Lingering marks of the past

March winds do blow and we have snow. But Boyd Pianos still grips the wall

This fading advertisement in Shacklewell Lane at the east corner of Crossway is one of the poignant reminders of a trade that thrived in Dalston until well into the last century. Once there were clusters of pianos and organs maker around Hackney. They were among the 5,000-plus furniture businesses hard at work throughout the borough by 1900. Originally based in Shoreditch partly because proximity to the 1820-built Regents Canal made transporting the necessary heavy hardwoods easy, these firms soon spread north, eventually as far as Homerton. As late as 1956 Zender’s Pianos was producing 2,500 pianos a year. A more solid reminder of the trade is the organ at St Mark’s Church of England, less than a km southeast of the remaining Boyd Pianos sign. The instrument was built in 1871 by Henry Speechly, of Amhurst Road, at his workshop — trade name the Camden Organ Factory — in St Mark’s Rise, 50m from the church on the site now occupied by Speechly Mews. Though the British Institute of Organ Studies classifies it as “an instrument of significant importance”, the church is worried for its future.

Tolkein’s Piano Works was also based near the church. One of the organs made by Speechly was for the chapel of the Dartford City of London Mental Hospital, a group of dark Vicorian buildings looming behind high walls on a windy hill in north Kent. The poet-musician Ivor Gurney, who was born in Gloucester in 1890 and who never recovered from war service in France from 1915 to 1917, will surely have heard this instrument, perhaps even played it. One of those victims termed in retrospect an “asylum-made lunatic”, he died in 1937, although his works live on.The organ seems to have vanished in the rubble when the asylum was demolished for a twee housing scheme — a jarring reminder that philistinism is not confined to Hackney. I hope that the Boyd Pianos sign and Dalston’s mighty organ will not vanish in the dust of today’s developmental greed — sorry, “regeneration”.


HACKNEY has many illegal radio stations — or pirates — and now it has a new legitimate station. From Friday 19 February 2010 at 2.30pm, Radio Pedro is broadcasting on line. Started by the 1929-founded Pedro Club, it aims to involve people living around Rushmore Road, Clapton, where the youth club, a registered charity, is based. It recently applied for £50,000 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund, which distributes National Lottery money to charities.
Radio Pedro is part of the club’s music project. A recording studio is being developed on the premises so that young musicians can make a CD under professional instruction. Pat Sands, the club’s secretary, says that anyone who wants to get involved in programme production and other aspects of radio should contact the club.


JOHN CAMPBELL Road, running by the Rio Cinema up to Kingsland High Street, is the undistinguished two short rows of late-Victorian terrace houses in varying states of repair that has somehow got itself attractively and expensively repaved. I hear a whisper that some of its residents are objecting to the popularity of the Turkish coffee bars and eating places immediately north of the cinema that have so livened up the area.

The noise of passers-by is, apparently, spoiling their evenings as they sit in their front parlours debating the merits of Proust v. Montaigne over a few glasses from TFC’s three-for-a-fiver vino offer.The Rio has asked Transport for London to rename the bus stop nearest the theatre. But TfL says it “does not use business names”, a statement that ill fits with Selfridges, the Dorchester Hotel, Sadlers Wells Theatre and other stops it namechecks. Rio-istas want their stop named for the cinema. Good move – my family and friends always refer to it as “the Rio stop”. It’s 50m north of the theatre but it’s safer than the stop before it, the one nearest to Dalston Kingsland station, which is a night-time home to the junkies and alkies asboed out of Gillett Square.Even better would be for TfL to reposition the stop right outside the Rio. On second thoughts, don’t: the Rio might attract more cinemagoers and that could give JC Street a collective nervous breakdown.

A web search reveals that there are John Campbell streets in Hobart and in Gourock, Renfrewshire. The Tasmanian capital would obviously not suit the easily upset residents: it has restaurants and pubs. Perhaps the bar-intolerant Campbellies should move to the Scottish town. It’s a pleasant enough burgh and it’s miles from everyone else in Dalston.


YET AGAIN a film crew moved its lorries and trailers into the Kingsland Centre in the shadow of Matalan’s sinister tower. Before you get excited about seeing Hollywood or Bollywood luvvies (shouldn’t that be Mollywood… like, Mumbai, yeah?), I can tell you that the canteen and other equipment was set up as a base… for a Nike TV commercial being filmed in the area. Budget £1 million.Wed 10 Feb: the film crew has vanished, leaving its place in the car park as clean as an abandoned Romany campsite. The director of the commercial was so efficient that filming in E8 was quickly completed. Dinna fash yesel: there’ll be another crew along soon enough.

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2 thoughts on “Lingering marks of the past

  1. This comment has been reposted:
    Dalston Pedant said…
    must be those years working in fleet street… but the piano advertisement is on Shacklewell Lane and it’s John Campbell Road.

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