The Carreras Black Cat Factory
(Now known as Greater London House)
You will see the significance of the bush-shelter later on in this page when you read about my personal experience of the Black Cat Factory visit - picture copyright of Manchester History Net
At the tail end of 2016 I came across a blog whcih featured the Black Cat advertising hoardings and the Black Cat Factory itself. Reading the blog I felt the doppelganger effect as after finding the hoardings I then noticed that Vivian to whom the blog belonged had a similar reaction to my fellow bus travellers (see below) when they first saw the building that I was actively looking for!
Here are two images by Vivian and her own dialogue "I have had a long-standing interest in the British usage of cats in advertising. For example, this is a snapshot I took 40 years ago, in London, in 1976, with my crappy Kodak Instamatic ....
.... Then I moseyed into the countryside and in Hastings I snapped this" - To reinforce the doppelganger effect, I also have a section devoted to cats in advertising!
Following on from James Paffey's e-mail (see below) I received another friendly e-mail from Sally, who like myself adores cats and the work of Louis Wain. Thanks to her search for Louis Wain items she found an extraordinarily unusual lot on an auction site :
The on-line auction catalogue Lot 171 for the Black Cat Costume complete with instruction sheet!
(Click on image to see larger version)
A unique, I should think, souvenir from sometime in the first half of the 20th century.
Thank you very much, Sally, for getting in touch and letting me highlight this find on my website.
Earlier this year (2015) I received an interesting and very welcome e-mail from James Paffey who has given me permission to reproduce the contents and credit him with the 'find'. The original e-mail stated simply 'A hand painted Black cat cigarettes sign was uncovered today when an old billboard was removed off the wall and these signs were behind it. It just shows the past still lives on and is never forgotten. I was doing some research and thought this picture might be of some use to you and to add to your collection.'
The picture James sent to me clearly shows wonderful original artwork as enjoyed by passers-by for nearly a century - other similar examples of wall-art are shown further down on this page. I have raised the value of these images as it is always so nice to receive information from people who have visited my website. I asked James for a little more information and he replied 'The Black Cat image was found in Clacton-On-Sea on Meredith Road on the 6th of July when they removed the old billboard sign. I was watching as a bystander and those 3 images appeared from behind the old billboard sign and i did a little internet research and came up with your Tribute site and thought i would give you the info :). What got me was the date that was on the image itself as other dates didn't match so that got me intrigued to contact you regarding this image. You can use google maps to see the old billboard sign before it was removed as to get an idea of the unveiling of the unsuspected findings behind it. Too good to pass up a bit of history :).'
But for much of those 80 years or so, the original advertising was hidden behind a modern advertising hoarding - never one to pass up a challenge I googled Meredith Road in Clacton!
Time Out used the Black Cat Factory in their regular 'where is this' slot - an excellent demonstration of the beauty of the restored artwork.
New information recently discovered (December 2012 / January 2013)
I recently received an e-mail from Reuben Frankau who approached me after finding this page - the contents of which are reproduced here:
"The Art-Deco frontage of the Arcadia cigarette works was reputedly designed by a distant relation of mine but that isn't why I'm e-mailing, though I have read your notes on Carreras with great interest.
My great uncle's autobiography (Self-Portrait, Gilbert Frankau, Hutchinson 1940) mentions that he was commissioned to write an advertising leaflet for Carreras in 1928. It has just occurred to me that this may have been the promotional leaflet for the then-new cigarette works, of which I believe I have seen the front cover on your web site. If you have a copy of this leaflet, might there be any way of copying and e-mailing the rest of it to me? Gilbert Frankau's novels are generally pretty poor, but ironically he bankrupted the family cigar business by trying to move into cigarettes in 1909 (the brand was Lucana) so I am greatly intrigued by his being reduced to promoting other people's cigarettes for them!
Advertising for Lucana cigarettes from 1909 to 1916 made much of the hygienic conditions in which they were manufactured. It looks as if Gilbert Frankau may have had that in mind when he was copywriting for Carreras! The architect responsible for the front of the Black Cat works was Gilbert Frankau's uncle by marriage, a connection of which he was presumably aware at the time. Publicity for Lucana cigarettes in 1909 was originally masterminded by the legendary Charlie Higham, sometime MP for Islington."
Extolling the virtues of working for an excellent employer - the narrative is reproduced in the sidebar
Unfortunately I wasn't able to help Reuben in his quest as the picture which peaked his interest (see below) was scanned from the 'Ninth Edition Gifts Catalogue' which comprises 72 pages of which 50 are illustrated with the gifts available to coupon collectors.
As my interest in the Black Cat Factory was now re-ignited I started to have a look to see if there was anything new available on the internet for the general public and despite lots of teeming ideas, I have put those on hold to update this page. The first is some remarkable aerial photography - I had no idea the factory was so large, now I can understand the misgivings of the local community.
As can be seen here - the factory takes up a giant swathe of the hitherto quiet gardens of Mornington Crescent and would certainly provoke uproar today at the loss of so much 'green' expanse.
There is also an excellent historical reference to this building which supplements my hitherto meagre (see below) crumbs of information. The direct link to the whole local history site can be found here and the specific extract relating to the factory is here
The Royal Institute of British Architects have also recognised the significance of the re-emerging former Carreras factory and held an exhibition in 2011 - for full details please follow this link
Images of Carreras Cigarette Factory, Camden: 'Puttin’ on the Glitz' exhibition, RIBA
I became very interested in the survival and existence of this building (as an ex-smoker I had, of course, known about the Black Cat Cigarettes) and had been fascinated by the memorabilia surrounding this brand. It seems no expense was spared and the iconic metal advertising plaques (now fetching obscene amounts at auction) were placed everywhere. I did some research and reproduce below my findings which appeared, in the first instance in the 'Seahorse' a newsletter compiled and distributed by the 'Friends of the Midland Hotel.'
Carreras Hygienic Wonder Factory
Arcadia Works, Hampstead Road, London NW1
From the back inside cover of The Ninth Edition Gifts Catalogue brochure extolling the virtues of a 'pure' product from a 'clean' factory - aaaah those were the days!
No sooner had I discovered the existence of this building than I was on a mission to find it – shouldn’t be too difficult, I had an address and having lived in London for several years I had little doubt that I would locate it quickly. This quest would be trivially easy compared to the one to find the Midland Hotel – you know, the one that featured in an episode of “Poirot”. My husband, sister and I enjoy “away days” together and this time it was my turn to choose where to go and what to do. London, shopping, a nice lunch and the Black Cat Factory. All went well until we exited the London Underground Station at Euston – the heavens had opened whilst we were in the tunnels and it was pouring [appropriately] cats and dogs! Andrew decided to wander down Hampstead Road [anyone know how long this road is? rhetorical question!] – after 20 minutes we got a bit worried, then he rang us on a mobile phone to say we might as well get on a bus as we’d drown before getting there – but yes, it certainly did exist! What he didn’t mention was, that this building is serviced by the Mornington Crescent [yes, I know and no I am not joking] Underground station which was about 30 metres from where he was now. My sister and I got on a bus in the hope that it would take us to the Black Cat factory – we asked the driver, he didn’t know but yes, the bus went the full length of Hampstead Road – we chatted to the locals on the bus all of whom wanted to know what we were looking for – what Black Cat factory – I’m afraid I was beginning to think we had dreamed it and that Andrew was hallucinating. Two stops later, we were at the front of the bus by now – we saw this enormous white building on our left – not to mention some idiot standing in the middle of the road flagging the bus down – I didn’t recognise Andrew he was so wet – and we rang the bell to stop. The bus-stop, coincidentally is right outside the building – we caused a bit of a furore on the bus as suddenly everyone, including the driver, wanted to see it – and trust me you cannot miss it. I started to take photographs even though the light was awful as I was completely awestruck by this truly magnificently restored building. I was terribly curious to know why people didn’t seem to realise it was there and eventually by doing a bit of searching on the web I realised it was possible – for several years parts of the façade were boarded up and some of the features [including the 7-foot cats] removed!. In the meantime, dripping everywhere I entered the foyer – sadly there is nothing left of the original interior [it is believed that the exterior Egyptian motifs were echoed internally, but I cannot find any illustrations to back that up] – and went up to the security desk. The man behind the desk listened politely, his lips were twitching and I put that down to the state of me and my companions, as I asked if there was any information on the building. He had already spotted me as a “fan” and had decided to give me a rare and precious and “not to be given out to just anyone” sales catalogue. I went back out into the rain, what rain?, clutching this treasure and skipping mentally. My poor entourage followed and it was at this time that Andrew pointed out the underground station to his left – if didn’t matter that it was in Zone 2 and we had to pay extra to get back to St. Pancras!
You will all be familiar with the iconic Black and Yellow advertising logo that is Black Cat cigarettes – still reproduced and popular today. My school art teacher has one of the original metal adverts in her kitchen and although I drop heavy hints on a regular basis, they seem to fall on deaf ears!
Hard facts about the “Wonder Factory – where the famous Black Cat Virginia Cigarettes are made under ideal conditions by contented workers. A Pure Product from a Clean Factory.” That quotation comes from the inside back page of one of the Black Cat Gift Catalogues!
But what about the site for the factory? This has always been such a picturesque part of London, Camden drips gentility and in fact here is how the area looked in 1911 – the painting is by Spencer Frederick Gore, looking out from the first floor of his living quarters at 31 Mornington Crescent - showing a blissful view of the homes and gardens which would be levelled to make way for the factory. This view is north-east across Crescent Gardens towards Mornington Crescent tube station whose bright red tiles on the roof are clearly visible.
In due time, during the 1920s, the Crescent Gardens were destroyed. They made way for the newly built Carreras factory which drastically transformed the appearance of the neighbourhood.
Two views of Mornington Crescent Gardens pre-Black Cat Factory as seen from Spencer Frederick Gore's living quarters.
Construction started in 1926 and the factory itself opened in 1928 making this remarkable building both the largest cigarette factory and the largest reinforced concrete building in the world - a beacon of the forthcoming art deco style.
'Under wraps' - a safely feature or from the hostility of those living nearby who had had their gardens destroyed?
Following the then trend for all things Egyptian [called “Egyptomania”] inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, the decoration of the front of the building was heavily influenced by the style. Added to which the archaeologists also found a temple dedicated to Basta [Bubastis or per-Bastet - the cat-headed goddess] which further promoted the unusual exterior design and the two 7ft high bronze cats that guarded the main entrance, a further ten black cat motifs were moulded into the facade above the Egyptian style pillars. The Carreras company logo was, significantly, a Black Cat.
A very early photograph of the newly opened factory in the 1930s.
An early 'architectural' image?
Carreras was an innovative company and working conditions were enhanced by air conditioning, dust extraction, and full welfare services – hence their boast of “ideal conditions”.
Needless to say, you cannot have a significant building existing in the 30s without Hitler having something to say about it – purportedly he stated that if Operation Sea Lion was successful he would make the Black Cat Factory his British HQ – presumably Sea Lion failed.
The origins of loft offices can be traced to the 1950s and the 1960s in New York, when a succession of famous artists began moving into studios in the redundant warehousing and industrial district of Soho vindication for the artists “evicted” from the Crescent Gardens prior to the factory being built. The buildings had incomparable natural light, high ceilings and a romantic grandeur to suit every need.
Carreras sold the factory to developers due to a fall in profits in 1959. It re-opened in 1963 as the Greater London House, but with many of the decorative features removed. It was restored in1999, to its former Art Deco style at a cost of six million pounds.
Re-cast from the original moulds the beautiful 7ft cats guarding the entrance
The £6m [worth every penny] included re-producing the 7 foot cats (above) as the originals are believed to be in South America – luckily, the original casts for the cats were never destroyed.
Standing proud in this example are the re-cast 'Guardian' Cat effigies. The colourful restoration of the facade is a joy to behold, even on a dull day and creates a remarkable panorama on alighting out of the Mornington Crescent Underground station. Please see below for a few more examples of the restored former home of the Carreras Cigarette Factory.
Close-up of the iconic cat set in a 'roundel' above the Egyptian Columns.
Two views of the entrance to Greater London House (the former Carreras Cigarette Factory)
Four general views of this architectural wonder.
A panorama of Greater London House (the former Carreras Cigarette Factory)
The iconic cats guarding the entrance.
A beautifully atmospheric shot of the cats at night - image courtesy and © of jacobscane.org
Quite a boast - but who knows maybe royalty did favour 'Black Cat' cigarettes?
As seen on a wall in Dingley Road EC1 :
The Thirties and beyond had wonderful advertising techniques - they used the facilities available to them and relied heavily on the visual aspect (catchy images and strap-lines on packaging and street and newspaper advertising) 'jingles' on the radio (television had not yet taken off) and postal communication - but not the interminable 'junk mail' we are all subjected to now physically and electronically! This page is packed with the visual aspect and reproduced below is a rather nice postcard sent to confirm delivery of 300 cigarettes.
Two advertisements extolling the products from the Black Cat Merchandising stable from left to right the adverts are dated 1932 and 1933.
And for the Ladies and their cats :
Two posters which have pride of place in my house!
The iconic image of the Black Cat continues to be a collectors dream and it is so recognisable that it can be used in many time frames portrayed in film and cinematography, the image would not be out of place today (2011) as demonstrated in the picture of the beautifully crafted die-cast van repro - in the meantime here are a few examples of its continued use starting with a still from the 1971 film of the popular wartime sitcom 'Dad's Army' showing the loveable rogue - Private Walker - touting for some deal or other under the Black Cat sign - peeking out, to the right of him (image on screen - stage left to those in theatre productions) you can just see the metal advertisement for the News of the World whose final edition, after 168 years of successful publishing, was printed for distribution today, 10.07.2011.
A new promo image has come to light showing the Black Cat advert clearly in the background from a still from the original 'Dad's Army' film.
The late James Beck playing Private Walker from the film of 'Dad's Army' and an Oxford diecast scale model collector's item - limited run of 2,000.
Perpetually iconic ....
Somewhere in Norfolk (I think!)
A metal matchbox and round tobacco tin.
Plaque with hooks for : mugs, cloths, even coats at a pinch!
A Beer Mat, badge, cigarette case.
A horsehair mat - possibly for use in public houses?
They did enjoy their design-work!
One of the many highly artistic cigarette packet designs.
Who can argue with the 'healthy' image perpetuated by Carreras?
Even across the Channel
The actual design for a French version of advertising (see below)
Might as well know how to order the cigarettes when over in France
The Black Cat advertising design for the French Market
Limited (numbered edition) of the Black Cat van as reproduced by Oxford Diecast
Sending a powerful message 1914-1918
Timeless and still pulling them in - meet the Black Cat Designer's Daughter-in-law
(The article entitled 'Tobacco Art on Show' reproduced below is from the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer and the picture shows Gill Shadwell tending to some previous memorabilia which would not have existed if not for the inspirational iconic image designed by her father-in-law.)
Published on Friday 8 July 2011
When created, many were minor works of art in their own right. When superseded they were used as pig pens or fencing. Today, the enamelled metal signs which in an age before political correctness and health-and-safety proclaimed the wonders of pipe tobacco, cigarettes and cigars are highly collectible, eagerly sought by discerning connoisseurs. That’s why curator Julian Porter is delighted that the west wall of Bexhill Museum is now ablaze with enamelled colour.
He is equally delighted that a local collector should have volunteered to put many of the most cherished of a collection which he has been amassing since childhood on display for the enjoyment of the public. Julian hopes this generous gesture will prompt similar offers.
The exhibition, succinctly named Tobacco, runs until the beginning of October. It encompasses all forms of the tobacco publicist’s art. In addition to the wall display, there are display cases packed with carefully-labelled tobacco tins from an era when a myriad of manufacturers fought for supremacy in a highly-competitive market and Wills Gold Flake were 10 for three old pennies! It was a golden age brought to an end with the dawn of television advertising.
Gareth (he prefers not to reveal his surname) began his collection at an early age. In fact, it could hardly have been earlier. “My grandfather gave me my first tin at one month old. It contained five old pennies of my birth year. Then in the Seventies when my grandfather moved to Bexhill he smoked St Bruno. I was interested in the design of the tins. He bought various sizes and the designs changed.” Gareth had been bitten by the collecting bug – bitten hard. “When I was about 10 I used to go around the shops and ask if they had any surplus or empty tins.
“I got quite a few like that. When I was 11 I went to Bexhill High School. I used to ask various classmates if their fathers had any empty tobacco tins. I used to offer them 5p or 10p to encourage them…”
Gareth’s thirst for knowledge about tobacco art was sharpened after headteacher Colin Evans led a school outing to the former pipe museum at Bramber. He discovered how only one colour at a time can be added during the enamelling process. Some of his exhibits are the product of as many as 11 firings. A non-smoker, he became a member of the Cigarette Tobacco Club, an international body with its base in the UK. Today, Gareth invests rather more than schoolboy pocket money in expanding his already vast collection. The oldest item in Gareth’s collection dates back to 1878. One of his examples of the still-remembered Players Navy Cut sailor is from the 1890s.
But who now remembers Star cigarettes? But then who could forget a tobacco with the brand name Baby’s Bottom – a product claimed to be as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom.
Bexhill Museum does not endorse smoking nor any brand. But until October it will be offering a fascinating insight into a compelling art-form.
Page updated 6th January 2017