So there I was, testing out the iPhone’s camera (yeah it’s OK but won’t replace my Sony DSLR any time soon!) by idly snapping a few retro lampshades. And now I’m immersed in a tale of industrial disagreements, experimental acrylic resins and a sex change.
We were taking a break having been shopping for new clothes for my Aunt. She’s still tall and likes decently made stuff, so we nipped down to David Neiper’s factory shop in Alfreton. Not only is the bulk of their stock designed and manufactured on site, but they are able to lengthen or shorten items to suit. Once upon a time of course nearly all clothing was made in the UK and could be tweaked like this, but these days it’s mostly made cheaply in the far east and fall apart in weeks (two pairs of John Lewis trousers have discoloured so badly after washing we had to redye them!)
And apart from supporting local industry, you get a free cup of tea in the vintage staff canteen, which is where I spotted the lamp shades. We know Neiper’s moved into this bespoke new factory in 1973, so can be fairly sure these were the original shades installed new. Made of spin fibre glass, they are quite sought after, and it was great to see so many in situ after fifty plus years.
A year or so on, and we’re back there for a shop sale, and another cup of tea. But instead of the lovely orange shades, a set of awful Chinese sweat-shop made faux Victoriana glass horrors with nasty chrome wire frames adorns the ceiling.
On asking where the old shades had gone, I was told (by someone totally bemused as to why I would even have noticed) that they’d ended up in a skip outside during redecoration a few months before. “But someone came and took them out…” Well yes, seeing as how these shades fetch up to £20 a go on ebay and the like. Still, at least they didn’t end up as landfill, and someone will get to use them.
I only spotted the shades because we have one of those fab cylindrical acrylic lamp bases which look as if they’re made from broken chunks of plastic, and the fibre shade was an integral feature of these. The trade name for these lamps was Shattaline, and one ex-employee, Mike Andrew, has unearthed some of the history behind them. His boss, Lewen Tugwell, was a sculpter, and discovered and then learned how to control the shatter effect while experimenting with acrylic for a sculpture.
I don’t know the date this happened, but he filed a patent for the process in America in 1965, and I assume this was shortly after he’d done so here.
For many years the lamp bases, along with ash-tray, pen stands and other goodies, were made in a former undertakers workshop in Lewen’s home village of Bridgefield, Farnham. The lamps and other decorative products sold well and Shattaline eventually relocated to a larger factory in Woking in 1969. Lewen then upped sticks and moved the manufacture all the way to Evanton in Rosshire. There were then disagreements amongst the directors, Lewen disappeared to undergo a sex-change (returning as Judy Cousins to teach sculpture in the early 80s), and the rapid increase in the price of raw materials led to the closure of the business in the mid-1970s.
I love the make do and mend aspect of the firm; the process was critical and some of the products failed. Rather than scrap these, the firm got someone to break them up and make new lamp bases out of the rough pieces!
Mike’s site is hosted on a local history site and makes for a fascinating read, with lots of photos of other Shattaline products: