The Hoover Building
Whether you're driving along the Western Avenue, travelling on the Central Line from and towards West Ruislip or shopping at Tesco, you will know the Hoover Building. Overlooking the A40 the Hoover building is a magnificent manifestation of 30s Art Deco.
The Hoover Building is not without its critics. Perhaps most famously was Nicholas Pevsner, the architecture critic. In the 50s, he wrote that it was 'Perhaps the most offensive of the modernistic atrocities along this road of typical bypass factories'.
It was built on an eight-acre site between 1931 and 1932 by the architects Wallis, Gilbert and partners, as a vacuum cleaner factory. In fact, for the 30s, it has a lot which would have been deemed old fashioned. The symmetrical and monumental front is in the tradition of Victorian and Edwardian industrial buildings. Yet there is also the touch of the modern. The Art Deco detail is meant to suggest modernity and hygiene.
Lord Rochdale officially opened the Hoover Building on 2 May 1933. The factory was extended in the mid-thirties increasing the factory space to 254,000 square feet. It was referred to in the press at this time as a 'Modern Palace of Industry', in contrast to the older factories in the north of England. The firm welcomed visitors to look around the factory.
In its 30s heyday, 1,600 people were employed making vacuum cleaners at the factory, working night and day. The demand was high, especially in the South east of England where the 30s had been a period of economic prosperity. The cheapest cleaner was £10 15 shillings; not inexpensive, but a great labour saving device. Most of these were sold by door-to-door salesmen, a method of selling that was novel and not widely popular at the time.
During World War Two, the Hoover building, like so many others, had to be camouflaged to protect it from being targeted by the Luftwaffe. Parts for aircraft were made at the factory during the war, and although cleaners were still being made, their output fell dramatically. The factory workers even formed their own unit of the Home Guard in 1940 when the threat of danger loomed, and were found remarkably proficient in their marksmanship.
Business boomed after the war ended. By 1951 the factory employed 3,000 people. Apart from manufacturing, Hoover's administrative, sales and engineering staff also worked from here. The factory housed training and recreational facilities, making it one of the 'model' factories with regards to worker welfare in its day.
However in the 70s, the company did less well. There were strikes, profits fell and workers were laid off. In 1982, the factory ceased all vacuum cleaner production. Thankfully, the building was not allowed to fall into neglect and decay. In the 90s it reopened as a supermarket.
We would like to thank Dr Jonathan Oates, borough archivist and local history librarian, for the use of his information.