Today, where once stood the Harris Lebus factory, spring daffodils adorn a grassy slope leading down to Ferry Lane estate, beneath which likely lies some rubble. Residents and visitors walk past a solitary iron gatepost at the end of a Victorian brick wall and railings on a path to and from Ferry Lane rarely giving this a second thought. Fifty years ago this spring, Lebus employees walked past that same gatepost for the very last time.
A new book, published on Tuesday, Harris Lebus: A Romance with the Furniture Trade by Paul Collier, charts the complete history of the firm from humble beginnings in 1840 through to its final tumultuous years. From arts and crafts to stylish, modern furniture, Lebus was an industry leader and a renowned, iconic brand known not only the length and breadth of the land, but globally. But this book is much, much more than a conveyor belt of furniture designs through the decades. Not least because Lebus ceased furniture production completely during both World Wars, switching its resources – a workforce of primarily women as many men went to fight – to ‘the war effort’ and the manufacture of complete war planes… in the hundreds.
Many people were engaged in employment at Lebus. And just as the Lebus family had followed in their parent’s footsteps, so too did several generations of other families. Through various means and after the event, some recorded their memories. These stories are weaved through each chapter and, as far as possible, are told using their own words. “At times” says Paul “the reader might feel as if they are immersed in a period drama”.
This is Paul’s first book. “I live where the veneer shop used to be”. Paul has generously given his author’s royalties to Ferry Lane Action Group. FLAG is the residents’ association for Ferry Lane estate which is currently matching volunteers to requests from older and more vulnerable residents through this COVID-19 pandemic.
Illustrated with over 200 images, this book is perfect to while away the hours in social isolation. Harris Lebus: A Romance with the Furniture Trade is available now from Libri Publishing.