Changing London

Wood Green’s art deco masterpiece: Visiting North Met’s former headquarters

The Green Rooms arts hotel seems quite out of place for the centre of Wood Green. As soon as you step out of the Tube station you encounter a bustling high street of chain stores, but then turn the corner to enter this building and you feel like you’ve ventured into Shoreditch or Hoxton.

Creative sorts sit in the lobby and bar tapping away on their laptops, headphones plugged in – just as they would in the aforementioned inner eastern London suburbs. Calming easy listening music plays through the speakers, there is a hotch-potch collection of tables and chairs scattered around the room and, of course, the shelves at the back contain a selection of art books. The menu served when I visited was Nigerian street food, but as is customary these days, pop-up chefs rotate every six months.

But I wasn’t visiting as a hotel guest (although I would recommend it to someone if they were coming to London and want to stay somewhere a little bit different). Before it was converted into a residence and bar, the arts hotel – which is run as a social enterprise offering discounts and rehearsal space for visiting artists – was originally a headquarters for the North Met electricity company. I had come for a look around with Crouch End Walks.

Built in the 1930, the art deco building featured a North Met showroom on the ground floor, where the open plan lobby housing check-in and the bar is today. These demonstration shops – introduced in the interwar period – were a fixture on our high streets until the 1980s, when superstores run by the likes of Currys and later the internet made them redundant. North Met alone apparently had 40 showrooms.

They showrooms were designed to sell the idea of new appliances to those who wanted to modernise their homes, as well as providing a place where people could bring their goods to bring repaired. Big windows – like those at the Wood Green branch – enabled potential customers to see what was on offer inside.

If you look outside, there are fascinating bronze roundels of the front of the building, across four of these the words ‘lighting’, ‘heating’, ‘cooking’ and ‘power’ provide a clue as to the fact that such a showroom was once here. But as well as serving domestic customer, North Met also provided power for trams in north London, which were run by its sister company. This mode of transport was important for Wood Green and its lower middle class clerks who worked in the City because until the 1930s the Piccadilly line only went as far as Finsbury Park.

As you explore further, you can see art deco detail on tiles and other original features have been retained, not least in the bathrooms where even old toilet roll holders remain. We looked in a number of bedrooms, which retain original windows from when they were used as offices (although double glazing has also been added to blot out the noise from outside). Rooms are available from £60 which for London is pretty reasonable – and beds in dorm rooms downstairs are even cheaper.

Perhaps the most attractive space in the arts hotel however is the top floor function room which was originally the board room and has a skylight that floods it with light. It is believed that it was also originally used as a welfare room for employees.

North Met’s board room

When North Met was amalgamated into the nationalised Eastern Electricity company in the 1940s, the building continued to be used as a showroom on the ground floor and the upper floors were used as offices. The structure was eventually passed to Haringey council and for 15 years it was used by the housing aid department. But when local authority staff left the offices in 2009, the building was left empty and it only opened as an arts hotel in 2016.

As for Wood Green more generally, there is hope for the wider area to be revived. The old Barratt & Company sweet factory, which was built in 1922 and until the 1980s when its gates finally closed was where iconic brands such as Dip Dabs and Sherbet Fountains were born, is today the Chocolate Factory. It provides workshops, offices and studios for artists and small creative businesses and is also home to a theatre company. There are now plans in place to create 200 new homes within the five acre site.

And perhaps some of the mistakes that were made in the 1960s and 1970s – when Wood Green was designated as one of six major regional shopping centres and ghastly concrete monstrosities were erected to replace many perfectly decent structures – will also be righted. As part of a £3.5bn scheme, there would be a new shopping centre, a public square and up to 8,000 new homes.

But until the wider Wood Green transformation begins, if you want a beer or a decent cup of coffee in pleasant art deco surroundings head to the arts hotel bar.

Orignal toilets – now used by residents

Bar toilet

Wood Green’s main shopping street

 

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