11 April 2008
By John Prendergast
TUCKED BEHIND Rye Lane is one of Peckham's best kept secrets, a building that was once one of a number that together formed the area’s thriving industrial past, and is now part of one of the most controversial issues regarding the new tram that could run through it.
You might not be aware the Bussey Building exists, but between Bournemouth Road and the railway line a large long brick building sits by the tracks that once contained a roller skating rink, and had a rifle range running alongside the building.
George Bussey and his family were colourful characters who gained reputations as serial inventors; among their registered patents were stoppers for jars, fencing helmets, golf equipment, two designs for roller skates and several designs for weapons and additional equipment.
The leaning towards sports and guns patents is a clue to the Bussey Buildings use as it became one of the premier cricket bat makers in the country, and also housed a Museum of Firearms.
The dates when Bussey moved his operations to Peckham are quite loose, but documents suggest that as early as 1867 he had opened the museum.
The site was attractive to him as it offered him the space he required, and inevitably cheaper rates than what was on offer at his previous base in High Holborn.
One thing that may have raised eyebrows in Peckham was the construction of a shooting range alongside the building. The structure being long and thin was probably seen as an ideal spot for the range, but the architectural reason for the layout was to enable all of the interior was exposed to sunlight, enabling work to go on for as long as possible in the days before electricity.
The bats produced were of high quality with the 'Demon Driver' being one of the premier products on sale. Legendary cricketer WG Grace’s favoured willow was from the factory, and accounts at the time said he would often be seen wandering along Chadwick Road in order to pick up his next weapon. Other motives could have existed for the personal visit to the factory, as WG was also a keen marksman who may have dabbled in the inner city shooting range, using weapons of a different variety.
All kinds of bats were produced there including ones for children and women, as, despite the values of Victorian Britain, the sport was played by both sexes. Bussey’s advertising was often targeted to the female market.
But firearms is where he had the greatest impact, as his invention of the gyro trap was one of the reasons that stopped live birds being shot for sport. In the 1860's it was not uncommon for sportsmen to use live pigeons in the many events across the country.
The gyro trap was a spring based system, an alternative to the clay pigeon discs that are used today, that enabled the removal of live animals from the sport just as popular opinion rallied against the use of live animals. Although Bussey's fascination with firearms may seem a bit off, it can be of no doubt that his invention of the gyro trap saved many lives.
The modern building although looking rather ramshackle from the outside is still a functioning operation. Inside it houses a cosmopolitan bunch of artist studios, churches and small industries that thrive in the solid structure, although you would never guess it from the outside. The roof also has an amazing view of not just Peckham but most of London, and campaign group Peckham Vision feel this may be an ideal spot for a swanky rooftop restaurant.
Which brings us to today. It is possible that the building and most of the surrounding sites could be levelled, as it has been identified by Transport for London (TfL) as a possible depot site for the Tram. Campaigners, although not against the tram, feel that TfL are ignoring the fact that the site itself has enormous potential in itself. Although it may look run down a number of jobs and enterprises survive nevertheless.
Whatever your opinion on where the depot should go the important question is whatever decision is made now, we will have to live with for many years to come.
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