Why we love retro photos

1949 Colour photograph of Piccadilly Circus Taken on Kodachrome by Chalmers Butterfield, this picture is bright enough and sharp enough to look like a digital photograph. People aren’t used to a past that looks this crisp, which is why the picture got shared so much. Photograph: Chalmers Butterfield. Shared by Retronaut

From the Guardian:

It was the sign advertising Brylcreem that got me. It can be seen in one of Chalmers Butterfield’s colour photographs of Piccadilly Circus in 1949. Why did it move me? Brylcreem’s range of hair styling products for men is still very much with us. Personally, though, it always means the red plastic pot of the stuff my dad kept ever-ready in the bathroom of our home in the 1970s. It spoke then, and does now, of his youth in austerity Britain, skiffle-board Britain, Teddy Boy Britain.

What is nostalgia? For me it’s triggered by the sense that my parents might be young people in Butterfield’s deep colour vistas of the West End of London. For enthusiasts who post historic photographs on Twitter, it’s more broadly scattered. These pictures reveal the wealth of photographic documents, memories and arcana that these sites have dragged into the 21st-century limelight, from an 1890s portrait of Cornelia Sorabji, India’s first female advocate and the first woman to study law at Oxford University, to the building of the Hoover dam in Roosevelt’s America.

History and nostalgia are not the same thing. Looking again at Piccadilly Circus in 1949, its historical evidence is crisp and unsettling. In its eerily immediate colours, you can see an underlying chromatic order. All the people are wearing brown, grey, black or a daring dark blue. Buses provide a refreshing redness, but cars mainly come in any colour you like so long as it’s black. Austerity is not something the historians made up – you really can see, in this picture, the limitations of life in a postwar Britain regulated by ration books. No wonder everyone smoked (another habit of the age my parents took with them to later life). A giant cigarette in an ashtray advertises Craven “A” high above Piccadilly Circus. It’s a reminder that George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in the year Butterfield took his pictures – the relentless smoker’s ads resemble his totalitarian hoardings for Victory cigarettes.

Read in full

Sarla Thakral, the first Indian woman to fly. In 1936 she earned her pilot’s licence and flew a Gypsy Moth. Photograph: Viv Chavan. Shared by IndiaHistoryPic
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was paid by the Tsar to capture images of the Russian Empire. The colour wipes away the years like polish wiping away tarnish from a ring. Here, three young women offer berries to visitors to their izba, a traditional wooden house, in a rural area along the Sheksna River, near the town of Kirillov, circa 1909. Photograph: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii/Library of Congress. Shared by Retronaut
Why we love retro photos


The derelict Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park, Japan, 2006. It was an amusement park built on the side of Mt Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture in 1987 and shut down in 2001

By  in the Guardian:

‘Many times we would enter huge art deco buildings with once-beautiful chandeliers, ornate columns and extraordinary frescoes and everything was crumbling and covered in dust and the sense that you had entered a lost world was almost overwhelming.”

These are the words of the French photographer Yves Marchand who, with Romain Meffre, created one of the most talked-about photographybooks of recent times, The Ruins of Detroit, published in 2011. It portrayed the once-great American industrial city as a kind of lost world, where, as Marchand put it, “the magnificence of the past is everywhere evident”.

Their photographs of abandoned ballrooms, theatres, police stations and entire blocks of once-ornate art deco-style buildings struck a chord worldwide. When I interviewed them just after the book’s publication, the resulting feature and picture gallery became one of the most-viewed online stories on this paper’s website.

In terms of our current collective fascination with abandoned places, the publication of The Ruins of Detroit was a tipping point, the moment when a curiosity turned into an obsession, as a cursory Google search of “abandoned places” will attest. It has grown into an online subculture, where newly discovered abandoned places are constantly photographed and the results shared via websites, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Read the whole article here, and see more images of abandoned places here.

Known as the Sanzhi UFO houses, these pod-like abandoned buildings used to stand in Sanzhi District, New Taipei City, Taiwan. They have now been demolished
Inside the dome of the Buzludzha, a former Communist monument in Bulgaria. More of Martino Zegwaard’s work can be found on his Flickr feed
The Red Sands sea forts in the Thames estuary protected London from enemy attack during the Second World War

The font that was swallowed by the Thames

Who can resist a tale like this? From the Economist:

On dark evenings in late 1916, a frail 76-year-old man could often be seen shuffling furtively between The Dove, a pub in west London, and the green and gold turrets of Hammersmith Bridge. Passers-by paid no attention, for there was nothing about Thomas Cobden-Sanderson’s nightly walks to suggest that he was undertaking a peculiar and criminal act of destruction.

Between August 1916 and January 1917 Cobden-Sanderson, a printer and bookbinder, dropped more than a tonne of metal printing type from the west side of the bridge. He made around 170 trips in all from his bindery beside the pub, a distance of about half a mile, and always after dusk. At the start he hurled whole pages of type into the river; later he threw it like bird seed from his pockets. Then he found a small wooden box with a sliding lid, for which he made a handle out of tape—perfect for sprinkling the pieces into the water, and not too suspicious to bystanders.

Those tiny metal slugs belonged to a font of type used exclusively by the Doves Press, a printer of fine books that Cobden-Sanderson had co-founded 16 years earlier. The type was not his to destroy, so he concealed his trips from his friends and family and dropped his packages only when passing traffic would drown out the splash. There were slip-ups, all the same. One evening he nearly struck a boatman, whose vessel shot out unexpectedly from under the bridge. Another night he threw two cases of type short of the water. They landed on the pier below, out of reach but in plain sight. After sleepless nights he determined to retrieve them by boat, but they eventually washed away. After that he was more careful.

Read the full story here.

The font that was swallowed by the Thames

Shelter from the storm: Portraits of homeless people in London

From the Guardian:

Photographs of homeless people often paint a familiar, gritty picture, but these portraits by Rosie Holtom break that mould. An animator by day, Holtom has volunteered at Shelter from the Storm, a night shelter in north London, for four years and photographs the residents to challenge preconceptions of homelessness. “There is a huge disconnect between the interesting people at the shelter and the ‘misery’ photography I constantly see depicting homelessness,” she explains. “It’s time more positive imagery mobilised people to help.” Certainly, in asking the subjects in her photos to pose and dress “exactly as they would want to be seen,” it emphasises that homelessness could happen to any of us. “People assume all homeless people are drunks or addicts but the reality is very different,” says Holtom, and residents’ stories of being kicked out by unscrupulous landlords illustrate this point.

Shelter from the storm: Portraits of homeless people in London

London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower that never was

I wish they’d gone ahead and built one of these designs:

Inspired by the financial success of the Eiffel Tower — which was erected in Paris for the 1889 World’s Fair — a group of Englishmen attempted to bang out their own ersatz Eiffel a year later. This contest to design the never-to-be “Great Tower of London” received 68 designs. Some resemble alien fortresses and all of them would’ve (supposedly) prompted an international Eiffel Tower arms race.

See all the contenders here.

See also this illustrated list of Replica Eiffel Towers from Wikipedia. Fascinating!

London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower that never was