When a certain restaurant opened its doors in 2001 in Hanway Place, the critic AA Gill noted in his Sunday Times review that it had about it, “the air of an old textile factory”. He was almost right. Prior to Hakkasan serving its first dish, it had been the site of handbag company, H Wald & Co, which arrived at 17 Tottenham Court Road and 7-11 Hanway Place, in the mid-1930s.
The family business was founded by Harry Wald in January 1915 and the brand, known as Waldybag, moved from St John Street in Clerkenwell to Bunhill Row and Aldersgate before finally finding a plum spot opposite The Dominion Theatre.
The company only wholesaled so there was never a shop on the street, or indeed within the building, only a showroom and the factory.
During its lifetime, Waldybags sold at top stores worldwide and the company made bespoke handbags for European and British royalty, including Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Deborah Wald is the granddaughter of Harry Wald and is gathering and sharing the history of the company, after its significant exposure to a new public, garnered through the Victoria & Albert Museum’s recent Bags: Inside Out exhibition. As part of her quest, Deborah is seeking information, images and first-hand memories about the Tottenham Court Road and Hanway Place factory.
“I know the building underwent significant changes when my grandfather took on the building, employing architect Brian Sutcliffe of Manchester Square, to redesign the interior. There was an atrium through the centre of the building, spanning perhaps four floors where upwards of 300 employees worked. It sounds incredible, and people I’ve interviewed who remember it, say it was so striking. I am so eager to find a photo of that remarkable feature,” she says.
Sadly, Deborah’s father Morris, who took over the business, died when she was young but as a child she remembers visiting the showroom, which once seen, was never forgotten.
“It was a magical Art Deco masterpiece,” she says, “with curved ceilings and concealed lighting, bespoke showcases for the handbags, a stunning carpet and personalised details, like radiator covers with deer motifs. My grandfather’s name, Harry, in Hebrew is Zvi, meaning deer.”
Among the nuggets of information Deborah has already collected is the company’s wartime solution to generating energy for the machines that made 250,000 leather flying helmets for the RAF: “Two men on a static tandem, cycling for 45 minutes at a time, then swapping to another set of men… amazing! There must be so much more to discover,” she says.
The Waldybag factory buildings remained in Hanway Place and Tottenham Court Road until they were demolished as part of a redevelopment of the site in the mid-1980s.
If you have any information for Deborah about the H Wald & Co factory, you can contact her through @waldybaglondon (Instagram) or @waldybag (Facebook).