- The Guildford Street building photographed by Russell Baker (Luton News) in 1965.
[The Luton News: Thursday, September 25th, 1919]
Guildford Street is rapidly becoming one of the most important streets in Luton for straw trade houses, and in this connection if affords a strong contrast to George Street, which at one time almost clear of shops, is now gradually becoming a street of shops.
Before the war put a check on building extensions for ordinary commercial purposes, a few years had affected a rapid change in Guildford Street, many of the small manufacturing premises and cottages which served the trade well in their day having been swept away to make room for big factories and warehouses more in keeping with the importance of the hat industry today.
Now war restrictions do not operate so heavily, and building for trade purposes an be resumed, another important addition is being made to the fine premises which already exist in this street.
On Saturday [September 20th] the foundation stone of Messrs Olivier & Co's new premises at the corner of Guildford Street and Williamson Street, Luton, was laid by Mr Semet, founder and general manager of the London branch of the firm.
Some very old buildings have been cleared away, and are to be succeeded by a handsome, spacious warehouse of three floors and basement, of entirely fireproof construction. The Hennibique system of ferro-concrete construction is being adopted, with steel window fittings and a flat asphalt roof.
While the internal fittings will naturally include some woodwork, the only timber used in the construction of the actual building will be that for the doors. It will be the first building of this character in the centre of the town for which this ferro-concrete system has been adopted throughout, and is designed to include a ground floor warehouse and a basement for the firm's own use, and a showroom (first floor) and factory (second floor) to be let off.
Central heating and steam for factory purposes is being installed, and electric light and an electric lift.
The building has a frontage of about 60 feet to Guildford Street, and a return frontage to Williamson Street of about 80 feet, and will have a floor space of about 18,000 superficial feet. It represents a £20,000 improvement to that part of town.
The site value alone was £3,000, Messrs J. Cumberland & Sons negotiating the sale privately with Messrs Olivier & Co. The contract for the building was £14,000, and special improvements will involve a further outlay of £3,000. The building is being erected by Messrs Chessums Ltd, with Messrs L. G. Mouchel & Partners Ltd as designing engineers for the ferro-concrete reinforcements/
Messrs Olivier first took the premises that at present occupy in Bute Street in 1914, but they have been trading with Luton since they opened in London in 1907.
The history of the firm, however, goes back to 1847, when it was founded by the father of the present Mr Olivier, and firm claims to be the only firm supplying plait and straw hoods from China (where they have been established since 1880), Batavia etc to the manufacturers in Luton without the assistance of intermediates.
They have recently established a factory at Mill Hill for the manufacture of fancy plaits and braids, which were almost exclusively supplied by German firms before the war, and these new enterprises at Luton and Mill Hill afford very good evidence of the firm's faith in the future of the hat industry.
Their attention to Luton, in particular, indicated what importance they attach to facilities for marketing in the town the material they import from many widely-severed parts of the world, as the firm's ramifications extend to Paris, Florence, Milan, Shanghai, Hankow, Tientsin, Java, New York, Toronto and Melbourne.
When the foundation stone was laid on Saturday morning, Mr Semet was presented with a silver trowel by Mr Gueritte, who with Mr Palser represented Messrs L. G. Mouchel & Partners (civil engineers); a mallet by Mr E. Geeves, on behalf of the architects, Messrs J. Cumberland & Sons; and Mr Blake (Clerk of Works) handed him a level.
On behalf of Mr Semet, the workmen on the job were later informed by Mr Chessum, the builder, that they were to consider they had an interest in the ceremony, and that Mr Semet had accordingly placed in the hands of the foreman half-a-crown for each man, so that they might drink to the success of the enterprise which was to be built up in the building they were erecting. This announcement naturally received a very cheery approval from the men.
Subsequently there was a small luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel. This was of quite an informal character, with Mr Semet as host, and there was no speech-making except for the toast, given in very happy terms by Mr Chessum.
We understand that when the new premises are opened, Mr Semet proposes to entertain a large gathering of the firm's customers to mark the occasion.