Sunday, 17 March 2013

S. B. Lush, Lower Clapton

It seems logical at first sight to assume that S. B. Lush & Co, the dying and cleaning company advertised on this wall opposite Clapton pond, was founded by Samuel Barton Lush. According to the 1851 census, Samuel Barton Lush, born in 1834 in Islington, worked as a glove cleaner. When the following census was conducted ten years later, he entered 'dyer' as his profession. It appears that in 1880, together with his wife and eight children he migrated to New Zealand. However the only documents available online in which the name of the company appears date from the 1880s. In 1883 the German journal Chemiker-Zeitung published a list of dye-works, including S. B. Lush & Co., Limited, based in Clapton, which had a working capital of £5,000. Then in 1888 the name of the firm was mentioned in The Furniture Gazette.

According to a descendant of Samuel Barton Lush, before he left for New Zealand he entered into a partnership with Mr Cook. That could explain the origins of the firm Lush & Cook Ltd, one of London's main dying and cleaning companies during part of the 20th century. The company may have been trading under the name S. B. Lush & Co Ltd for a few years but after a while, Cook certainly decided his surname should appear too. The 1899 and 1908 editions of The Post Office Directory seem to confirm this when they list that Lush & Cook Ltd, dyers, cleaners and laundrymen had a branch at 198 Lower Clapton Road (the number does not match exactly the current one of the building this ghost sign was painted on -203- but some renumbering may have been taking place and directories from that period were not always exact).

While trading under its original name, the company started to expand. By 1880 it had three branches. Following the example of P & P Campbell and Pullars, both of Perth, and of Eastmans of London, the three pioneering firms in the field of multiple shop trading in the dying and cleaning trade, S. B. Lush & Co, or Lush & Cook as it may have already been known by then, opened additional branches across the northeastern suburbs of London. By the early 1890s their number had doubled. In 1908, apart from Lower Clapton, it was also present in Hackney Wick (this is where the main plant was located, in a three-storey block built in 1905), Stoke Newington, Forest Gate, Ilford, Walthamstow, Harringay, Kilburn, Manor Park, Leyton, Leytonstone, Upton Park, South Woodford, South Tottenham, Wanstead, and East Ham. It also had one branch south of the Thames, in Charlton. Expansion did not end there and directories from the following decades show an ever increasing number of branches, most of them still in northeast London and Essex, in places such as Bethnal Green, Stepney, Lower Edmonton, Romford or Dagenham. By the early 1920s if not slightly earlier, Lush & Cook moved towards the centre as well and opened a branch on Charing Cross Road.

S. B. Lush
& Co. Ltd

Lush & Cook continued to do relatively well until the 1950s but in the 1960s it faced growing difficulties. Back then washing machines were still very expensive pieces of equipment but in a context of economic expansion more and more British households could afford one. Yet the main reason behind Lush & Cook misfortunes was the fierce competition with other cleaning and dying companies. If in the 1920s multiple shop firms had around 2,360 outlets in Britain, by 1950 their number had gone up to more than 7,200, a third of which belonged to the country's six leading firms (to these numbers one should add the thousands of dyers and cleaners that remained indenpendent or acted as agents of the big firms but kept their own names). Bad decisions by the firm's management team may also have been to blame. In any case, by 1969 Lush & Cook's Hackney plant closed down and the company's industrial overall service was taken over by Sketchley Overall Service, part of Sketchley plc, a company whose origins went back to 1916. Other parts of Lush & Cook may have survived for a few more years but in the end they were either taken over by Sketchley or closed down. In the 1980s Sketchley became the second dry cleaning chain in the country behind Johnson but its fortunes declined dramatically throughout the 1980s and 1990s and in 2004 it was bought for £1 by none other than its main competitor, Johnson.

There is one point in this whole story that is not totally clear though: was the firm really founded by Samual Barton Lush? Indeed, in her book Shops and shopping, 1800-1914, Alison Adburgham writes that Lush & Cook was established in 1842, while in Retail Trading in Britain 1850-1950 James B. Jefferys agues it was founded in 1847. If that were the case, the company would have been created when Samuel Barton Lush was either 8 or 13 years old! Could his father have had the same initials and be the founder of S. B. Lush & Co?

Few traces of Lush & Cook seem to have survived to this day. However, it is still possible to find from time to time a copy of a promotional booklet published by Lush & Cook c. 1910. Entitled The ladies' glance guide for mistress and maid. Thousands of suggestions, reminders, and kitchen secrets. Some old. Some new. Presented by Lush & Cook, Ltd, it included prices for laundry, cleaning and dying everything from billiard table cloths to boys Eton suits, household curtains and furnishings. Strangely enough this booklet also included some recipes and market guides for vegetables, meat and fish.

Location: Lower Clapton Road / Pictures taken in February 2010

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In 1911 Census, my grandad was the manager of Lush and Cook dry cleaners and lived above the shop at 198 Lower Clapton Road. His name was Emanuel Silver.