Friday, 6 May 2011

Hayward Brothers, R. E. Jones, and James Ashby & Sons; Borough

Passing through Union Street today, it is hard to imagine how noisy the area used to be. Indeed this is were the foundry and ironworks of Hayward Brothers were located. Londoners should be familiar with the company as they step on its products day after day but the vast majority certainly does so unknowingly. If people were to look more closely at what is written on coal hole covers and iron pavement lights though, they would realise how frequently "Hayward Brothers" appears on the streets of the capital. Less ubiquitous products manufactured by Hayward Brothers included circular and spiral staircases, stoves, ranges, and ventilators.
The company was founded by Samuel Hayward in 1783 in the City. Originally it specialised in glass but later also ventured into ironmongery. Its fascinating history is narrated in Years of Reflection 1783-1953. The Story of Haywards of the Borough, published for the company on the occasion of its 170th anniversary.

Hayward moved to Union Street in the mid-19th century and over the years acquired several plots in that street. It is on one of their surviving buildings that today's ghost signs can be seen. But first, let's look at the main façade of that building, which still bears the name of the company.

Hayward Brothers & Eckstein Ltd.

This is not a proper painted sign though: the name of the company is made of coloured bricks inserted into the façade. It must date from 1906, when the Union Street works expanded with the addition of a five-storey building. Founded as Hayward, the company then became Hayward Brothers, before its name was changed to Hayward Brothers and Eckstein. This partnership became a limited company in 1896. Even though William Eckstein was British, wartime anti-German feelings forced him to change his name to Exstone in 1916 and to drop it from the company's title, which then traded as Haywards Ltd (one year later, another family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor).

For proper ghost signs, one has to look at the sides of the building. Coming from the western end of Union Street is the unmissable name of a later owner of the building.

James Ashby & Sons Ltd

A closer look at the wall reveals more ghost signs and tells us more about products manufactured by Hayward and what happened to the building when the company moved out.

The upper part dates from Hayward's times and reads
Hayward's Lights

Hayward's Lights, patented in 1871, were one of the company's most successful products. It consisted of strong cast iron frames glazed with lenses or prisms. These specifically-designed prisms allowed light to be directed towards the darkers parts of a room, usually a cellar. For details about this product, check the first pages of Chapter III of Years of Reflection 1783-1953.

Production in Union Street was spread across several sites acquired as the company expanded. By the late 1910s it had become clear this arrangement was adding to production costs. Additionally delivery was becoming increasingly problematic. Thus the decision was taken to move away from the Borough. Most workshops in Union Street were sold between 1919 and 1924. This building was one of the first ones to go. The most likely buyer was R. E. Jones, whose name appears in the central part of the wall:

The first of Richard Edwin Jones's cafes opened in Cardiff in 1879. In 1895 these were acquired by R. E. Jones Ltd, which became one of the leading catering companies in South Wales. In addition to the original cafes, the company also owned several restaurants and hotels, including the Angel, Sandringham, and Philarmonic in Cardiff, the Seabank, Marine and Esplanade in Porthcawl, and the Mackworth in Swansea. The company then expanded into London, where it was eventually based. In the capital it operated a chain of tea rooms and cafes as well as the Picadilly Hotel. In 1918 it acquired the business of R. E. Jones (Garages) Ltd, which it ran in parallel to its hotel and catering business.
From what is written on the wall above and the one below, it seems the confectionary and bakery products sold in its London eateries were prepared in Union Street.
I haven't found what happened to R. E. Jones Ltd but in 1962 the company sold its hotels in South Wales. Had it decided to concentrate on London, on its motoring business or was it facing serious financial difficulties? As there are no references to it after that date, I guess it went under.

The different owners of the building have also left their traces on the west wall.

From the time of Hayward Brothers, one can still read

In the corner just below is
R. E. Jones

Yet it is the sign for
James Ashby & Sons Ltd.
Embassy Tea & Coffee
that clearly dominates.

James Ashby started importing and selling tea in 1850. Originally based at 7 & 8 Idol Lane in the City, it expanded in the 1960s across the River when it acquired the site vacated by R. E. Jones Ltd. At the time, the company offered not only tea but also coffee although this is no longer the case. It was from its new base at 195-205 Union Street that James Ashby & Sons Ltd applied in 1980 for a patent for "a substitute for ground coffee and from which a beverage having an appearance and a taste approximating to that of coffee can be brewed." As one would expect for a coffee substitute, the breverage included mostly roasted barley and chicory. What made Ashby's product truly original apparently was the addition of fig, soya beans and coffee flavouring in specific proportions (after all, chicory had been used in parts of Europe to replace coffee since the 17th century. However it was the Continental Blockade decided by Napoléon in 1806 and the subsequent coffee shortages that led to an increase in the consumption of chicory. In France, chicory is closely associated with the company Leroux, founded in 1858).
As stated in the application, this was motivated by the rise at the time in world prices. In 1975 a late frost decimated the coffee crop in Brazil, leading to a 800% price rise. Prices remained high for a couple of years but started to decline steadily from the late 1970s onwards. Thus it may be that James Ashby & Sons never actually produced its coffee subsitute.

The most eleborate ghost sign on this building promoted one of James Ashby & Sons' brands of teas.

Rose Brand
Fine Teas

Although the Rose Brand is no longer available, James Ashby & Sons is still in business. They are now based in Wimbledon instead of central London.

Location: Union Street / Pictures taken on: 10/04/2008

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