The Alaska Factory building stands on the corners of Grange Road and Bacon Grove. The distinctive Art Deco building, built in the 1930s, is now a block of luxury flats but a factory has stood on the site for over 100 years. This building is one of the few remaining landmarks that the residents of Woodlands Place and Turner’s Retreat would have been familiar with.
The original building was built in 1869. The stone arch, situated on Grange Road, is the only remaining part of that building. It holds a clue to the type of business and the origins of the name.
in 1823, John Moritz Oppenheim started trading as a fur merchant in the City of London. The business relocated to Bermondsey in 1869 when the business was taken over by F. A. Schroeter. By 1873, Charles W. Martin (Schroeter’s factory manager) and Emil Teichmann (Schroeter’s brother in law) were in charge of the company. The business remained in the Martin family until it was incorporated in 1911. Another factory was opened in Pages Walk in 1927. The main factory on Grange Road was rebuilt in the 1930s. The design seen today was created by the architects, Wallis Gilbert & Partners, whose other works included the Firestone and Hoover factories on the Great West Road and Victoria Coach Station. The iconic ‘Alaska’ sign only appeared after the rebuild. Up to then, it had been known as Martin’s.
At one point, the Alaska Factory employed about a tenth of all the fur workers in the U.K. Originally involved in the importation and dressing of seal furs from Antarctica, Alaska and Canada, the company branched out to dressing and reconditioning other furs. Queen Mary’s Coronation robe was cleaned by Martin’s in 1937.
By 1939, there were 1100 employees at the factory. The company became involved in war work; manufacturing flying suits for the R.A.F. and U.S. air force. They also made blankets and clothing for the Aid to Russia fund and special air sea rescue hoods.
The building had a lucky escape during the Blitz, when a bomb landed in the factory but failed to go off. This is especially interesting to me as my great aunt and uncle were living around the corner in Bacon Grove (Woodlands Place) at the time.
The fur trade continued to decline after the war and the company eventually closed in the 1960s. In 2014, a 4 bedroom apartment in the building was on the market for £1,400,000.
1. Southwark Council. (2019) Information board outside the gateway. Grange Road, Bermondsey.
2. Londonist blog post. ‘These luxury flats were once the centre of London’s seal fur trade’. https://londonist.com/london/history/the-centre-of-london-s-seal-fur-trade : accessed 04/01/2021.
3. Rightmove. https://www.rightmove.co.uk/properties/46509581#/ : accessed 04/01/2021.
4. All photos taken by C. Jolliffe 2019.