Collins' joinery too came from catalogues. The Wood Carving Company's advertisement shows what a wide variety was available. Grotesque as it looks, with all the designs jammed together on one short stairway, pieces of carving similar to these can be found in all the Collins houses. When the foreman went along to Bond & White's he could select any of a dozen types of moulding, banisters or newel posts. The same barley-twist half-round moulding can be found in every street. If the yard had run out of one design the foreman took another. There are houses where the design of banister changes from one floor to the next, as supplies of the original pattern had run out.

Doors were made in vast numbers, especially in the vast Canadian factories, and shipped to Britain. This was a cut-throat business. At the turn of the century, Russian timber was available in Britain at half the price of Canadian and yet Canadian joinery undercut British because of their scale of production and the proximity to the forests. However, mass production did not make Collins' houses boring. Hall doors may have been in a few familiar patterns, but the varied glass panels made each door unique. With stained glass from three shillings per square foot, a door could be made glorious for a pound.

Behind all the catalogues were extraordinary worlds of which we ordinary mortals knew nothing. Worlds of the experts who were familiar with a hundred types of brick, a thousand tiles, aid house fittings of every shape: where men spent their lives making terra-cotta panels for buildings designed to last for ever: men who turned and polished granite pillars to decorate the outsides of pubs, or blew glass in rainbow colours. The men looked like other people; smoked cigarettes and groused about the weather, but then they turned round and did astonishing things.

As a young boy, standing at Bond & White's counter, waitng to buy some four inch nails, a man became lyrical about his trade. He was a glass-worker, a maker of stained glass windows, with watering eyes strained by peering at white-hot glass, suddenly talking excitedly about his work.

'You lift a large gathering of molten glass from the furnace on a steel blowpipe and twirl it so that it becomes a round, heavy ball. You blow to start the bubble and then put it in a long mould and blow very hard so that it becomes a long bottle, red, glowing, soft as butter. You cut off the pasty glass at top and bottom with huge scissors and shear down the tube from one end to the other. Flatten it out like a piece of pastry and let it fall on a flat bed by its own weight, to cool. Tap it down and let it flow flat.

'You never know what you will achieve. Colour and life vary from piece to piece - a little more cobalt, a little more iron in the furnace, give a different colour, a different shade. Thicker, thinner, the richness changes. On a dull day you can't even guess the colour. You've worked all morning and don't know if your work is any good. I can remember day after day of dull, overcast skies with the new glass squares piling up on the viewing rack aid us not knowing if the colours were good or bad. Electric light's no use. You need clear, bright sunlight to see the colours. Not in the morning, not in the evening. Mid-day, The viewing rack stands against the light and then, when the sun comes out and the light is strong with every colour in the spectrum, the glass will glow. That is when you can select your colours for the different parts of the design. All the work is controlled by the sun. In the morning you blow new glass, or cut pieces you have selected earlier, but when the sun comes out you spend all your time searching for the perfect piece."

 

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