This book explores the history of the furniture manufacturer Harris Lebus from 1840 to 1970. Four generations of the Lebus family were engaged in the business which evolved from a family partnership into a public company. Oliver Lebus was chairman when the company ceased cabinet furniture manufacturing at Tottenham Hale in 1970. Using personal testimonies from those who were there, aspects of the story of ‘the largest furniture factory’ in the world are told through their eyes and using, in as far as possible, their own words.
On a relatively, unremarkable North London Street, at Tottenham Hale, a set of railings stops short at a bricked wall on which a metal gatepost is affixed – this was the Ferry Lane entrance to Harris Lebus ‘the largest furniture factory in the world’.
Beyond the solitary post, a sloped, grass verge leads to a pleasant, low-rise housing built in the 1970’s – Ferry Lane estate, and it is hard to imagine that this was once a bustling, energised furniture manufacturing hub. For seventy years furniture flowed on conveyor belts, and through a tunnel under Ferry Lane as the factory expanded in the fifties to occupy what is now Hale Village. During both World Wars the parts for wooden aircraft were made and assembled in huge workshops that were shrouded in secrecy.
With the discovery of the factory underground war shelters in 2008 under what is now Hale Village and a subsequent Lebus exhibition curated by Haringey Local History Archives, interest was generated in this aspect of history and which has subsequently gathered momentum.
Thousands of workers, each living individual lives came from near and far to spend their working days at Lebus. Many formed lifelong friendships, and just as four generations of the Lebus family spent their working lives in the factory, so too did successive generations of other families. Seemingly forgotten in the passing of time, they all left an indelible mark in this history. And in the case of some, their identities now emerge as their stories are explored; they are brought back to life telling their experiences in their own words.
This is Paul Collier’s first foray into authorship. In 2008, shortly after moving to Ferry Lane estate, Paul made a connection with Oliver Lebus, then in his nineties and who was the last family member of four generations at the company. They formed a special friendship and over several afternoons at his home in Kensington, Oliver introduced the author to his personal archives on which the foundations of this book were laid.
Fully supported by both Haringey Local History Archives and members of the extended Lebus family, Harris Lebus – A Romance with the Furniture Trade, fully illustrated with over 200 photographs and images is a must read! His debut book appeals to a wide audience – interest in this history extends far beyond the locality of Tottenham Hale and Haringey, and will delight social historians and those with connections to the furniture trade, past and present.