Highbury New Park is a wide mid-Victorian tree-lined avenue. It effectively links two green spaces – Highbury Fields and Clissold Park. Along both sides of this lovely leafy street there are impressive villas aimed at the prosperous Victorian middle classes of that time. The houses are similar in style, but they are not exactly alike, insofar as they are not duplicated in their design, neither are they constructed from modular components.
Some of the larger properties here are set well back from the street, and it’s one of these, at No. 124, on the eastern side of the road, that boasts a blue plaque, the only blue plaque in the N5 postal district. It tells us about an innovative man who moved here in 1898. His invention was a duplicating process that today we think of as commonplace – the photocopier.
David Gestetner was born of a Hungarian Jewish family in 1854. One of his earliest jobs was at the Vienna Stock Market where he was employed as a copy clerk, specifically to make copies of legal documents. This was a laborious hand-written process that required extensive cross-checking to ensure nothing had been added or omitted. Young David was convinced that there must be a simpler solution, so he set about devising a machine-based alternative, and this he achieved via transfer stencils. In 1879, ‘DG’ as most people knew him, moved to London to be better placed for patent offices and manufacturing requirements and, in 1881, he set up his Gestetner Cyclograph Company.
To cut a long story short, his invention was a game-changer, a big success. His machines sold like hot cakes to businesses keen to speed up office efficiency. It could be said that Gestetner almost single-handedly removed the need for copy clerks at all, as, by the end of the 1890s, most companies would be using a Gestetner duplicating machine of some kind. As well as offering different kinds of copying machines and relevant peripherals, DG also offered other useful items, such as staplers, nail clippers and ball point pens. His company went from strength to strength and quickly outgrew its Chiswell Street premises, moving for a time to Cross Street, Islington, before a major relocation to a large manufacturing site at Tottenham Hale in 1907.
As the plaque shows, DG moved into this Highbury New Park house during his ‘boom’ years when he was in his 35th year. He and his wife Sophie had relocated from their previous house in Ferntower Street, a short distance away. Together they raised seven children although, sadly, only one child outlived. David Gestetner died whilst on holiday in Nice, on the French Riviera, and he is buried there.
At the time of his death, the Tottenham Hale factory was employing 6,000 people. The company continued to expand at that site until the 1970s when it moved to Northampton. Gestetner’s patents and products were later purchased by Ricoh, the Japanese multinational imaging and electronics company.
Today the vast Tottenham Hale site is occupied by a retail park.
To learn more about the area and contact Jane the author of this post please visit www.janeslondonwalks.com which offers guided walks and online talks