Category Archives: We No

WeNo Guide to…Hobby’s!

It’s Spring and FEAST is back! And so our intrep­id report­er set off once more to explore the streets of West Nor­wood, meet­ing local traders.

Present­ing Hobby’s, a fam­ily busi­ness for model makers and hob­by­ists since the 1950s. Stray behind Knight’s Hill into the quiet streets of the indus­tri­al area to find their large ware­house – the loc­a­tion of Hobby’s retail and whole­sale since the 1970s. Fol­low­ing the sign to the shop entrance reveals a bygone era show­room with a hotch­potch of doll’s houses, match­stick mod­els and power tools for model mak­ing. This belies the fact that bey­ond the counter and out of view of the cus­tom­er, lies a com­pre­hens­ive selec­tion of model mak­ing and hobby stock. Behind the scenes, there is a 15-strong team busy ser­vi­cing the mail-order side of the busi­ness, send­ing out goods nation­wide and inter­na­tion­ally. So if you have popped into the show­room to browse, make sure you look at the annu­al cata­logue. Ask, and a mem­ber of staff will source what you choose from the ware­house. To give you an indic­a­tion of the shelves and shelves of items nest­ling in West Nor­wood, the 2017 cata­logue boasts 324 pages, ran­ging from model planes, boats, rail­ways, crafts such as glass engrav­ing and candle mak­ing, and a large sec­tion on the fit­tings to cre­ate a doll’s house – everything the ded­ic­ated model enthu­si­ast could desire. But also lurk­ing amongst the spe­cial­ist model mak­ing goods, there are items for the gift hunter or bud­ding hob­by­ist – wooden self-assembly kits, remote-con­trolled toys and 3D puzzles to name just a few.

The ori­gins of the busi­ness go back to the glory days of hob­by­ing. Owner Mike Cross­land explains how his fath­er WF Cross­land, who was sta­tion mas­ter at Tulse Hill, was per­suaded by a Swiss rel­at­ive to sell 50 music­al move­ments (for the unini­ti­ated, these are the music­al parts that can be used in toys, boxes, clocks and mod­els). He first placed an ad in Prac­tic­al House­hold­er, the busi­ness took off and even­tu­ally he opened a shop at 202 Tulse Hill. When his fath­er retired from the rail­ways, he took new premises at 109 Nor­wood High Street trad­ing under the name of Swis­scross, play­ing on the Swiss con­nec­tion and fam­ily name.

Even­tu­ally they expan­ded to 62 Nor­wood High Street and changed the name to Hobby’s to reflect the widen­ing of their stock. Mike com­ments that those early days of the busi­ness were an era when people made things in their leis­ure time, pre-digit­al revolu­tion if you can recall or ima­gine life then. Now, he says sadly, some of the model mak­ing high street shops Hobby’s sup­ply are clos­ing – a sign of the times. Mike expands: “People also made things because they couldn’t afford them”. Nowadays, model mak­ing is a niche mar­ket cater­ing for a dis­tinct com­munity. It’s a labour of love to cre­ate and dec­or­ate a doll’s house – you don’t do it because you can’t afford one. Indeed, the com­pon­ents avail­able for the lar­ger scale doll’s houses have become more soph­ist­ic­ated, with design­er wall papers and car­pets, and even elec­tric light fit­tings!

So, who are Mike’s cus­tom­ers in the here and now? Not sur­pris­ingly, many are older gen­er­a­tion. A lot of reg­u­lars have worked with their hands all their lives and now they have retired, immers­ing them­selves in a mak­ing pro­ject. Then Mike smiles sheep­ishly, there are quite a few liv­ing cour­tesy of Her Majesty, either buy­ing dir­ect or via the pris­on shop! A fact con­firmed by a heart­felt “thank you” from a former pris­on­er on their FB page. And what are their most pop­u­lar items cur­rently? Well, the biggest seller is match­stick kits, where you stick matches onto card tem­plates to make a model. In fact, Hobby’s cre­ate and pack­age the kits them­selves; some­times using the design sug­ges­tions of their model mak­ing reg­u­lars. Galle­ons are very pop­u­lar – model ships such as the Cutty Sark. And music­al move­ments still fea­ture in the cata­logue as a throw­back to the company’s ori­gins. There are some sweet self-assembly wooden music boxes for chil­dren. Mikes smiles – in the 1970s, they used to sup­ply music­al move­ments for ice-cream vans.

So how about tech… the digit­al mar­ket? Mike com­ments that they don’t stray too much into tech as you need to ser­vice enquires when a cus­tom­er gets stuck. Also, it’s a highly com­pet­it­ive mar­ket. He is con­tent – they have expert­ise in phys­ic­al model mak­ing and have the know-how to sup­port their cus­tom­ers, but they are on a con­tinu­al quest for new stock. Mike has been a reg­u­lar at Nurem­berg Toy Fair, stay­ing at the same hotel over a 20-year peri­od. Now, his son goes to what is the biggest toy fair in the world. Fairs provide a great oppor­tun­ity to meet sup­pli­ers and search for latest toys. Mike remem­bers with sat­is­fac­tion stum­bling over 3D foam jig­saw puzzles at an Amer­ic­an toy fair. It was a totally new concept at the time and he promptly bought £8000 of stock from the small Cana­dian sup­pli­er, sold it all and ordered anoth­er 11x 40ft con­tain­ers worth. Even­tu­ally, Has­bro broke up the party by tak­ing over the supplier!And then it was time to leave Mike behind the shop counter. Our report­er left mus­ing over a quote from the cata­logue: “Happy is the per­son with a hobby for they have two worlds to live in”.

Hobby’s Ltd

2 Knight’s Hill Square

SE27 0HH

Mon-Fri 9 to 5pm and Sat 9 to 1pm

www.hobby.uk.com — online cata­logue

WeNo guide to… Mosaic Workshop!

 

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Turn­ing into Chest­nut Road, just past the fruit and veg stall, our Intrep­id FEAST report­er found Harry Day Mews. This hand­some former fur­niture ware­house built in 1922 is now flats. Once you’ve buzzed the inter­com, metal gates glide open and the Mosa­ic Work­shop, London’s only spe­cial­ist mosa­ic shop, is across the court­yard.

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If mak­ing is your thing, a visit here is like being a five-year-old in a sweet shop, drawn to an array of bas­kets and invit­ing jars full of col­oured tiles. Notice­able are the edible-look­ing mil­li­fiori, glass with a pat­terned interi­or, remin­is­cent of sea­side rock. Then there are the pack­ets of hand­made smalti, tra­di­tion­al, richly col­oured mosa­ic glass impor­ted by owner James from the same Itali­an fam­ily for 20 years.

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Here also are ‘the treats’ as James calls them – bronze, cop­per, sil­ver and gold leaf tiles that an artist uses spar­ingly to embel­lish a piece. They shim­mer when sun­light passes across them. The urge to touch is strong.

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The shop is a large space with shelves con­tain­ing all the work­aday tools to make a mosa­ic: tile cut­ters, grouts, tiler sponges, adhes­ives and wood bases in vari­ous shapes and sizes, mir­rors and table tops. But it is the unglazed ceram­ic and vit­ri­fied glass tiles sourced from Mex­ico, China, India, France, Por­tugal and Italy in every col­our ima­gin­able that leave a last­ing impres­sion.

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So why is Mosa­ic Work­shop in West Nor­wood? The busi­ness was launched in Hol­lo­way by mosa­ic artist Emma Biggs in 1987. Back then the focus was on mosa­ic com­mis­sions. Selling mosa­ic mater­i­als evolved into an addi­tion­al income later. James joined in the early 90s, even­tu­ally tak­ing on the shop side of the busi­ness. Being local to West Nor­wood, he set up in the cur­rent premises nine years ago. He recalls some of the com­mis­sions they did in those early days – mosa­ic pieces for Sir Ter­ence Conran’s flag­ship res­taur­ants Quaglinos and Mezzo, res­tor­a­tion work at the Nation­al Por­trait Gal­lery, and a pair of box­ing gloves for the bot­tom of Frank Bruno’s swim­ming pool! One of the high­lights has been fix­ing a mosa­ic in a 13-storey cruise liner in Ger­many. James describes it as a float­ing tower block – from the top the people work­ing below looked like ants. The mosa­ic was 20 square metres and took a week to install.

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Who fre­quents the shop? About 10 per cent of cus­tom­ers are in the build­ing trade. And, of course, Mosa­ic Work­shop has artist reg­u­lars pro­fes­sion­ally work­ing on com­mis­sions, com­munity pro­jects or run­ning courses. Tessa Hunkin, a trained archi­tect, also part of the ori­gin­al Mosa­ic Work­shop team and respons­ible for some large-scale mosa­ics in West­min­ster Cathed­ral, now runs Hack­ney Mosa­ic Pro­ject. This group has cre­ated some of London’s finest com­munity mosa­ics, often work­ing thera­peut­ic­ally with people in the pro­cess of mak­ing. Examples of their work can be seen at Lon­don Zoo.

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But the major­ity of cus­tom­ers are people under­tak­ing dec­or­at­ive pro­jects for their home – a hearth for a fire­place, garden pav­ing slabs, bird baths, fea­ture mir­rors, and splash­backs for kit­chens and bath­rooms. Because it’s import­ant to see the col­ours in per­son, makers will often visit deep­est West Nor­wood, des­pite the mail-order ser­vice. What James enjoys most is meet­ing his cus­tom­ers, hear­ing about their pro­jects and shar­ing ideas. It’s a bonus when they send in pho­tos of the com­pleted pro­ject. James com­ments that there has been a resur­gence of interest in mosa­ics as an art form. Maybe this is due to the fact people are enhan­cing their homes rather than mov­ing house. He pon­ders, “but also mak­ing requires con­cen­tra­tion – it’s a good way of block­ing stress, it’s a moment of peace”.

That sums up the exper­i­ence of Mosa­ic Work­shop. There is a kind of serenity in the space and …some­thing oh-so-deeply attract­ive about those col­our­ful tiles.

 

Mosa­ic Work­shop

Unit 2 Harry Day Mews

1 Chest­nut Rd

SE27 9EZ

www.mosaicworkshop.com

 

Tue to Fri 10 to 5.30pm

Sat 10 to 4pm

Monthly Late Night until 8pm (1st Wed­nes­day of every month)

 

 

WeNo Insider’s Guide to… Floral Hall!

Presenting Floral Hall, a longstanding West Norwood business with deep roots in the community.

Enter­ing the shop you are greeted by a cent­ral explo­sion of col­our and a subtle fra­grance of flowers; along the edges are dis­plays of seeds, bulbs, chocol­ates, candles and vases. And there’s more… for tucked around the corner on Lans­downe Hill, Flor­al Hall run a garden centre (a rel­at­ively young busi­ness at just five years old!) This does a par­tic­u­larly brisk trade in Decem­ber when local people are busy select­ing their Christ­mas trees and eagerly car­ry­ing them away.

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Owner Sally and her team have been trad­ing flowers from the high street premises for 20 years. When you view the attract­ive, wide shop front­age with plants arranged on the pave­ment, the shop does have cer­tain solid pres­ence. The busi­ness actu­ally goes back even fur­ther – an impress­ive 37 years, oper­at­ing ini­tially as a flower stall. Sally recalls the pitch. It was next to a fish wagon and fruit stall on the cobbled right of way out­side the Thur­low Arms (now Tesco Metro). The row of mar­ket stalls had oper­ated in that spot for gen­er­a­tions.

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When Sally first came to West Nor­wood, there were an amaz­ing seven flor­al out­lets. She explains, “you see, there was no inter­net or com­pet­ing super­mar­ket trade…”. Even so, that seems like a lot of flor­ists. But as our intrep­id FEAST report­er spoke to Sally, it became clear flowers are part of the fab­ric of our lives. People use them to mark sig­ni­fic­ant life events, in times of cel­eb­ra­tions: wed­dings, spe­cial birth­days and births; and the pain­ful times of loss: for funer­als. So it’s not sur­pris­ing Sally and her staff have got to know the shop reg­u­lars over the years, seen people’s kids grow up and go to uni­ver­sity etc, which explained why dur­ing the inter­view in neigh­bour­ing Sor­rento Res­taur­ant, Sally was greeted by pass­ersby say­ing hello and keen to exchange news.

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So, what is unique about Flor­al Hall? Well, Sally prides her­self on good ser­vice. You can order online and items can be delivered. Vis­it­ors to the shop notice the friendly atmo­sphere and gentle banter. Kevin, Christine and Linda have been work­ing with Sally for years and they work togeth­er with ease.

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And the high­lights of the job? Sally doesn’t hes­it­ate – the flowers. “You never cease to be amazed by their smell and beauty”. But it’s hard work, labour intens­ive. She vis­its New Cov­ent Garden Mar­ket four times a week, arriv­ing at 5am to haggle with buy­ers – a job her late hus­band Terry excelled at. She then has to load her van, drive back, unload, pre­pare and arrange stock. As she points out, it’s per­ish­able stock so it’s risky judging what you need. The team have worked all night to meet the dead­lines of Moth­ers Day and Valentines Day – bou­quets have to be pre­pared fresh. She remem­bers with a smile how the Thur­low Arms pub­lic­an would see the shop lights burn­ing after hours and bring over a tray of sand­wiches and hot tod­dies! Then there was the time when Next needed 250 buck­ets of flowers for their autumn cata­logue shoot and they scrambled to meet the brief. But there have been highs –pre­par­ing the flowers for Kate Winslett’s wed­ding when she was at the height of her career (all top secret). And, inev­it­ably, there have been lows – the time the van was stolen with all their stock just before Valentines Day and Terry had no choice but to pur­chase all the flowers again and buy a new van.

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Have there been any mem­or­able jobs? Cer­tainly! Dead flor­al arrange­ments for a film set. Also many per­son­al spe­cial­ist arrange­ments – Linda recently cre­ated a flor­al ball­room dan­cing couple that they were par­tic­u­larly proud of.

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This year is the shop’s 20th anniversary. We hope the team takes some time out for a well-deserved cel­eb­ra­tion!

Floral Hall

370 Nor­wood Road

SE27 9BQ

www.floralhalllondon.co.uk

Mon-Sat 8.30 to 6pm and Sun 8.30 to 5pm