I went to the gallery of the Society of Designer Craftsmen (of which I’m a trustee) in Shoreditch, to meet our architect and Hackney Council’s conservation officer to talk about the Society’s proposed improvement of the building. We want to enhance the gallery space, with proper disabled access, and to make the upper storeys more useful.
The building, one of a group of four, is listed Grade II because of its significance in the South Shoreditch furniture industry, which flourished between 1860 and 1945. The group was built by William Ratcliffe in 1897 and is typical of the small workshops that dominated the area. Behind the Veneer, English Heritage’s history of the South Shoreditch furniture industry, records that it was organised into a network of interconnected trades in small workshops rather than big factories and that the production line was effectively the street, where work was passed from shop to shop.
Ratcliffe’s workshop is an interesting home for the Society of Designer Craftsmen because we began as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, with Walter Crane and William Morris as our first presidents. The work done by Arts and Crafts furniture makers, however, was quite different from that of the Shoreditch workshops, where “Curtain Road stuff” was a byword for cheap and nasty.