The Firestone Factory

Brentford & Chiswick Journal 2 (1981)

In February 1980 the Firestone Tyre Factory on the Great West Road closed and 1,500 people lost their jobs. The building was sold to the Trafalgar House Company – run by Lord Victor Matthews and Nigel Broakes – and contracts were finally exchanged on Friday, 22nd August.

During that August week an Inspector from the Department of the Environment had visited the factory and had decided to ‘spot-list’ the building – an emergency procedure which would protect it from demolition. No senior civil servant could be found to sign the papers before the Bank Holiday weekend. On Saturday 23rd August Lord Matthews ordered demolition men to destroy the main features of the facade – the ceramic tiles around the entrance, the white pillars, the pediment above and the bronze lamp standards.

The Great West Road was once known as The Golden Mile. The factories along it were built in the late 1920s and the early 1930s, often by American companies which relied on advertising to promote their products. The factories themselves were used as advertising, which is why they were so eye-catching and exciting. They had to boast their modernity. Apart from Firestones, there was Trico (American windscreen wipers), Sperry Gyroscope, Pyrene fire extinguishers, Macleans, Gillette and Jantzen American swimwear. A similar company, Hoover, built their factory on the Western Avenue. Of British and European companies there were Henley’s – ‘The world’s biggest petrol station’ – the Garden Bakery of Macfarlane Lang, Coty Cosmetics, and Simmonds Aerocessories (now the Beecham building).

The Firestone factory was designed in 3 weeks by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners; it was built in 18 weeks. This firm was famous in its day for its industrial buildings, for example, the Wrigley’s factory in Wembley, Huntley and Palmer’s in Reading, the Victoria Coach Station, Glaxo in Greenford and Champion Spark Plugs in Feltham. Douglas Wallis himself felt that his buildings were only temporary, a part of the manufacturing process, and that he was not building long-lasting monuments. Many of the workers in the factory will appreciate the contrast between the clean, white exterior and the actual manufacturing process inside; it was dirty, hot and pungent with the smell of rubber.

Our area of west London has derived a lot of its wealth from the Great West Road and the Airport. The demolition of the Firestone factory is symptomatic of a change that is occurring along this road as manufacturing is being replaced by warehouses, distribution centres and offices. The large sites and favourable transport conditions may even tempt retailers here with hypermarkets.

The value of the Firestone factory was that it contained in its shape and appearance the means to interpret what has happened in this area since the end of the first World War. It was the best example. Local people felt very bitter about the hasty way it was destroyed and they felt they had been robbed of one of the area’s landmarks. However there is one consolation for the historian who is interested in recording and observing the process of change. The confidence of its construction contrasts noticeably with the lack of confidence surrounding the saga of its destruction.

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