History of The Old Vinyl Factory
Building began on the site of The Old Vinyl Factory in 1907 to construct a record factory and distribution facility for The Gramophone and Typewriter Company, an American manufacturer of the first domestic gramophone players. As the company grew it began to press its own vinyl records and released them under the new label His Master’s Voice, named after a painting of a white terrier, Nipper, that had been purchased by the company’s cofounder, William Barry Owen, in 1899.
As the emergent market for recorded music grew, so did the Hayes site. The company’s first star, the Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, was a regular visitor to the site and laid the corner stone of The Cabinet Factory – one of the now-derelict buildings that still stands – in 1911. In 1912, a head office, a suite of recording studios and further manufacturing facilities were added. Then came the first world war, and survival meant switching production from recorded music to munitions. Luisa Tetrazzini gave several lunchtime concerts for the workers at the site.
Business boomed after the war. An article from Melody Maker in 1926 referred to a 48-acre “factory-city” that “overshadowed” the “hamlet” of Hayes. There are photographs of female production-line workers almost uniformly sporting the haircut du jour – the short bob. The Melody Maker gave a detailed description of the manufacture of gramophones inside The Cabinet Factory, then at the forefront of British industry. The raw timber cabinets were “beautifully figured and finished” and would “adorn every home from the cottage to the palace”. The circular industrial saws that cut the timber to precise size were “models of mechanical ingenuity”.
“In this great workshop the daylight pours in through glass roofs and windows – to flood a perfectly clear atmosphere,” the article continues. “There is no trace of dust or sawdust anywhere. This phenomenon is explained by huge ducts carried along the roofs of the workshops… [The] array of machinery in this great shop is miraculous in itself. One sees the whole process, from the manufacture of the Majestic Cabinet Grand down to the little wooden knobs which grace the cabinet doors… the smallest margin of inaccuracy and the whole structure is scrapped – so scrupulous is this concern in its honesty to its public.”
By 1929 the Hayes site covered more than 58 acres, with 7,500 people employed there. In March 1931 the Gramophone Company merged with its main rival, Columbia Graphophone Company, to create Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI).
Through the 1930s the adaptable “factory-city” at Hayes and its loyal workforce meant EMI could diversify into new products – radios, televisions, fridges and other domestic appliances. During the Second World War, munitions were made on site as well as standard-utility domestic radio receivers that were adapted by the Home Office for general sale at £12. At the outset of the war, George VI recorded his famous morale-boosting address to the nation – the subject of the recent Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech – on a silver microphone that had been made by EMI. There are photographs in the company’s archive of the king visiting Hayes with Queen Elizabeth, latterly the Queen Mother.
In its single most important contribution to the war effort, the world’s first airborne radar system – used to win the Battle of Britain, was developed in Hayes. The site didn’t survive unscathed: it was bombed on July 7, 1944, killing 37 workers.
After the war, the fun began. In 1952 EMI released its first 33rpm “microgroove” long-playing records – albums – as well as seven-inch “microgroove” singles. By the end of the decade it had its first bona fide British rock’n’roller, Cliff Richard.
Then along came the Beatles, signing to the EMI subsidiary Parlophone in 1962. All their seminal albums, such as A Hard Day’s Night, Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s, Yellow Submarine – bore on their labels the words “Manufactured in Hayes”. Sitting in their pristine audio booths on the outskirts of west London, nodding their heads along to each new Beatles record, the workers were among the first people to hear music that would change the world. At the site’s peak, some 14,000 people worked here.
EMI moved its operations elsewhere in the mid 1970’s and now many of the once proud buildings stand empty. But they have a new future ahead of them, one that will make this place come alive again with a whole new spirit and creative energy.
The Old Vinyl Factory sometime between 1907 and 1920
World famous tenor Edward Lloyd (1845-1927) cuts the first sod from the Blyth Road site February 9th, 1907.
Gramophones being made in The Cabinet Building on 7th January, 1933.
Record turntables in production. May 1930.
The funeral train of George VI passing The Old Vinyl Factory on 15th February, 1952.
The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul in the final stages of production, November 1965.