Last of the Flower Makers - short film about one of London's lost industries

Last of the Flower Makers

This film was made in 1997. It's about the family flower making business my father inherited from his uncle, which he ran on a self-employed basis from the late 1940s until the end of the century. He continued to work making artificial flowers using the original nineteenth century tools and methods until around 1999, when a burst water main flooded the workshop and prompted him to retire and close the business down for good.

A selection of artificial leaves made at W.F. Johnson, Flower Makers
A selection of artificial leaves made at W.F. Johnson's.

I made the film in part to preserve a record of this slice of industrial cultural history (which was also, of course, a big part of our family history). It seemed unlikely that the business would continue to flourish into the twenty-first century, and indeed this proved to be the case. I had recently taken a short course in film making and had done some work as a sound recordist on a couple of short film shoots. This was where I met Mike (Mike P. Reed), who did the camera work and editing for the Last of the Flower Makers. My old friend James (James Dexter), a long-time musical collaborator of mine, provided the original music.

The film features me talking to my dad about the history of the firm and some of the flower making methods he used. This was very familiar ground for me since I'd worked with Dad on and off, on a part-time basis, ever since I was a boy (as did both my sisters). Indeed, I got my older sister Pat to do the voice-over on the film, reading part of a report from the Sweated Industries Exhibition of 1904, which the Museum of London had found for me.

According to my dad, the firm was passed down from his grandmother's side of the family. She was a Bloor by marriage, but the firm still carried the name W.F. Johnson, her father's, or possibly her uncle or her grandfather's name. However I recently found out that according to the census of 1861, Charles Ephraim Bloor (my great, great grandfather) also worked as a flower maker. Whether this means there was at some point a grand union of London flower making families by means of an auspicious marriage (the bride festooned, no doubt, in artificial orange blossom) I don't know. But the truth may not be quite what I expect. I have come to suspect that my father's take on our family history may not have always been entirely factual.

The Museum of London has a copy of the film in its online archives. Click on the title to watch The Last of the Flower Makers.

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