Mapping London’s makers - RSA

Mapping London’s makers


  • Architecture & built environment
  • Making
  • Manufacturing

Once upon a time London was the workshop of the world. Today, there is something of a misconception that not much is made here anymore. Except for sourdough bread and craft beer. We’ve mapped London’s makers and industrial spaces so that you can explore how much manufacturing takes place in your local area.

It’s false that manufacturing in London is in perennial decline. Job numbers have actually reached a plateau since the end of the financial crisis. And the sector is more important for the city than it gets credit for. London’s manufacturers support the city’s wider population of businesses and residents. Providing products and services that range from lunchtime sushi for office workers to exhibition installations at the Natural History Museum.

In the first report from Cities of Making, a programme of work investigating the role of manufacturing in European cities, we’ve tried to demystify the sector. This blog explores when in London manufacturing takes place.

A bird’s eye view

Our map shows that London’s manufacturing jobs are mostly concentrated in areas where there are SILs – Strategic Industrial Locations. This is no accident. SILs are areas which planning policy has protected for this purpose. These manufacturing clusters also have a higher average number of employees per business, meaning they are places where London’s larger manufacturing businesses can locate themselves.

What is perhaps more surprising is that very few areas in London have no manufacturing jobs or businesses. But in contrast to manufacturing clusters located around SILs, non-designated areas have a much lower average number of employees per business, meaning they are almost all micro-enterprises or one-man bands. Metal workers based in sheds or micro-breweries under railway arches, for example. 

You can search our map using your London postcode and explore how much manufacturing takes place in your local area. Toggle the visible layers buttons to switch from employment to business size metrics. 

A tour of the sites  

Strategic manufacturing clusters are dotted across London. In our report we have highlighted a few, which give a glimpse into the diversity of activity that takes place in this city. Most of the larger manufacturers operate in the food and drink industry – but the city also has strengths in printing, fashion and metal work.

Located on the border of Ealing, Brent and Hammersmith, Park Royal is London’s largest industrial site. The birthplace of the Routemaster bus, Park Royal is home to household names such as McVities, who have been making biscuits here for over 100 years and today have over 700 employees. While Sunbeam Group, who have 35 employees, design and install shop fittings for the likes of Selfridges. Nearby is Brompton Bicycles, who recently moved to a new larger site in Greenford. Down the road in Chiswick is Fullers’ Griffin Brewery – London’s oldest brewery – that has been providing the city with fine Ale since 1845. Together with neighboring boroughs, Hillingdon and Hounslow, this part of North West London accounts for nearly a third of total manufacturing employment.

Many manufacturing workers can also be found alongside the River Thames in East London. Industrial sites on either side the river span the boroughs of Greenwich, Newham, Bexley, Havering and Barking and Dagenham. The Ford engine factory in Dagenham Dock is reportedly the single largest manufacturing plant in London, with 1,800 employees. “Out of the strong, came forth sweetness” – goes the motto of UK heritage brand Tate & Lyle who have two sites on the Silverside peninsula in Newham. Their Thames Refinery is the largest sugar refinery in the EU. While a mile away their Plaistow Wharf site ships out over a million tins of golden syrup every month.

One of the largest industrial corridors in London, the Upper Lea Valley spans the boroughs of Enfield, Haringey, Waltham Forest and Hackney. Once famous for guns and motorcycles, today it acts as a gateway to and from London, given its proximity to the North Circular. There is a Warburton’s factory working around the clock to provide the city with its daily bread while Coca Cola has been bottling drinks here for over 40 years.

It may surprise people that Central London appears to be such a hotspot for manufacturing on our map. And this is partly because of the metric we have chosen to use – manufacturing jobs per hectare. We cut the data in this way because we were interested in how urban manufacturing is distributed across London, rather than how concentrated it is local areas.

In these parts of London only a small proportion of the total workforce are employed in manufacturing. But the total workforce here is so big – almost a third of all jobs in London are in Camden, Westminster and the City – that a surprisingly large share of London’s total manufacturing jobs are in these areas.

One reaction to this finding is that these are all head office jobs – people marketing manufactured goods rather than making them. And while a handful of headquarters may skew these figures slightly, our average jobs per business metric shows a diversity of different sized businesses in these areas. You can see this on the ground too. Saville Row, the home of Great British tailoring is in Westminster. While Hatton Garden – London’s jewelry quarter – is in Camden. Alongside these heritage sites, there are plenty of 24/7 printers, supporting service sectors ranging from finance to hospitality.

Other noteworthy clusters include the Maker Mile, a square mile straddling Hackney and Tower Hamlets, home to manufacturers as well as makerspaces open to the public. 

Often hidden away in industrial sites, at the backs of high streets or beneath railway arches, manufacturing can be missed by residents. However, this map shows that these businesses can be found right across the city, an important part of London’s vibrant economy.

Download Cities of Making: London (PDF, 1.9MB)

Read our blog 'Making space for manufacturing in the city'

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  • So, why do we need manufacturing in the UK?

    Josie Warden

    After years of de-industrialisation and a focus on developing the knowledge economy, it is unsurprising that manufacturing has something of an image problem in the UK. Is it time we re-evaluated that?