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Greater London House

Greater London House


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Greater London House is a large Art Deco building in Camden, London in the United Kingdom. It is noted as a striking example of early 20th Century Egyptian Revival architecture.

Alternative names for the building are: Carreras Cigarette Factory, Arcadia Works and The Black Cat Factory.

The building was erected in 1926-28 by the Carreras Tobacco Company owned by the Russian-Jewish inventor and philanthropist Bernhard Baron on the communal garden area of Mornington Crescent, to a design by architects M.E and O.H Collins and A.G Porri. It is 550 feet (168 metres) long, and is mainly white.

The building's distinctive Egyptian-style ornamentation originally included a solar disc to the Sun-god Ra, two gigantic effigies of black cats flanking the entrance and colourful painted details. When the factory was converted into offices in 1961 the Egyptian detailing was lost but it was restored during a renovation in the late 1990s and replicas of the cats were placed outside the entrance.

The building was opened in 1928 to great fanfare: a ceremony held in front of the building involved covering the pavements in front of the building with sand to replicate the deserts of Egypt. There was a procession of cast members from a contemporary London production of Verdi's opera Aida, actors in Ancient Egyptian costume performed around the "temple" structure, and a chariot race was held on the Hampstead Road.

Dominating the entrance to the building were two large 8.5-foot (2.6 m)-high bronze statues of cats, stylised versions of the Egyptian god Bastet (or Bubastis or Bast), which had been cast at the Haskins Foundry in London.

The image of a black cat was a branding device which Carreras used on the packets of their Craven A range of cigarettes. The building had thus been conceived as a "temple" to Bastet and the architects' original drawings reveal that it was to be named Bast House (the name was dropped due to unfortunate similarities to derogatory words in English).

In 1960-62 the Camden Arcadia Works were converted into offices. The building was refurbished and stripped of all its Egyptian decoration, which was now out of fashion, in an attempt to give it a simpler, more Modernist appearance. At this time it was renamed Greater London House.

In 1996 the building was purchased by Resolution GLH who commissioned architects Finch Forman to restore the building to its former glory. The restorers consulted the original designs and aimed to recreate 80-90% of the original Art Deco features, including installing replicas of the famous cat statues. The restoration work won a Civic Trust Award.

The Carreras Cigarette Factory was faced in Atlas White cement, coloured to look like sand. The front of the building was lined with a colonnade of twelve large papyriform columns, painted in bright colours with Venetian glass decoration.

The columns are thought to have been inspired by columns at tombs in Amarna. The main entrance was approached by a staircase, the handrails designed in the shape of serpents mounted on the wall with bronze human hands.

The entrance itself was designed in the style of a tent, similar to the cavetto-moulded lintels seen in architecture dating from the Old Kingdom.

Above the door was a carved Horus of Behdet, a symbol of the winged disk of the Sun. During World War II it was felt that this symbol resembled too closely the eagle imagery of the Third Reich and it was covered up. It was not replaced during the 1990s restoration.

Cow-horned Hathor lamps stood in front of the black cat statues. The repeated black cat logo also featured across the front of the building. Ornamental railings around the building featured Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The building was the first factory in Britain to make use of pre-stressed concrete technology, the first to contain air conditioning and a dust extraction plant.

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