Arcadia Works, London

  • Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London, NW1 7FB
  • Designed by: Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins with Arthur George Porri
  • Built: 1926 - 1928
  • Tags: Art Deco, Factory

Standing on Hampstead Road in North London, opposite Mornington Crescent tube station and half a mile north of Euston Road, the Arcadia Works was built between 1926 and 1928 for the Carreras Tobacco Company. The company was established in 1788 and started business in London in the mid-1850s. By 1907 the company had a large works on City Road (which runs roughly from Moorgate north-west to Angel) in North London. By 1927 the company had outgrown its City Road works. The company commissioned plans for a new London headquarters for the company.

Arthur George Porri submitted plans for a classical-influenced building whilst architect Marcus Evelyn Collins suggested a stylised Egyptian frontage. The Egyptian style echoed the increasing influence of Egypt on art and design following the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. The Egyptian design was married to Porri's overall scheme. The design of the building was credited to the practice of Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins with A G Porri and Partners as consultant.

Marcus Evelyn Collins was born in 1861 and died in 1944. His father, Hyman Henry Collins (1883 - 1905) was a well-known architect having designed the New London Synagogue in St John's Wood, London. Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins worked in practice in London until March 1939 when the partnership was dissolved, although both continued in practice, albeit separately from the same office at 115 Old Broad Street in London.

Arthur George Porri was born in 1877 and died in 1962. He was also responsible for the Eli Lilly building on Kingsclere Road in Basingstoke. The building, a four-storey laboratory, is another Modernist industrial works.

The Arcadia Works, also known as the Carreras Cigarette Factory, is a large imposing building, with its frontage on Hampstead Road extending for more than 500 ft. The design comprises an, at the time, unique pre-stressed concrete frame. The company publicised the Arcadia Works as 'London's Most Hygienic Tobacco Factory', by virtue of its air conditioning and dust extraction plant.

The main entrance to the building is flanked by two 8 ½ft high bronze statues of the cat-goddess Bastet (Carreras used a black cat on its Craven A cigarette packaging). The main frontage comprises a central block of 13 bays with two lower wings of eight bays either side. The bays within the central section are separated by columns with Egyptian-stylised capitals.

The bays, from the first floor level, are filled with tall metal-framed windows. Window blanks disguise the floor level allowing the windows to rise uninterrupted for four storeys. Above, the company name 'Carreras' is spelt out in raised Egyptian-style lettering. Either side, for the outside ten bays, reliefs showing the face of Bastet are placed in circular recesses. Above, a further storey with metal framed windows is surmounted by a highly decorative, deep cavetto-form parapet.

The lower wings are simpler in design with mouldings separating the eight bays. These wings also feature the same deep parapet, although plain in decoration. At pavement level ornamental railings featuring Egyptian hieroglyphs surround the building. The rear of the building is much simpler, with plain walls with large windows. A tall chimney rises high over the building.

The building was officially opened with great fanfare on 3 November 1928. The pavements were covered in sand, opera singers from a London staging of Verdi's opera Aida and actors in Ancient Egypt-style costumes performed, while chariot races were held on the street. The company struck a commemorative medal in celebration for all 3,000 employees, with the inscription 'My Thanks For All Your Help - Bernhard Baron, Chairman, Carreras Ltd'.

In 1959 the Carreras company merged with the Rothmans company and the new company relocated. The Arcadia Works was put up for disposal. By that time the Egyptian styling had fallen out of favour. In 1961 all traces of Collins' scheme were obliterated, with the columns 'boxed' in. Renamed Greater London House, the Arcadia Works was used as office space.

In 1996 Greater London House was acquired by Resolution Property. Executive architects Finch Forman and design architects Munkenbeck and Marshall were commissioned to restore, as far as possible, the original Egyptian scheme. The project including reinstating two replica cats outside the main entrance. The restoration won a Civic Trust Award and a Camden Design Award, and the project was featured as Building of the Month in the RIBA Journal.

Posted on Saturday, May 14, 2011

A celebration of Modernist architecture in Britain