The Invicta Leather Works was a source of employment in the area for nearly seventy years but, to the residents in the lower part of Rampart Road, it was an obstruction that towered above their back gardens blocking out views and light. Nevertheless, on a fine morning, the wall that stretched from the first house to Number 18, could be a thing of beauty; the sun’s rays turning it into a blaze of crimsons, ochres and browns against the small patch of dark blue sky. Also, for children, the building had a slightly mysterious quality, the only signs of habitation being a whirring fan, music from a radio and disembodied voices floating from the open window high above number 16.
Moving to Paynes Hill in 1902 after its premises in Endless Street burnt down, the works changed hands several times before war was declared in 1939. The business, also called Colonia Ltd, was then seized and closed by the British government; its current German owners having fled the country! Invicta/Colonia returned to private ownership after the war and by 1956, eighty workers were processing the imported goat, sheep and reptile skins for shoe and fancy goods. Unfortunately, however, it was now that its relationship with its Rampart Road neighbours really began to sour, the chimney often emitting brown smuts that burnt holes in washing put out on garden lines.
Visits were made to the Council, letters written to the press and complaints aired on Southern Television, one resident, June Handford deciding to confront the actual source!
‘So they had the leather factory and of course
every now and again the leather factory send
out all this smoke and it burnt your clothes. I
put all me washing out and when I looked out
everything was covered in absolutely brown,
big spots, course it caught, they’d all gone rust
like. So there was a lot of trouble with this
firm at the back, a lot of people put in for
the money from the, through the television
and all: I so mad I picked up all the washing,
put it in the basket, went round and told em
to ‘Just look what’s happened here,’ and the
man said, ‘and how much did all that cost
you’ he paid me out there and then, where
everybody was having trouble’
Finally, the Invicta management acknowledged there was a problem and took steps to remedy the situation; one being to raise the height of the metal flue behind Rampart Road.
In 1969, the Council acquired all land and buildings in the area for the development of a dual carriageway; a Compulsory Purchase Order forcing the owners to sell. The works were demolished a year later and the rubble used as hardcore for the new road; the ghost of Invicta lingering beneath the wheels of the vehicles travelling along Churchill Way!