I happily zoomed off to the central library to seek advice on where best to start. Having once worked in a library I quite enjoyed filling out request slips for maps, microfilm and photographs and for some reason was hugely optimistic of unearthing an entire history in the space of an afternoon. In retrospect this may be due to watched too many family history programmes in the BBC series of Who Do You Think You Are?!
The maps I examined ,whilst showing the building, did not detail its purpose although a number of other dwelling along Allison Street were listed including of course the Brolly factory. The 1901 census did yield a few facts and I learnt that the cottage part of the building (now the entrance to BFOE reception and part of the Warehouse Café) was once inhabited by Edward and Sarah Roberts and 4 children, Edward's occupation being listed as housekeeper. Nice to know but not that useful.
On a separate occasion myself and Alex (a BFOE volunteer) decided to tackle the trades directories for clues. We got off to a good start with number 54, 55, 55and a half, 56, 57 and 57 and a half being listed in some combination or another from 1845 to 1881. For example, number 54 was occupied by Henry Scaysbrook who did engraving. Number 56 had a reference for a blacksmith called Soloman Oakes. However, from 1881 until the time the trades directories finished, sometime in the 1970s, there was absolutely no mention of the buildings whatsoever!!! A librarian also pointed out to us that street numbers quite often changed over time and so the 54 -57 we were thinking of might not have been in the same place as the 54 -57 back then. Having debated whether to cry or have a cup of tea and a bun, we opted for the latter and the rest as they say is history.
However I would still be very interested in any information about the history of the building. I'm hoping the 30th birthday party may lend an opportunity to find out more from those people who were involved in the building from the beginning and look forward to reporting developments soon. Please let me know if you have any contributions.