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134-146 Curtain Road

A Grade II Listed Building in Hackney, Hackney

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5266 / 51°31'35"N

Longitude: -0.0799 / 0°4'47"W

OS Eastings: 533295

OS Northings: 182606

OS Grid: TQ332826

Mapcode National: GBR V6.6X

Mapcode Global: VHGQT.KWMK

Plus Code: 9C3XGWGC+M2

Entry Name: 134-146 Curtain Road

Listing Date: 28 April 2006

Last Amended: 3 November 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1391632

English Heritage Legacy ID: 494342

Location: Hackney, London, EC2A

County: Hackney

Electoral Ward/Division: Hoxton East & Shoreditch

Built-Up Area: Hackney

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Leonard with S Michael, Shoreditch

Church of England Diocese: London

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Summary


Former furniture showroom, warehouse and workshops, now offices and bar/restaurant. 134 - 144 was built 1881-2 to designs by C Creese Harrison for the wholesale furniture manufacturers C & R Light; 146 was rebuilt in 1887, also for C & R Light. The contractor was Lawrance & Son. The ranges to the rear are of pre-1887 date, with later phases of alteration.

No 2 Standard Place and 9-11 Rivington Place, do not form part of the listed building.

Description

Former furniture showroom, warehouse and workshops, now offices and bar/restaurant. 134 - 144 was built 1881-2 to designs by C Creese Harrison for the wholesale furniture manufacturers C & R Light; 146 was rebuilt in 1887, also for Light. The contractor was Lawrance & Son. The ranges to the rear are of pre-1887 date, with later phases of alteration.

MATERIALS: yellow stock brick with painted stone and concrete dressings. Windows are metal-framed; those to the main elevation have cast-iron colonnette mullions. There are timber windows in the hipped-roof building to the rear. Internally, the floor structures are variously of timber, concrete and steel, and in the frontage building are supported on cast iron columns; the roof structures are timber.

PLAN: the building comprises a main frontage block, built predominantly as a showroom and warehouse, and a complex of ranges tightly-packed behind which are likely to have been used as workshops and for storage. The frontage block is eight bays wide and five storeys high, with a rectangular footprint. The six bays to the south originally had an open floor-plan, supported on columns. This configuration largely remains on the ground floor but above, the space is subdivided with lightweight studwork to create multiple offices. In the south-east corner of the building is an open-well stair with a small hoist in the centre. This is probably a later insertion to the building as it has no fire separation from the main floor-plate, but is likely to be no later than early-C20, it is certainly in place by 1938 and a door leading off one of the landings into No 2 Standard Place (which is not part of the Listed building) is dated to 1922.

The two bays to the north (144 and 146 Curtain Road) are divided from each other, and from the southern six bays, by solid fire-walls. The first bay to the north acts largely as a service core. It has an unusual arrangement, with a light-well filling just under half the width of the bay running up through the building immediately behind the façade. The footprint of the light-well extends down to the basement level, where windows face out of, rather than into, the well. It is possible that some of this basement fabric predates the 1881 re-building and may belong to C & R Light’s earlier building on this site. Adjacent to the light-well at ground floor is an entrance hall, above which there are now toilets. The purpose of a light-well at the front of the building may have been to give borrowed light (from the windows in the front elevation, and from above) to small offices, or WCs, running into the depth of the building, which would otherwise be artificially lit and ventilated. Behind the light-well are a concrete stair and a lift shaft. The stair location is original, based on the external detailing of the half-landing windows, but the stair itself and the lift shaft are likely to be later reinforced concrete insertions. The bay to the north has a vehicular entrance, the ground floor supported on brick arches in the basement; the floors above are now given over to office space.

To the rear of Nos 144 and 146 is a long, part two-storey, part three-storey, range which runs eastward towards Rivington Place. The range appears to have originally been all two-storey, and based on map regression it is possible that part of the structure pre-dates the rebuilding of 144 and 146 (in 1881/2 and 1887 respectively). The third storey over part of the range is a later addition, in place by 1938. The range is lit from above by two parallel runs of pitched roof-lights. At the far east end, is 9-11 Rivington Place which does not form part of the listed building. Behind 134-142 Curtain Road is a hipped-roof building with an unusual timber roof structure, exposed internally. Based on map regression, the building seems to be pre-1880 and there is evidence in the fabric to suggest the roof structure replaces an earlier one, although the date of this replacement is unclear. The 1887 Fire Insurance Plan shows the building had been incorporated into the C & R Light complex by this date. The building is linked to the rear of the frontage building by another two-storey structure with a glazed lantern over. No 2 Standard Place, a three-storey range standing hard against the rear of the frontage building, and an adjacent single-storey roofless structure, are not included in the listed building.

EXTERIOR: the main Curtain Road elevation has eight bays of varying width divided by giant rusticated brick pilasters beneath a modillion cornice. The glazing between the piers varies between one and three lights, with metal-framed windows and slender iron colonnettes. The windows have moulded stone lintels to the first and second floors and segmental brick heads to the upper levels. Brick panels beneath the windows are detailed with decorative terracotta bands that differ on each floor. The ground floor has brick piers and shop windows with stone plinths. These originally had openings for the basements which have subsequently been filled in, and the pavement in front is set with glass lenses to light the basement (these are in place by 1938). There is an entrance in the centre of 134-146 with an arched pediment; a wider entrance in the end of 134, this under rusticated voussoirs; a door with moulded architrave and deep rectangular fan-light at 144; and a loading entrance into 146 with later rendering. All the doors are later. The clock was installed in the early C21.

The rear of the main block has slightly cambered brick arches over the windows, a few to the rear of 134 replaced with concrete lintels. There are traces of C20 painted advertising relating to post-furniture uses. To the rear is a connected two-storey range with lantern and the pre-1880 hipped-roof building which adjoins it. These are of brick construction with slate roofs. 144 and 146 extend into the long part two-, part three-storey range with long roof-lights.

INTERIOR: key aspects of the building’s original character are in evidence throughout the interior, including the robust cast-iron columns with splayed flanges and sliding iron fire doors. There are a number of late-C20 stud partitions and fittings associated with the various current uses. The upper floors retain their original timber roof structure with several bays of queen post trusses running front to rear, and with modern roof lights in original openings; 146 has similar trusses running the opposite direction. The original large windows with part opening hoppers survive. The staircase behind the light-well has half-turn landings within a solid well. The stair in the south-east corner has quarter-turn landings with full-height timber newels and wraps around a small open well with central hoist. The interior of the bar/restaurant at 134-144 is a C21 fit-out, but the original structure remains apparent.

The ranges to the rear vary in character, reflecting their structural make-up and the possible original, and subsequent, uses. Generally, the timber roof structures are exposed, and the upper floors are lit by roof-lights and lanterns. Lower floors borrow light where possible in this tightly-packed complex. The roof structure of the hipped-roof building is impressive as a seemingly ad hoc solution to a wide span, and cut beams in each of the four corners are presumed to have belonged to the earlier roof. Lines set into the upper floor behind 144 and 146 suggest the location of tracks for moving equipment or machinery. In several areas in the ground floor ceiling of the range behind 144, there appear to have been pairs of slots, now covered over; there function is not clear.

History

For almost a century, from the mid-C19 to the mid-C20, South Shoreditch was the hub of the international furniture trade. The area manufactured, sold and supplied furniture of all types and quality to retailers in the West End, provincial cities and throughout the British Empire. As a result, South Shoreditch has a consistent and unique combination of factories, warehouse and showrooms, a concentration of interrelated building types which creates a distinctive historic character.

C & R Light was one of the larger wholesale furniture makers in London in the late C19 and early C20. The Light family were present in Shoreditch from the mid-C18, working as successive generations of cabinet makers. Charles Light, father of Charles & Richard (the founders of the firm), was present at 144 Curtain Road (then numbered 135) by the 1850s. In 1863 the rear workshops were destroyed by fire but the front showrooms and warehouse escaped damage due to the presence of iron fire doors between the different sections. By 1874 he occupied 140-144, applying to rebuild 140 as a five-storey warehouse that same year (as well as rear warehouses known as Le Blonds Buildings, which were rebuilt after 1877). In 1877 the sons inherited the premises and continued to expand, taking over 134-138 by 1880. Between 1881 and 1882 they rebuilt 134-144 as a single block, redeveloping 146 in 1887 in the same style. The result was 'an enormous place, which is crammed from one end to the other with furniture' filled with 'an almost endless variety of goods for hall, office, library, dining-room, drawing-room and bedroom, in the styles and treatments now in vogue' (Cabinet Maker, September 1894, 78).

Furniture ensembles were grouped together in separate 'rooms' which ran along the front of the building and there was a separate bent wood department. A fitting-up shop enabled orders to be finished and despatched as quickly as possible. Some indication of the sheer range of furniture supplied by Light's is given by the catalogue of 1880, which was 435 pages in length and listed over 1,908 items. This colossal document was printed by the local firm, Waterlow and Sons Ltd.

In 1892 the firm became a limited company, by which time they occupied several of the North London Railway arches nearby and had a separate timber department on Rivington Street. Five years later C & R Light set up a bedroom furniture factory in 82 Great Eastern Street and took on additional manufacturing premises in Rivington Street as their production of machine-made furniture increased. The showrooms on Curtain Road were redecorated in 1900 and special attention given to expanding the 'modern antique furniture' department. Inevitably the company had to look beyond Shoreditch for further space to expand, opting to build a new works in Bedfordshire. After Charles Light’s death in 1912 the family’s interests in the business diminished and by the time of its reconstitution in 1918 as C & R Light (1918) Ltd the family's connection with the business had ceased. Around this time the Curtain Road premises were vacated and the firm moved first to 288 Old Street, then 54 Great Eastern Street and, in the 1930s, 43 Charlotte Road. 134-146 Curtain Road passed into multiple occupancy, largely used by clothing trade firms but also printers and upholsterers. The faded lettering on the side and to the rear of the building are reminders of this subsequent use. In the late C20 part of the building was used as a music hall.

Reasons for Listing

134-146 Curtain Road, a former furniture showroom, warehouse and workshops, principally built 1881-2 and 1887 by C Creese Harrison for C & R Light is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:
* As one of the most architectural of the area's furniture trade buildings, indicative of its late-Victorian manufacturing prowess;
* The structures to the rear reveal the accretive character of the site behind its formal façade.

Historic interest:
* One of the best surviving and well known of the showroom warehouses within South Shoreditch, the industrial quarter that from the mid-C19 to mid-C20 manufactured, sold and supplied furniture of all types and quality to retailers in the West End, provincial cities and throughout the British Empire.

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