James Latham Ltd prospered with sites from Shoreditch to the River Lea with wood stacks 50 feet high!

The first recorded James Latham (1) born in Liverpool in 1757 was already dealing in hardwoods and in 1815 he moved from Liverpool to London. In an 1851 census it describes James Latham (3) as a ‘Timber Merchant’ living at Curtain and Shoreditch High Street – from which he ran the business. 125 Curtain road described as a ‘Timber Yard and Garden’. James Latham (3) died in 1858 and the family business fell to his son James Latham (4) at just 21 years old and in 1885 he spread out into the veneer trade and then the exciting new material plywood!

James (5) born 1862 found his skills as a salesman. In the 1890’s the growing business bought a site at Victoria Road, Old Ford.

“In 1895 James Latham, Ltd, advertised a stock of 50,000 dry 3″ Pine plank for the furniture trade… These enormous stacks of deals were piled 30, 40 and even 50 feet high.”

After a fire at the Curtain Road premises in 1897, land on the canal at Grove Road, Bow was purchased and sawmills built. In 1911 James Latham Ltd grew further with 12 acres of land being bought along the River Lea, Clapton (Leeside Wharf). A year later they sold their sawmill and wharves at Victoria Park, Old Ford and focused on the Leeside Wharf and Curtain road development. Cranes were erected along the River to unload logs from barges.

Central to the site was a modern sawmill for converting logs as well as flooring and moulding production. By the 1950’s the Leeside wharf had grown to over 250 acres.

“Timber men today will still remember James (4) as the short, alert gentlemen with the white imperial beard, at Mahogany sales… considered to be a fine judge of both quality and texture. He would make regular journeys to the Docks on a Saturday afternoon…it was said…if he considered that a log might be hollow to hang his half-hunter gold watch over the centre of the logan one end, and then go round the other end and, applying his ear to the middle of the log, try to hear the ticking…an early example of sock testing!”

Reference: Bryan Latham in Timber its Development & Distribution, published 1957, George G Harrap & Co Ltd

James Latham Ltd is no longer at these sites is still in business today operates from sites all over the UK. www.lathamtimber.co.uk

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Historic location

Lathams Ltd had 250 acres along the River Lea at Clapton – look out for road names such as Woodmill Rd.

Photographs and books on James Latham can be found at Hackney Archives.