Thursday, 2 July 2020

Rembrandt House

Rembrandt House in Whippendell Road is a locally listed Edwardian building from the early 1900s, once the Watford Speedometer and Magneto Works. They supplied speedos for the Vickers Vimy’s first transatlantic flight in 1919 and also manufactured all Rolls Royce engine magnetos until 1932. Later the building housed printing works associated with the Sun Engraving Company and Rembrandt Photogravure.


North & Sons of Watford - timeline, taken from Graces Guide
of Watford, Herts. (1923)
1839 Formed as a watch-making company
1904 Commenced making automotive components
1905 Moved to Watford
1920 February. Issued catalogue of magnetos. [1]
1920 October. Exhibited at the Commercial Motor Exhibition at Olympia with magneto equipment for commercial vehicles. [2]
1926 Employing 630 on a 115,460 sq. ft. factory
1927 Watford magnetos.
1933 North and Sons Ltd, then one of the leading manufacturers of magnetos and also a manufacturer of speedometers and other instruments for motor vehicles, was purchased by Lucas in 1933 for £22,347. Lucas subsequently recovered half the purchase price from SmithsJoseph Lucas Ltd took over the magneto side of the business and Smiths the instrument side.

Below is a Timeline of the Sun Engraving Company: taken from www.gracesguide.co.uk

Sun Engraving Company

1911 Edward Hunter and his partners established a new firm at Milford House, just off the Strand in London.
1918 Absorbed the Mezzogravure Co.
1919 Sun Engraving absorbed Andre Sleigh and Anglo and consolidated all production operations at Whippendell Road, Watford.
1932 Sun Engraving acquired the Storey Brothers interests in Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Co; Storeys moved the company from London to Watford, and renamed it Rembrandt Photogravure. 
The story of Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Co is an interesting one and this link tells you about them:  https://www.stampprinters.info/DS36.pdf  
1934 moved the Rembrandt operations to Watford, renamed as Rembrandt Photogravure.
Developed large rotary photogravure facility to produce magazines and catalogues. By about 1935, the firm was producing 70% of Britain’s mass-market magazines.
1937 Odhams Press was one of the largest customers; made an offer to Sun Printer’s owners to buy their company, which was declined. Odhams than set up its own photogravure printing operation in North Watford - Odhams (Watford) Ltd[1].
WWII Printed propaganda material as well as all manuals of aerial reconnaissance photographs used for the invasion of Europe. The firm was also involved in the production of munitions, and in activities connected with the production of the atomic bomb.
1945 Sold the printing operations to Hazell, Watson and Viney of Aylesbury. Formed Hazell Sun Group.
1968 The engraving company was sold to C. and E. Layton Ltd. and ceased operations at the Whippendell Road site.

 

  

Photographs copyright Lynda Bullock 2012

The link below will take you to the detailed recollections of Mr John Castle who worked at  Rembrandt Photogravure (1955-61) and Sun Printers (1961–66).  Illustrating the account are several photographs including one of staff members outside the Highwayman Public House in Tolpits Lane. 



In later years Rembrandt House passed into multi-occupancy use, housing at one time Castile Games and Toys Ltd by Rembrandt Games Ltd, which included jigsaw puzzles.
Parts of the building were still in use in the 1990s, but once vacated, the site of 3.4 acres was acquired by Henley Homes to develop into apartments. The industrial buildings at the rear were demolished to make way for flats.
The project by Henley involved the conversion and restoration of the locally-listed Edwardian print works into 43 modern apartments, where the exterior had become dilapidated, the windows and roof needed replacing, the brickwork was dirty and the decorative details of the plasterwork had eroded away. The restoration of the decorative plasterwork frieze and pediment would require a specialist trade, but it was key to completing the restoration, so this went ahead. The missing parts were recreated using skilled moulding techniques and the rest was gently cleaned and stabilised, before all being repainted in a neutral stone shade. The surrounding brickwork was also cleaned by hand to ensure that the surviving decorative detail was not further eroded. For this conversion Henley Homes won the Regeneration/Restoration Award in the International Design and Architecture Awards 2017. 

    




Photographs copyright Lynda Bullock 2020

A last point of interest is the feature on the exterior wall towards the lower end of the building. Perhaps it once displayed a plaque for the Speedometer and Magneto Works? (The writer of this piece has not, so far, been able to find any photo depicting this).


Photograph copyright Lynda Bullock 2020


Though now defaced, I believe this is Henry James Wise, Architect 1873 - 1940


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References:

Timeline taken from:   www.gracesguide.co.uk



Directory of British Architects


New to Watford - Blog December 2016

- oOo -


If anyone has any recollections of working in Rembrandt House, we would be happy to hear from you.


  

22 comments:

  1. I was working in a unit on the top floor of Rembrandt House as late as 1999 so it wasn't vacated in the 80's as the article states.

    Cliff Salter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Cliff, I'll amend the article.

      Delete
  2. Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting?I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work. Ed Renwick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. There should be references at the end of each article/history stating where the information was found. I do have to do a lot of searching sometimes.

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  4. My daughter has a leather jacket labelled Rembrandt Watford, possibly from the 90'es, brand is Highway. Was that a company in the house?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Possibly. The building housed several companies, but unfortunately I have no information on which ones.

      Delete
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