Spratt's Complex, located in Poplar within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, is a former pet food factory that was converted into approximately 150 live-work units beginning in 1985. This was one of the first such warehouse conversions in London. The complex is on Morris Road, lining Limehouse Cut canal, and is situated between the DLR stations of Langdon Park and Devons Road.
The complex, which once operated as Spratt's dog biscuit factory, consists of six multi-story warehouses made of reinforced concrete grouped around courtyards. Much of the original factory markings and lettering are visible on the buildings, painted on the DLR track-side walls and also on the small chimney visible from Morris Road. The complex is also locally known as "Spratt's Works" or "Spratt's Factory".
History of the Complex
The Spratt's Works (1899-1969)
The factory was built prior to 1899 (possibly as early as 1860, according to the deeds of some residents, though the architecture suggests construction took place some decades later). In the early 20th century, the Spratt's Works was the largest dog food factory in the world.
James Spratt set up his business in 1860 and soon his business was "a howling success". The location along Limestone Cut allowed barges to easily deliver fish heads and other supplies to the factory for processing. The company was not restricted to dog biscuits: in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), four million ships' biscuits a week were made for the British Army. Before 1914, the factory made other food for human consumption under the "Poplar" brand, such as pulses (butter beans, lentils, and peas), and did international trade in live animals (horses, foxes, and monkeys).
According to the East London News, the Morris Road facilities "suffered severe damage as a result of enemy air action" and "the damage to the factory and working machinery made it almost impossible to carry on the work". The alleged damage may have been overstated since, by the end of World War II, "The impression of inscrutability conveyed by the gaunt impressive is cancelled out by the feverish activity inside." Besides biscuits, Spratt's Works was also producing dogs', cats' and birds' medicines, bird seed, dog shampoos, and toilet requisites for animals. There was also a dog-show department during this period, possibly owing to James Spratt's initial 14-year-old assistant, the future dog show founder Charles Cruft.
The derelict years (1970-1985)
The warehouses were derelict for some years until they were redeveloped between 1985 and 1989. As local lore has it, dog fighting took place years ago in the basement. The Foundry House was derelict, with tape left on the windows from The Blitz and great globs of toffee on the floors left by Appleton's (wholesale confectioners who had occupied the building after Spratt's). Originally, the courtyard was cobbled throughout.
Colman's Wharf was occupied by Gina Plastics until sold for development in 1988, at which time there was a huge industrial bay outside Studio5, on what is now part of the car park. The space at the canal end of the floors of Colman's Wharf was much larger than now, as there was no interior staircase, nor was the present lift shaft part of the building, as large hoists were in use before its development. The ceilings had huge grid works of iron sprinkler pipes complete with large taps and fixings, and the doors that now open onto balconies and those overlooking the canal were of the stable door type, glazed in the upper part and solid in the lower part. The windows are original except for some of those in studios on the third floor facing the City.
The conversion project (1985-1989)
The complex was split into studio workshops (live/work units) and sold by JJAK (Construction) Ltd as empty shells for leaseholders to fit out. The first building to be converted was Limehouse Cut. The studio sizes vary between 580 to 1,610 sq ft (54 to 150 m2). The building was featured in the Sunday Times in June 1986 and again in 1989. Back in 1986, the "studio – part workplace, part home – [had] no status in planning law". At that time the Spratt's Works was a hard-working colony whose residents included artists, photographers, the Queen's tapestry restorer Ksynia Marko, a packaging firm, Roger Law of Spitting Image, sculptor Michael Green and ceramicist Elizabeth Fritsch.
Originally, the planning permission and the lease restricted the (residential) accommodation to no more than 50% of the space (the rest had to be used for 'business'). In the 1990s, as it became progressively more difficult to get mortgages for properties of this type, the majority of the units were changed to allow 100% residential use. Each unit was originally sold as a shell with utilities run at the entrance of the unit (water, drainage, electricity, gas, telephone and fax lines, TV areal and entry phone cables). It was up to the leaseholder to fit out the entire unit: partitions, pipes, wires, etc. Although it was up to the leaseholder to design his or her own unit, building regulations required each unit to include a fire lobby.
The building has become extremely desirable for media-based artists, curators, graphic/web/product/fashion designers, animators, illustrators, architects and other creatives.
At the top of Limehouse Cut building, there is a large 1,500 sq ft (140 m2) communal roof garden with views over Canary Wharf. It is private and maintained by volunteering residents.
Filming and photo shoots are regularly taking place in and around the buildings. Prior permission is required by the management company.
Parking is restricted. Ace Security Services (http://www.acesecurities.co.uk) has been introduced to deal with illegal parking.
On 8 October 2008, the Langdon Park conservation area was extended to include the Spratt's Complex.
Usage of the different buildings
- Colman's Wharf (45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA)
- Original use: seed, packing, grain warehouse
- Today: live/work units, including Simulation (Studio 11), South Quay Travel (Studios 20 and 21)
- Limehouse Cut (46 Morris Road, London E14 6NQ)
- Original use: grain warehouses, meal grinding, sand and grit, bakery no 2, veterinary medicine, laboratory stores
- Today: live/work units, including artist Ian Berry, Michael Green, Moot Design (Studio 8C), Rachel Clark (Studio 25 ), Folio Photography (Studio 28), Debbie Bragg (Studio 38A ), Everynight Images (Studio 38A ), Newton Faulkner (singer/songwriter) Mid Century Modern expert Andrew Weaving
- Foundry House (47 Morris Rd, London E14 6NJ)
- Original use: power house, bakery no 1, bank and delivery warehouse
- Today: live/work units, including Spook (Unit 301)
- Patent House (48 Morris Road, London E14 6NU)
- Original use: delivery warehouse, biscuit packing, grain warehouse, blacksmiths & wire workers, saw mills, kennel & box makers, advertising department
- Today: live/work units
- One Fawe Street (1 Fawe Street, London E14 6PD)
- Original use: grain warehouse, bakeries no 3 & 4 and a flour warehouse
- Today: live/work units, including AB Fine Art Foundry (One Fawe Street ) and One Fawe Street (Studio 6, Block B )
- The Sunday Times: 38. 29 June 1986. Missing or empty
- JJAK Building Limited (1985–1989). Marketing Material. Missing or empty
- Illustrated Kennel News. 12 February 1909. Missing or empty
- Lipley, Nick (27 January 1994). "How biscuits made Mr Spratt the top dog...". East London Advertiser: 8.
- "One Fawe Street - History". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- East London Advertiser. 28 July 1950. Missing or empty
- East London News. 20 May 1949. Missing or empty
- Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (15 September 2010). "Colman's Wharf History". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Kieran. "Dog Food, another London first". Retrieved 12 August 2011.
- Unknown (c. 2000). "Welcome to Limehouse Cut".
- "Back to the workhouse". The Sunday Times. 19 February 1989.
- See File:LimehouseCutRoofGarden.jpg
- "Langdon Park Conservation Area". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Studio 11". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Studio 20/21". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Step Inside London's Spratt's Factory". Warehouse Home. Retrieved 2018-06-29.
- "Studio 8C". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "25". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "28". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Studio 38A". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "38A". Retrieved 20 August 2011.
- "Ref". Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Step Inside London's Spratt's Factory". Warehouse Home. Retrieved 2018-06-29.
- "Unit 301". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "1 Fawe Street". Retrieved 12 August 2011.
- "Studio 6, Block B". Retrieved 12 August 2011.