Walthamstow, E17. On the edges of Greater London and Essex, bordered by the River Lea, Epping Forest and the North Circular Road. This is a North London suburb with a place in the History of Recorded Music.
If you are of a certain age and purchased vinyl records in the 50s through to the 80s by Dire Straits, The Who, Elton John, Blondie, Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Roxy Music, Dusty Springfield, 10cc, Genesis, The Jam, The Walker Brothers, The Stylistics; the soundtracks of Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Fame or the great MGM musicals to name but a few; on labels like Polydor, Philips, Mercury, RSO, Atlantic, Stax, Decca, London, Arista, Chrysalis, Charisma and Verve; it's likely that they were made at the Philips (later Phonodisc then PolyGram) factory on Walthamstow Avenue, not far from the famous dog track.
There were many such factories in the UK during the boom years so what's the story in E17?
In the 50s Philips were early adopters of the "new" microgroove LP format that finally signalled the death of the 78; many technical processes later adopted by the industry as a whole were developed here; in the 60s Philips invented and launched the pre-recorded cassette and the first tapes commercially available in the UK were made at the factory; during its history the factory pressed releases by major artists - many of them visiting the plant on goodwill promotional visits.
From the perspective of the community - the factory was a major employer in the area; in the 70s it was progressive in its employment practices - changing shift patterns to accomodate the need for muslim workers to attend local mosques for Ramadam; recognising that flexible hours would enable staff to work around school hours and other family commitments; working for the greater good with Band Aid.
During it's existence the Philips record business went through major changes, acquiring the pressing rights for US labels Columbia, Atlantic, and Stax; the acquisition of Mercury in 1961; the joint venture with Siemens forming PolyGram the following year; the takeover of Decca in 1980 and the abortive merger with Warners in 1984. The demise of the factory reflected the changing face of the business - with regionalisation then globalisation of products, the fall of vinyl to CD and the hardening of a market for music that was once unchallenged in meeting the needs of the young audience.
A new book, currently at the research stage will tell the story of the factory; of the people who worked there; the products and how they were made and, of course, the rise and fall of the fastest moving consumer product on the planet - the vinyl record.
Rob Davison, who is compiling the research, is a Walthamstow born ex-employee of PolyGram, his first record industry job being at Phonodisc in 1978. This will be an affectionate look at his home community, his experiences and the story of the factory. Made In Walthamstow.com is the base for research and his progress in tracking down the story.
We are interested in hearing from anyone who worked there, in any capacity, at any time. If you are connected to the plant or any of the related partners (e.g. the distribution depot, studios, printers or the labels themselves) then you can contact us by Email or via the Message Board. Any contributions and help will be acknowledged in the book when published.
Go to the Sources & Research page for areas of interest but any recollections of the place , the people and the company will be most welcome. The Image Gallery holds pictures of the products produced together with press cuttings from the local,trade and music press.
Updates on progress will be published here on regular basis.
Last Update: 17th April 2013 (Message Board clean up/Photo Uploads)