workshop & store – 37 high street, southwold

Not so much a blank canvas: more a palimpsest

Inside the ground floor of The Old Net Works, Whapload Road, Lowestoft

Some companies move into brand spanking new units. Others have their premises built for them. Still others rent or buy efficient but somewhat soulless units on industrial estates.

We've chosen a different route. The building we've leased down on Whapload Road  in Lowestoft (in the area that was once home to the beach fishing village, known as The Grit), is no blank canvas.

It's a palimpsest, with layers of history barely hidden under the paint, the plaster and the dirt of years. 

Most recently it was home to Sunrise Books, a labour-intensive mail-order book retailer occupying all three floors and sending books all over the world. When we first viewed the build the book retailer's (somewhat organically created) shelving was still in place. Job number one was to take that out just to give us room to think about how to use the space.

We're reliably told by a retired local trawlerman that the building had previously been a baitworks: where long fishing lines with hooks spaced at intervals had been baited up before being taken by truck down to load onto fishing boats in the harbour. To be honest when we first opened the doors I think we could still smell the fish.

Before that, and for most of its life (of at least two centuries we think), the building had been a net factory, in which (usually) women had braided nets for the trawlers and other fishing boats that made up Lowestoft's once vast fishing fleet. Smaller nets were braided entirely on site. Larger ones were assembled here from individual pieces made by women working at home on piecework.

Women braiding fishing nets inside the ground floor of The Old Net Works, Whapload Road, Lowestoft

It ain't pretty. It's beautiful.

Nobody could call this a pretty building. But there are some things in life that transcend pretty and go straight to a kind of beauty. This building is one. It's design is entirely about its original function. There's no wasted decoration (except for some careful bevelling around supporting interior wooden pillars). But even that detail is more about function really: the corners were going to get knocked and damaged anyway, so the builders simply removed them as a kind of preemptive strike.

Inside the ground floor of The Old Net Works, Whapload Road, Lowestoft

Reasons to be cheerful

We've chosen this extraordinary building to set up our Blackshore factory for several reasons.

First, and most important, we sort of fell in love with it, even before we knew its full story. It just sort of spoke to us. It felt, immediately, like the right home for the Blackshore brand.

Second because its in the heart of the old fishing quarter of Lowestoft which has been run down for many years, but which now is experiencing new hope, new ambition and new energy, partly as a result of being declared a Heritage Action Zone by a partnership between Historic England, East Suffolk Council, and other organisations: read more about the North Lowestoft Heritage Action Zone here.

Third, because we want to create more than a clothing business. We want to create a clothing business that comes from a real place, that works with the community of a real place, and which can make a lasting contribution to a specific community.

Space for others to work

To that end we're planning to let other makers share the space in the building with us. So if you're a maker of some kind, an artist, a craftsperson, in whatever field, and if you need somewhere to work that is outside of your home, please contact us. We will have some low cost, short term spaces to rent (in a shared larger space on the ground floor, as pictured) which might suit you.

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1 comment

  • Nice article. Good luck with your business.The owner of Sunrise Bookswas a friend of mine, and he built the business from scratch. I like the idea of using the space for art/craft. You might like to get in touch with Easterly Artists via their FB page, to see if anyone’s interested. Cheers John

    John Ellerby

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