In the corner of South East London in a warehouse near Loughborough Junction, a collective of 23 craftsmen from ceramicists, milliners, and textile specialists, to a tiara designer and an opera director are housed under one roof. Clockwork Studios is one of the first initiatives of this kind showcasing the very best in British craft in one studio, with the likes of Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and crooner Jimmy Nail all converted fans.
At the turn of the 20th century the warehouse was labeled London's 'Fun Factory', a venue that was home to Fred Karno's music hall performers, with the two most notable attendees Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. But since it was bought by Noel and Margy Perkins in 1985, the warehouse has been offered by the couple as a destination to support and house Great Britain's finest hand-crafting talent.
Clockwork houses 23 different craftsmen, from Bailey Tomlin a milliner who has designed for Selfridges and Harrods, print textile designer Brian Merry, who has worked with Calvin Klein, a stained glass window restorer, and even a bespoke Tiara designer. One such artisan who has put Clockwork on the map is textile designer Victoria Richards, famed for her hand painted ties. In fact she is the only designer producing these bespoke delights in the world, and has also expanded her range to incorporate woven silk ties and now socks, as well as a number of other textile creations. Richards is a 20-year veteran of the 'Fun Factory' and she admits when it first launched in the mid-eighties, it was truly unique.
This is our first #VillageLondon interview, where we plan to explore exactly what the phrase means to Londoners. We asked Richards about the surrounding Denmark Hill, Brixton and Peckham area that has changed significantly over the last 20 years. We ask Richards how those changes have impacted the community and what that has meant for the local artisans and craftspeople who have been in the area for decades.
How did it all start at Clockwork Studios?
It all started when our current landlord bought the house next door and basically the studio was not exactly free with the property, but almost. It is a little like an old warehouse, which was originally used by Charlie Chaplin as his rehearsal studios, so it is nice that he honed his craft in the studios, and they are now used by us. The landlord renovated the studios and because he had an interest and passion for craft, he decided to advertise spaces for young craftsmen and artisans through the crafts council. It is fantastic that the landlord takes such a keen interest in the work that we do, he promotes us, and even buys all the wine at our yearly sales. He is a fantastic patron of what we do on a daily basis.
What we have here is a collective, which is exceptionally unique, particularly when we first started. But now it is being emulated much more, which is a good thing. I remember when I was first here about 20 years ago and we started having our open studios, they were an unusual event, but now everyone does them. People used to be genuinely interested in how people made things, but now most people have an open studio or open house. I wouldn't like to say we single handily started that, but we certainly were ahead of our times. Now you get more people working from home, or out of a home studio, particularly with the number of hands-on graduates leaving art school. Setting up yourself and your own enterprise has become more fashionable.
So, how's business?
Business is good, I thought that people had stopped buying ties, but it's better than it's ever been. I don't know, it's a funny old world. I've just come off the phone with Jon (Snow), I do socks as well now, so we were talking about his latest order. I'm really proud of the socks, it's a little different and at a lower price point.
Clockwork Studios is in the heart of Denmark Hill, the studio is a little community in itself, but how much has this area has changed?
Since I have been working here, over the last 20 years or so the area has changed enormously. If you picture the studio, I used to look out the French doors at the front and I would just see various crimes going on every day. And now all I see is houses being sold for ridiculous prices everyday. I used to see joy riders, prostitutes, drug dealers, all sorts going on. Nothing like that happens at all anymore, which is definitely a good thing.
So, how has gentrification effected your local community?
In terms of our road. Two doors down from the collective there was a commercial printers. He sold up and the person who bought is renting that out to artists and makers. They're called Coldharbour studios, so it feels like there are loads more of us then there used to be. Things like Camberwell Arts Week has developed where all of us feel part of a bigger umbrella, a bigger society that supports us and extends down to Peckham. Basically because the area is changing so rapidly there is a lot more interest in things that are going on, particularly the arts. The downside is, yes, there are a few people or parts of the community that you don't see anymore, people who have had to leave the area, and that isn't great. I do worry, and I think to myself, 'where have they gone?'
Do you think eventually gentrification could kill the local community?
Definitely, I do. I think it's only natural. Brixton Market is great, but part of me thinks it's losing its flavour, that originality and character that made it so unique for so many years. There is something nostalgic and sad about some of the places that couldn't survive there, and now it's all shishy shops and champagne bars. It doesn't feel right. It does seem a bit weird. It has happened so quickly. I'm more connected with Brixton than Peckham now, and I mean, there is all those local businesses under the arches that are under threat, and I'm worried they are trying to commercialise the whole of Brixton. Rents are going up and it is such a shame. You can see the local community aren't happy with what has happened with Foxtons being burned down repeatedly. I am really happy with people protesting against Foxtons, I have a lot of rude words to say about them, but let's be honest, I urge people not vandalise. That doesn't help anybody.
It does seem the powers that be don't always listen to the local community?
I think people are listening in Brixton. But were I am, they are closing the local library to build luxury flats. That's wrong. This is a library that is used by local people, isn't there a line to not cross. People just get too greedy in my opinion. The library is always busy and full, I walk past it twice day, it's going to be so sad when it's luxury flats. The problem is that landlords can achieve vast rents, it all comes down to money. I think the balance could be a lot healthier in South-East London. It's shifted too far. I have two sons and I have been looking at really crappy flats on Coldharbour Lane, and I mean bad. He is leaving University and there is no way he can afford to buy or rent in the area that he grew up in, unless he moves home with us. Surely, that's not right.
The positive aspect is the decrease in crime. But you do start to think that blend of characters, people and places that makes London villages so special is being lost a little bit. The balance needs to be readdressed.
The other positive is the scene for artists and makers is booming in Brixton and the South-East. That has developed and improved, and we are usually the people who move out, and we are here to stay. There are more railway arch type properties with creative people in.
So, how do we keep people like yourselves in these local village areas and ensure they don't lose their character?
We are so lucky because our landlord is so nice. He is this charming eccentric gentlemen who bought the house next door 10 years ago or so, and the studios basically came free with it. He had a choice, he could have been greedy, but he wasn't. He seems to like having us there, I mean our rent is so ludicrously cheap compared to most artist's studio, and it never goes up. We've landed on our feet.
So, it's about the individual landlords, that's what it comes down to. We're relying on them not to be greedy.
I think so. He's not out to make a fast buck. He wants the right people in the property. He rents the house next door. 5 bed with garden for £1200 a month. He really isn't out to take advantage, it goes to prove there are decent people around.
And finally, what is the most special thing about your own #VillageLondon?
It would have to be my landlord. Noel Perkins. He comes up once a week, he does the bins, he paints things, he replaces the loo rolls, changes light bulbs. He is an absolute gentleman and we are all indebted to him.
Which London Village do you live in? Tell us what makes it special and share your pictures and local stories.
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