History of the Former Carreras Cigarette Factory

On the last part of Hampstead Road before it morphs into Camden High Street is one of London’s most unusual architectural gems; the former Carreras Cigarette Factory, sometimes called simply the ‘Black Cat Factory’.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

Mornington Crescent was once a green semicircle, a lovely space for the residents in white stucco terraces. However, in the 1920s a huge factory arrived, causing outrage from local residents.

Today this has been converted into offices, but stands as one of the most eye-catching and unusual of all London buildings.

History of Black Cat Cigarettes

The Carreras Tobacco Company began in 19th century London. Don José Joaquin Carreras Ferrer had a shop at 61 Prince’s Street near Leicester Square, but supposedly came from a line of Spanish apothecaries and so used ‘Established 1788’ on much of his branding.

Today that building survives as 7 Wardour Street, just opposite the W Hotel. The Black Cat image adopted by Don José supposedly came from a domestic cat that loved to sit in his Wardour Street shop.

In 1886 it was used as a trademark by Carrera, the JJC below standing for José Joaquin Carreras.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

Image Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

By 1904, Carreras was run by a Mr W J Yapp and Bernhard Baron. Baron, a Belarus-born US immigrant had invented a cigarette-making machine and arrived in England to sell his patent.

Instead of merely selling his idea, Baron set up a large factory in Aldgate producing machine-made cigarettes; Baron Cigarette Machine Company Limited. It was towards the end of that year that a stand alone Black Cat Cigarette brand was launched.

Story of the Black Cat Factory

In 1928, having outgrown previous sites, the Arcadia Works opened in Mornington Crescent. It was designed by Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

As well as its striking design (we’ll have a closer look shortly) the building was somewhat revolutionary. It was the first to use pre-stressed concrete and at the time was the largest reinforced concrete factory in the country.

It was also the first to install air-conditioning and have a system for dust extraction. The brand were quick to emblazon this on marketing, extolling the virtues of their ‘Hygienic Wonder Factory’. Some posters went further, celebrating ‘a pure product from a clean factory’.

Through modern eyes it seems pretty audacious to associate smoking with clean air. It’s worth also remembering the further irony that the factory was plonked directly on Mornington Crescent, a lovely bit of green space.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

However, to its credit, the Black Cat Factory seems a good place to work. Offering a full welfare service to its employees. There’s a local history blog here where you can read more.

Architectural Details

The extraordinary design was fuelled by one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries ever seen; Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

The discovery prompted a wave of Egypt-mania in fashion, architecture and design. Other examples include the famous Hoover building along the A40 as well as the former cinema on Essex Road (image below).

The more you look at the building, the more of these stylised features jump out at you. For example, the lettering of Carrera is designed to look like it’s been carved into stone.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

And the columns with red, green and blue details are thought to have been inspired by the Tomb of Panhesy (also spelled Panehsy or Panehesy, c.1549-1292 BC)

Carreras Cigarette Factory
Carreras Cigarette Factory

Flanking the main entrance are a pair of huge black cats, cast at the Haskins Factory, London.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

As we’ve heard, the black cat was already part of the brand’s story, so using the Egyptian Goddess; Bastet seems a logical choice.

The ones seen today aren’t the originals. One was moved to the new factory in Basildon and the other to Jamaica in the 1950s. In fact the majority of the Egyptian Art Deco details were destroyed in the 1960s as it was remodelled for office space.

Carreras Cigarette Factory

The current flourishes and sculptural details are part of the restoration works from the 1990s. The replica casts were by Munkenbeck and Marshall, together with Finch Forman

Further black cats stare down at you from above…

Carreras Cigarette Factory

Today the converted office spaced is still used and is home to ASOS fashion brand along with the British Heart Foundation (a further irony!)

Carreras Cigarette Factory

Have you walked past this impressive bit of architecture? Maybe take a closer look when you next stroll past!

More London Inspiration

9 Comments

  • Robert Charriere

    Reply

    This was one of the most ENJOYABLE and INFORMATIVE article I have read . My SINCEREST THANK YOU. Kindest regards.

    July 15, 2020 at 11:01 am
  • David Paskell

    Reply

    Fascinating info about the Carrera’s cigarette factory Katie. From someone who first remembers seeing the building from the top deck of a bus in the late 1950’s / early 60’s, it’s always seemed an odd location for a factory, but redeemed by the striking colourful architecture.

    July 15, 2020 at 11:25 am
  • Patricia Golding

    Reply

    Many thanks, once again, for an interesting and informative article, with great photographs to illustrate its lovely architecture.

    July 15, 2020 at 1:35 pm
  • Adrian Butters

    Reply

    Hi
    Thank you Katie for the article about the Black Cat cigarette factory. I had heard about this factory over the years, but knew nothing about it, till reading your interesting article. Thank you, and keep up the good work.

    July 15, 2020 at 1:42 pm
  • Michael Sanderson

    Reply

    I worked there during the 80s when it was called Greater London House and much of the egyptian decor had gone. Part of it was for a while the base of the Maxwell companies until he fell off his boat and the extent of his shenanigans came to light.

    July 15, 2020 at 4:11 pm
  • Linda Marion Willis

    Reply

    Very interesting to have all the history behind this iconic building. I spent my childhood in and around Camden Town and the ‘Black Cat’ building was a part of it and totally taken for granted. How beautiful and individual it now looks compared to modern architecture.

    July 15, 2020 at 4:19 pm
  • John Shaw

    Reply

    Black Cat factory has for many years been known as Greater London House.

    July 16, 2020 at 10:13 am
  • Ian Johnson

    Reply

    An amazing building. I imagine there are plenty of property developers who would love to get their hands on it and convert it into expensive luxury flats. Hopefully that won’t ever happen though.

    July 19, 2020 at 10:40 am
  • David Chesters

    Reply

    I worked there when it was GLH and home to to Thomson Travel Empire. Thomson Holidays and Britannia Airways

    August 9, 2020 at 12:51 pm

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