Category Archives: We No

WeNo insiders guide to…The Clockworks

In Net­tle­fold Place near Cenci Vin­tage, fea­tured pre­vi­ously in this blog, there is an unas­sum­ing door marked num­ber 6 and signed The Clock­works. The con­ver­ted Vic­tori­an indus­tri­al build­ing, with on-trend grey paint­work, could be mis­taken for the offices of an architect’s prac­tice or media com­pany. Instead, behind the entrance door there lies a nation­ally unique clock col­lec­tion and a state-of-the-art clock and watch repair work­shop. Vis­it­ors and cus­tom­ers are wel­come by appoint­ment.

Enter­ing by buzzer, our Intrep­id FEAST report­er walked into a metic­u­lously designed open-plan interi­or. It’s a large, atmo­spher­ic space, care­fully zoned to reflect the dif­fer­ent func­tions of the organ­isa­tion: museum col­lec­tion, lib­rary, work­shop and char­ity. The clocks, dat­ing from 1840, are an imme­di­ate visu­al pull and it’s hard not to be mes­mer­ised by the rhythmic tick­ing and click­ing of the timepieces. Behind a raised counter, in the corner, is the work­shop domain of the freel­ance con­ser­vat­ors. This area con­tains the paraphernalia of clock and watch repair­ing: a metal and wood lathe, braz­ing hearth for sol­dier­ing, milling machine with 5 microns accur­acy (1000th of a mm!), a parts clean­ing zone and a cent­ral desk with the most recent repair pro­ject care­fully laid out.

So how has this incred­ible col­lec­tion ended up in West Nor­wood? Well, The Clock­works are the brainchild of Dr James Nye and reflect a lifelong pas­sion for horo­logy (and with­in that field, the even more niche area of elec­tric clocks). James’s interest developed as a school­boy when he was given respons­ib­il­ity for look­ing after his school’s clock sys­tem. He explains: “Elec­tric clocks enable the dis­tri­bu­tion of time at a dis­tance, allow­ing you to have the same time in dif­fer­ent places. They tend to be insti­tu­tion­al.” James first began col­lect­ing clocks in the late 1970s. By the time he moved to West Nor­wood with his wife and chil­dren, he needed to cre­ate a pur­pose-built space to accom­mod­ate what had become a sub­stan­tial per­son­al col­lec­tion. Ini­tially he refur­bished a derel­ict house in Chest­nut Road in 2001, cre­at­ing a fam­ily home with a large por­tion of the ground floor hived off for the clocks. Vis­it­ors accessed the col­lec­tion via the family’s front door. Even with this arrange­ment, a large pro­por­tion of the clocks had to be kept in stor­age. Back then, when a private col­lect­or died, their col­lec­tion was invari­ably sold off and dis­persed. Aware of this, James har­boured the ambi­tion to cre­ate a ded­ic­ated premises open to the pub­lic. It was on the back­burn­er for a long time. But in 2012 he stumbled across the oppor­tun­ity he was look­ing for via a neigh­bour who worked in prop­erty devel­op­ment. He was able to buy the ground floor of the cur­rent premises in Net­tle­fold Place. At that time, it was a shell being redeveloped into flats and it became a labour of love to trans­form it into The Clock­works. The low point? “Wait­ing 7 months to get a gas con­nec­tion.”

As James needed staff to main­tain the clocks, it was logic­al to con­struct a work­shop area. This also met a need in the horo­logy com­munity. Tal­en­ted gradu­ates were emer­ging from con­ser­va­tion courses with amaz­ing skills, but they were strug­gling to estab­lish a work­shop due to a lack of cap­it­al. James had the idea of offer­ing bench space on a freel­ance basis with an agree­ment to work some days on the col­lec­tion. It is how he was intro­duced to Johan ten Hoeve, a second gen­er­a­tion Dutch clock­maker. Johan had recently fin­ished train­ing at West Dean Col­lege with the accol­ade of a renowned horo­logy pro­ject under his belt. (He had cre­ated a rep­lica of a 1676 clock made for the Royal Obser­vat­ory, Green­wich, that had been installed in the space built for the ori­gin­al.) Johan became involved in the devel­op­ment of the Clock­works and is now Con­ser­vat­or-in-Res­id­ence. This brought James on to one of the high­point of The Clock­works to date… In 2014, Johan was approached by the Kun­oz­an-Toshogu Shrine in Japan to con­serve a 16th-cen­tury clock that had been gif­ted to the Sho­gun in 1611 by the Vice­roy of New Spain. Johan spent an ini­tial 8-day trip in an office at the shrine, work­ing at a big desk with a Japan­ese flag behind it, with the con­stant com­pany of his hosts, where he cleaned the ori­gin­al clock, took pho­tos and made draw­ings. The shrine author­it­ies had bought everything they could from his tool kit shop­ping list. Next, Johan cre­ated a work­ing rep­lica of the intern­al move­ment so it could be dis­played by the clock for vis­it­ors to see. This part of the pro­ject was done in West Nor­wood and was finally com­pleted in Septem­ber 2015. Johan flew back to Japan with his rep­lica to attend the huge pub­li­city launch. So, a high prestige pro­ject in the world of clocks and it took place in West Nor­wood!

Given its quiet pro­file loc­ally, it’s easy to assume nobody knows about the col­lec­tion, but one look at the vis­it­ors’ book reveals a steady stream of guests – not all niche elec­tric clock enthu­si­asts. James estim­ates they have about 1000 vis­it­ors a year, mostly as tour groups, who are treated to an informed guided tour of the col­lec­tion. Secret Lon­don Walks have made about 8 sep­ar­ate vis­its because the trip is so over sub­scribed. Then there has been friends of the V&A, Nation­al Trust mem­ber­ship tours, and the Lon­don Explorers Group to name but a few. Of course there are clock afi­cion­ados, includ­ing spe­cial­ists from over­seas. Smiths of Derby, clock­makers since 1856, have made staff trips – pre­sum­ably thrilled to see the his­tor­ic Smiths clocks on dis­play. And local fam­il­ies with older chil­dren have vis­ited dur­ing the school hol­i­days. Since 2014, the Clock­works have also been tak­ing part in the annu­al Lon­don Open House, nor­mally open­ing on the same day as the cemetery and South Lon­don Theatre. If you are a film buff, watch out for screen­ings in the space dur­ing the Free Film Fest­iv­al.

More recently, The Clock­works gained high­er pro­file in the area when James was involved in the £35,000 fun­drais­ing cam­paign to repair St Luke’s tower clock. James com­ments: “It is a nation­ally sig­ni­fic­ant clock made in 1827 by the fam­ous clock­maker Ben­jamin Lewis Vul­li­amy” (who at the time was clock­maker to George IV). The clock hadn’t been work­ing for about 10 years, per­man­ently stuck at 12 o’clock. In May 2016, with the money raised, the clock was restored by the Cum­bria Clock Com­pany. So now the people of West Nor­wood have no excuse for being late!

And how about the work­shop? Well, it is busy, with more work than they can ful­fil. Many cus­tom­ers are local people, often private indi­vidu­als with heir­loom clocks, mainly mech­an­ic­al, that have ceased to work. The con­ser­vat­ors devel­op their own cli­en­tele based on their expert­ise. Johan, not sur­pris­ingly, spe­cial­ises in clocks and often does site vis­its. They tend to gen­er­ate busi­ness word of mouth. Our report­er talked to James Har­ris, who spe­cial­ises in watches. He gradu­ated from Birm­ing­ham City Uni­ver­sity with a BA in horo­logy and has worked for Omega. A lot of the watches James Har­ris repairs are vin­tage; some are antique. He explains: “Vin­tage watches are very fash­ion­able at present – you can get a brand such as Omega for a few hun­dred rather than the new price which can be £1000.”

Then it was time for the tour of the col­lec­tion given by con­ser­vat­or James Har­ris – and it was truly fas­cin­at­ing. It was hard not to appre­ci­ate the engin­eer­ing or be dazzled by the ideas behind meas­ur­ing time and dis­trib­ut­ing time in factor­ies, on ships, to the top of church towers.

What a treas­ure nest­ling in West Nor­wood! It’s well worth book­ing a visit, and if you have an old clock or watch to repair, there is a team of incred­ible experts on your door­step.

 

 

 

The Clock­works

6 Net­tle­fold Place,

Lon­don SE27 OJW

Tel 020 86764856 

http://theclockworks.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WeNo Insiders Guide To…B’s Balloons!

 

Intro­du­cing B’s Bal­loons, West Norwood’s very own bal­loon and party sup­pli­ers, nestled on the corner of Bloom Grove oppos­ite the cemetery. Our intrep­id FEAST report­er stepped through the cheery bright-pink door to talk bal­loons with owner Bev and busi­ness part­ner Julie.

The first ques­tion had to be: “How did you get into this line of busi­ness?” Bev explains how she star­ted by dec­or­at­ing fam­ily parties, mak­ing a room look good by adding flor­al centrepieces, dress­ing the tables, and pos­i­tion­ing shaped bal­loons. She can still recall her very first centrepiece con­sist­ing of a candle hold­er, flor­istry rib­bon, gyp and a rose. In 2003 she com­pleted a wed­ding dec­or­at­ing course and took a begin­ners course with NABAS (the Nation­al Asso­ci­ation of Bal­loon Artists and Sup­pli­ers).

After the intro­duc­tion to bal­loon work, she began using heli­um for dis­plays, and it has gone from there, with Bev work­ing for a shop in Ful­ham in 2008, doing the dec­or­a­tion for cel­eb­ra­tions, and run­ning her own busi­ness from home and in Croydon’s Sur­rey Street mar­ket. In 2010 Bev finally obtained the cur­rent premises. Being on the corner, the shop boasts two dis­play win­dows – one of which Bev con­stantly redresses to show­case bal­loon cre­ations. Bev smiles… pass­ersby have been known to come in to com­pli­ment an arrange­ment or sug­gest it’s time for a new one! She remem­bers dis­play­ing a cum­ber­some Union Jack flag made of bal­loons for the Queen’s Jubilee.

It became clear as the con­ver­sa­tion progressed that there is a whole spe­cial­ist world of bal­loon artistry that most of us don’t know about. Julie men­tioned she has been twice to the Inter­na­tion­al Bal­loon Artistry Con­ven­tion, trav­el­ling to Chica­go and Bel­gi­um to join the annu­al show­case of bal­loon sculp­tures. At the Bel­gian con­fer­ence, she cre­ated an Egyp­tian Eye of Horus in a com­pet­i­tion. Appar­ently the Japan­ese are known for cre­at­ing bal­loon dresses… Julie swiv­elled the com­puter screen to show our intrigued report­er – you have to Google it! Bev com­ments “Julie excels at twist­ing” and they flipped open an industry magazine, Bal­loon Images, to demon­strate the type of cre­ations demand­ing twist­ing. Bev has also made fantasy flowers just out of bal­loon latex. The day-to-day run­ning of the busi­ness keeps Bev busy for long hours… par­tic­u­larly when they are dec­or­at­ing for a func­tion – so much so that the next mod­ule of her Cer­ti­fied Bal­loon Artistry course is on the back burn­er, but Julie has com­pleted the extens­ive train­ing. 

So, what has been the most mem­or­able order? Bev pauses… 2,000 bal­loons for a film set about three years ago. The shoot was in Dul­wich so she hired a van to deliv­er the bal­loons. It took six hours for two of them to hand-tie each bal­loon with a rib­bon! Bev has also provided dec­or­a­tions to Stella McCart­ney… she thought it was a prank call until she was given the address. Gen­er­ally, the most com­mon, large, spe­cial occa­sion orders are for arches or columns of bal­loons.

Aside from bal­loons, the shop sells the other items you might need for a cel­eb­ra­tion. You can order per­son­al­ised ban­ners, and buy cards, children’s birth­day party ware, con­fetti, and party blowers. Bev offers children’s birth­day pack­ages that can be themed, includ­ing cake, favours, cups and plates. The shop also has a license to sell fire­works, which are kept under lock and key. These are pop­u­lar four times a year: Diwali, bon­fire night, Christ­mas and New Year.

The most enjoy­able part of the job? For Bev it is still the sat­is­fac­tion of trans­form­ing a room for someone’s wed­ding or a christen­ing. This is the event-dec­or­at­ing part of the busi­nessdress­ing a whole room with flowers, chair cov­ers, table linen and crock­ery. They do on aver­age three christen­ings a month plus wed­dings, which are more sea­son­al. In addi­tion, the prox­im­ity to the cemetery isn’t that incon­gru­ent because Bev and Julie dec­or­ate for funer­als too. The func­tions can make for a long day. For a Sat­urday event they can be up into the early hours pre­par­ing. Bev com­ments the most recent wed­ding was in Croy­don on a Sunday, and they star­ted at 9.30 by dress­ing the Church with flowers and deliv­er­ing the bridal arrange­ments. Unusu­ally they had to cover all the chairs because the pews had been removed for refur­bish­ment. Next they dec­or­ated the recep­tion venue con­sist­ing of 14 tables and a head table. The work day las­ted until 11.30pm when all the guests had gone and they could pack down.

Through­out the inter­view there was a steady trickle of cus­tom­ers: a woman need­ing large foil “9” and “0” bal­loons for her mum’s 90th, which she was going to drive inflated to Corn­wall; a young dad look­ing for a 1st birth­day bal­loon; phone calls about func­tions; and someone col­lect­ing 20 heli­um bal­loons.

Bev com­ments how the qual­ity of the bal­loon latex is import­ant – it’s cheap online and the bal­loons don’t last, which can ruin an event. “You learn some tricks from years of exper­i­ence”, Julie divulges. “In hot weath­er, don’t inflate to the full, as the bal­loons expand out­side in the heat – they will all pop if you don’t know that!” There’s dis­ap­point­ing news for some of us… inhal­ing heli­um to enter­tain your friends with a squeaky car­toon voice is bad for you – if you take too big a breath, it deprives the brain of oxy­gen… now you know!

 

So any future plans for B’s Bal­loons? Bev responds without miss­ing a beat – hope­fully more cor­por­ate events and big­ger premises to work in so they can cre­ate grander dis­plays.

 

B’s Bal­loons

388 Nor­wood Road

SE27 9AA

 

Mon–Fri 10 to 5.30pm (closed Wed­nes­day) and Sat 9 to 6pm

 

www.bevsballoons.com

WeNo Insider’s Guide to…Wear Abouts!

 

Intro­du­cing Wear Abouts, a fam­ily busi­ness selling children’s fash­ion and school wear in West Norwood’s high street. The owner Bashir and his son Yusuf warmly greeted our intrep­id FEAST report­er and offered a tour of the premises. Towards the back of the shop, you can see an open stock­room with shelves to the ceil­ing stacked high with cloth­ing and shoe­boxes. Out of sight, bey­ond this, it’s like step­ping into the TARDIS – there’s an area con­sist­ing of a tall room crammed full of care­fully labelled items, a small kit­chen and, over­head, more stor­age space. Bashir explains this used to be the yard but as the busi­ness grew he con­ver­ted it, dig­ging out the rubble over a year, because it wasn’t pos­sible to use heavy machinery.

So how did Bashir come into this line of busi­ness? Simply, he was com­pelled by the need to earn a liv­ing. Back then he was a newly mar­ried man with chil­dren on the way. His broth­er was already run­ning a children’s clothes shop in Syden­ham (this has since been sold and still trades, but is not linked). He smiles broadly – West Nor­wood looked busy and didn’t have a children’s cloth­ing shop. So he took on the cur­rent premises in August 1993, ini­tially selling fash­ion wear for chil­dren aged 0 to 14. Bashir remem­bers his dad giv­ing some sound advice that he has grown to appre­ci­ate as the years have passed – “Price your stock as if you are com­pet­ing with three oth­ers loc­ally. Then, if you do get com­pet­i­tion later, you will be lean enough to with­stand it.”

The late 1990s was a pivotal moment for the busi­ness. Elm Wood primary approached Wear Abouts to see if they could pro­duce sweat­shirts bear­ing the school logo. Even­tu­ally they were appoin­ted the offi­cial uni­form sup­pli­er. Kings­wood primary was next, then St Juli­ans. Fast for­ward to today – Wear Abouts sup­plies the uni­form for an awe-inspir­ing 25 schools. This includes a school in Southend and one in Niger­ia! Bashir and fam­ily have so much expert­ise as a uni­form sup­pli­er, they are some­times involved in uni­form design. Although Yusuf points out: that does involve politely steer­ing the school away from over ambi­tious ideas, such as intro­du­cing polo T-shirts with ties!

If you were to stroll past the shop at the end of August, you would see what has become a fea­ture in the life cycle of the high street: a long queue of par­ents on the pave­ment clutch­ing uni­form lists, with chil­dren of vari­ous ages in tow. Bashir laughs, these days they are well rehearsed at man­aging the back-to-school rush.

At the end of July they over­haul the shop interi­or, start­ing with a Mad Sale to clear the fash­ion wear and the remain­ing stock is neatly stored away to make room for school wear. This trans­form­a­tion takes about a week and a half, with the shop remain­ing open through­out. Bashir hires a team of up to 15 staff for the last two weeks of August – often friends and fam­ily mem­bers are draf­ted in. With all hands on deck, staff are given ded­ic­ated roles to keep down cus­tom­er wait­ing times. There are ‘folders’ who solely pack­age up the pur­chases and shop assist­ants are assigned per cus­tom­er to give one-to-one advice. Cus­tom­ers are actu­ally invited to stand in the till queue as soon as they enter the shop. By the time they are near the front, the aim is to have sourced all the items on their list. If need be, Bashir’s wife Munira will sew the school badge on a newly pur­chased blazer. There is also a door man, jok­ingly referred to as ‘the boun­cer’, mon­it­or­ing the crowd to pre­vent total may­hem break­ing out (any par­ent read­ing this will appre­ci­ate what a bun fight uni­form buy­ing can become). In fact, Bashir recalls and grins, in the chaos one year a woman left behind her baby!

Come the first week of Octo­ber, when all the uni­form sales have died down, they trans­form the shop back to show­cas­ing fash­ion wear (the uni­form is fol­ded away and kept in stock). Its clearly a mam­moth task, like run­ning two shops in one space. It dawned on our FEAST report­er that this some­times coin­cides with fam­ily fast­ing for Ramadan – mak­ing the effort all the more Her­culean.

Mov­ing on to the fash­ion wear… There is an impress­ive range of afford­able spe­cial occa­sion cloth­ing, includ­ing smart suits and dresses for wed­dings, christen­ings, and church going. Sur­pris­ingly, there’s also a big selec­tion of Kick­ers shoes, one of the shop’s most pop­u­lar items. And Wear Abouts have provided work cloth­ing to other West Nor­wood busi­nesses – for example, polo T-shirts with a shop logo for the Baron Pol­ish Deli.

Any highs and lows over the years? Bashir recalls the time when they were asked to sort out a new uni­form for two affil­i­ated schools in the last week of July. Even with such short notice, they man­aged to kit out each school in time for the start of the aca­dem­ic year. Bashir smiles, they received a large bunch of flowers in appre­ci­ation. The lows – def­in­itely the night­mare of stock becom­ing unsellable. With a uni­form change, in one fell swoop their stock is out of date. No par­ent in their right mind wants uni­form that is being phased out. It’s a big loss of money for the shop. In that situ­ation, Bashir has loaded up a van and donated the whole lot to the Dis­aster Emer­gency Com­mit­tee.

So what does the future hold for Wear Abouts? They’ve recently ren­ov­ated the shop and they are work­ing to cre­ate a web­site offer­ing mail order – a big task. Yusuf rolls his eyes and laughs… he has star­ted pho­to­graph­ing the uni­form items and they will trial with a few schools first to get the sys­tem run­ning smoothly. Given they sell about 10 styles and fit of school trousers (slim fit, sturdy fit, elast­ic­ated waist, to name but a few), you can ima­gine how time con­sum­ing it will be to cata­logue each uni­form item. Bashir adds that they are firmly com­mit­ted to West Nor­wood and feel part of the com­munity.

 

And what do Wear Abouts pride them­selves on? The answer comes as no sur­prise, given the way Bashir and Yusuf had ser­viced cus­tom­ers’ requests dur­ing the inter­view. But Bashir was reti­cent. “Well we are chatty and friendly people and I sup­pose that feeds into our cus­tom­er ser­vice”. You only have to read the Google Reviews (over­all rat­ing 5 stars) for con­firm­a­tion. And Wear Abouts have been serving West Nor­wood for many years, so some cus­tom­ers who remem­ber try­ing on uni­form in the shop are now bring­ing in their chil­dren. Bashir says they also like to give good advice. “Cus­tom­ers are a bit sur­prised when I’ve said a shoe that their child is in love with and is insist­ing is com­fort­able, just isn’t big enough – even if I haven’t got the next size in. I want cus­tom­ers to be sat­is­fied.”

Which is exactly why FEAST loves shop­ping local…

Wear Abouts

358 Nor­wood Rd

SE27 9AA

Mon–Sat 9.30am to 5pm