Author Topic: Nostalgia time. Who remembers Lisle St. & Tottenham Ct. Rd. In their prime (UK)  (Read 9909 times)

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Offline Gyro

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Well it's the weekend, time for a bit of nostalgia, one for the UK folks.

Who remembers Lisle Street and Tottenham Court Road in their prime? I guess Lisle street (being in Soho) has had several 'primes' for various reasons in it's time and I suspect it's probably quite select these days. I guess I should also mention Edgeware Road too but the shops there always seemed a bit up-market.

I first started visiting them, I suppose, in the late '60s on outings with my Grandfather. In those days Lisle street, a poky little side-street around the back of the Odeon Leicester Square was just a mass of electronics shops, most of them had started by selling ex air-ministry stuff post-war. Nearly every shop in the street had piles of boxes spread across the pavement full of all sorts of magical items, acorn valves, precision servo pots, crystals (the Bakelite ones where you could take them apart), circuit boards, you name it! There was also a shop that specialized in Japanese test gear (Eagle?), multimeters, sig gens etc.

Tottenham Court Road was similar but rather more spread out, At the top end was Z&I Aero services, and in the middle was Proops, but I have vague memories of others. One I remember had a big basket of mains powered long leaded mains neons flashing away merrily on the pavement for several years much like a large vase of flowers, those happy days before health and safety.

Sadly the shops slowly faded out over the years. Lisle street street, looking back, was probably a bit 'dodgy' but I was too young and innocent to notice the addicts weaving their way down the street and the ladies of 'easy virtue'. The last shop to hang on was Service Trading Co, (technically in Little Newport Street) they used to specialize in variacs and unfeasibly powerful black-light tubes, but loads of other treasures too.

Proops and Z&I Aero survived in Tottenham Court road for years longer, in fact Proops still exist down in Hove. I remember dragging my still-to-be wife around Proops. She used to go and sit on the steps half way down the shop while I spent hours rifling through all the boxes (they had Gyros too!) and every few minutes someone would stoop down and ask her if she was ok. :D They also had lots of early computer logic boards (all transistor) which were useful for parts. It would all probably be quite collectable these days.

Edgeware road was a bit sparser, Henry's Radio was the main draw, but several early microcomputer shops sprang up too.

These were magical times for me...The train ride up to London, the Tube and then these Aladdin's caves of stuff to spend my saved-up pocket money on! Topped off with plaice and chips at the 'high class' fish restaurant just round the corner from Lisle street  ;D. I guess the closest these days would be a young kit being let loose in the electronics district in Hong Kong.

Anyone else have similarly magical memories of those times?

Chris

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Offline MK14

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Yes, I remember.
Tottenham Court Road, with many interesting shops.

Watford Electronics (not that far away, by suitable transport), was effectively an early computer shop.

Foyles bookshop, to get those all important Electronic's books. (Top floor, if I remember correctly, by lift?).

Bi-pak or bi-pre-pack (probably WRONG spelling by me), was a sort of early "Cheap Chinese ebay Like", source of quality, "surplus", multi packs of components. (Mail order only). Amazingly cheap (for the time), stuff.

Further away. Stewart of Reading, with a great choice of (somewhat old), second hand test gear and stuff.

EDIT: I couldn't remember the name. But now I can.
Display Electronics. Had a lot of surplus, moderately priced, miscellaneous odds and ends. The sort of odd stuff, like Dave gets in his mail bag.
For example (NOT 100% sure, I got them from Display Electronics) I got some very early numeric displays (digits 0 to 9), which used amazingly tiny bulbs (1N4001 diode sized!), for each digit, and had magnifying lenses and/or black and clear plastic cutouts, so that the digits appeared as if they had been produced on a typewriter, i.e. perfectly formed). Not sure of age, but somewhere in the 1940's to 1960's range, I guess. Maybe later.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:06:35 PM by MK14 »
 
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Online coppice

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Many of the shops from Lisle Street actually moved to Edgware Road, not far from Henry's Radio. When Lisle Street was really active, Henry's Radio and a place selecting high end refurbished test gear were about the only electronics shops in Edgware Road.
 

Online coppice

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Foyles bookshop, to get those all important Electronic's books. (Top floor, if I remember correctly, by lift?).
Don't forget Dillons (now Waterstones) near UCL. They used to have huge ads on the bus stops outside Foyles saying "Foyled again? Try Dillons".  :)
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:01:21 PM by coppice »
 

Offline MK14

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Foyles bookshop, to get those all important Electronic's books. (Top floor, if I remember correctly, by lift?).
Don't forget Dillons (now Waterstones) near UCL. They used to have huge ads on the bus stops outside Foyles saying "Foyled again? Try Dillons".  :)

The problem in the "old" days, was that there was no internet, and little opportunity to meet other Electronics hobbyists. So I don't think (remember) I knew about Dillons having Electronics books, a long time ago.

In the old days, even Tandy (Radio Shack), in London (before they became somewhat widespread), sold some useful things for electronics hobbyists.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:11:13 PM by MK14 »
 

Online coppice

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Foyles bookshop, to get those all important Electronic's books. (Top floor, if I remember correctly, by lift?).
Don't forget Dillons (now Waterstones) near UCL. They used to have huge ads on the bus stops outside Foyles saying "Foyled again? Try Dillons".  :)

The problem in the "old" days, was that there was no internet, and little opportunity to meet other Electronics hobbyists. So I don't think (remember) I knew about Dillons having Electronics books, a long time ago.
It faces the engineering faculty of UCL. It stocks every set book for colleges in the University of London, and was actually owned by the University when I was at UCL. It had a better selection of technical books than Foyles. I imagine that's still the case now its Waterstones, considering it physical presence so close to UCL, Birkbeck and the central facilities of the University of London.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 11:06:32 PM by coppice »
 

Offline Gyro

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Just found an interesting Lisle street history. It covers Tottenham Court Road, Edgeware Road and a few others too...

http://www.retinascope.co.uk/lislestreet.html
Chris

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Offline MK14

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I faces the engineering faculty of UCL. It stocks every set book for colleges in the University of London, and was actually owned by the University when I was at UCL. It had a better selection of technical books than Foyles. I imagine that's still the case now its Waterstones, considering it physical presence so close to UCL, Birkbeck and the central facilities of the University of London.

On the one hand, you have saddened me, because I could have gone there (ages ago), and got some nice Electronics (and may computing), books.
BUT if I had a magic time travelling telephone, I would have said, DON'T buy any electronics books. Just pool all the money I can get (in that era) together, and buy as many Microsoft (ideally 1975) shares, as possible.

Proper databooks were especially difficult to obtain then, for hobbyists. If I remember correctly, Maplins and Radio Spares (RS), would allow photocopies of just a single component to be bought (or sometimes free with purchases of the same device).
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:28:34 PM by MK14 »
 

Offline Gyro

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How did we get onto bookshops and databooks?  :-//
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:33:36 PM by Gyro »
Chris

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Offline Gyro

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EDIT: I couldn't remember the name. But now I can.
Display Electronics. Had a lot of surplus, moderately priced, miscellaneous odds and ends. The sort of odd stuff, like Dave gets in his mail bag.
For example (NOT 100% sure, I got them from Display Electronics) I got some very early numeric displays (digits 0 to 9), which used amazingly tiny bulbs (1N4001 diode sized!), for each digit, and had magnifying lenses and/or black and clear plastic cutouts, so that the digits appeared as if they had been produced on a typewriter, i.e. perfectly formed). Not sure of age, but somewhere in the 1940's to 1960's range, I guess. Maybe later.

I remember Henry's, (might not have been, the closest one to the tube station anyway) had a nice display of Nixie tubes in the window - sadly well out of my price range.

Edit: I remember now, it was GW Smiths who had all the test gear in Lisle Street.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:41:55 PM by Gyro »
Chris

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Offline MK14

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EDIT: I couldn't remember the name. But now I can.
Display Electronics. Had a lot of surplus, moderately priced, miscellaneous odds and ends. The sort of odd stuff, like Dave gets in his mail bag.
For example (NOT 100% sure, I got them from Display Electronics) I got some very early numeric displays (digits 0 to 9), which used amazingly tiny bulbs (1N4001 diode sized!), for each digit, and had magnifying lenses and/or black and clear plastic cutouts, so that the digits appeared as if they had been produced on a typewriter, i.e. perfectly formed). Not sure of age, but somewhere in the 1940's to 1960's range, I guess. Maybe later.

I remember Henry's, (might not have been, the closest one to the tube station anyway) had a nice display of Nixie tubes in the window - sadly well out of my price range.

I definitely remember buying stuff at Henry's (or at least going there), but I can't remember exactly what I bought (it was a very long time ago).

As you said/hinted at earlier. London was the place to go, if you were an Electronics hobbyist, ages ago.

EDIT: But there were some interesting electronics shops, at various other (UK) locations. Just not so many, and not such a big range of stuff (typically).
« Last Edit: April 23, 2016, 10:47:15 PM by MK14 »
 

Offline MK14

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I remember Henry's, (might not have been, the closest one to the tube station anyway) had a nice display of Nixie tubes in the window - sadly well out of my price range.

Edit: I remember now, it was GW Smiths who had all the test gear in Lisle Street.

I don't recall Lisle Street, and Nixie tubes. Possibly because we are talking about different years/eras.

As regards London. Cricklewood Electronics (Dollis hill underground station) was a common visit for me. I use to buy tons of stuff for projects from them. If I remember correctly. A very long time ago.
 

Online mikeselectricstuff

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I'm not quite old enough to remember Lisle St. but I was a regular visitor to Edgeware rd and/or TCR every weekend. The former was best for components in the later days - Bradley Marshall, Technomatic & Henry's come to mind. I also have vague memories of a surplus type place in a sidestreet near the Bakerloo line station, and a place that sold old test gear on the other side of the flyover (Praed St or Chapel St.?). And a place that seemed to mostly sell folded ali. boxes near the station one Edgeware Rd- something Smith?

TCR was more about hi-fi & AV, though ISTR there was a shop that sold test gear and tools ( on the left coming from TCR station) where I bought some early stuff like Thandar SC110 scope and my first DMM (Kaise autoranging). Possibly also my Fluke 77.
And of course Proops - only have vague memories of Z&I Aero - mostly valves ISTR

I also bought my first scope from Stewart of Reading - an old Telequipment rackmount thing.  They were having some sort of clearance sale where they dropped prices 10% every so often (day, week?)

Elsewhere - Direct Electronics in Romford Rd Manor Park ( think they may still be there), a dodgy place on the same road further towards Ilford, also Job Stocks in Walthamstow - lots of army surplus run by a rather creepy bloke who swore he'd invented an engine that ran on water, or something similar.

I also have a very vague memory of somewhere Islington-ish, near a market, would have been late 80s early 90s? Maybe mis-remembering that one.

I also remember a computer/electronics surplus place that opened just down the road from me in South Woodford - it started in a couple of rooms of a big house, moved round the corner to George Lane, then to Epping. We simply called it "The Shop". 
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Online mikeselectricstuff

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These days even TCR's Hifi & AV shops are dwindling fast after many decades. A few weeks ago I needed to get a tie-clip mic in a hurry, and only one shop in the whole street had one.
I have happy memories of carting home the latest bit of hifi and reading the manual on the Tube. Still have some of it.
 
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Online coppice

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I remember now, it was GW Smiths who had all the test gear in Lisle Street.
GW Smith were the UK distributor for TMK and several other small Japanese test equipment makers.
 

Online coppice

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I also remember a computer/electronics surplus place that opened just down the road from me in South Woodford - it started in a couple of rooms of a big house, moved round the corner to George Lane, then to Epping. We simply called it "The Shop".
In the 60s and 70s there were lots of pretty reasonable electronics component shops scattered around the periphery of London. Frank Mozer's was a well known one, because it was on the North Circular Road, so many people saw it as they passed.
 

Offline switcher

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Not a Londoner, so sadly not.

I do remember Stewart of Reading (still going), also John's Radio, who were up north somewhere, but did mail order, from their ads in Wireless World / Electronics World.
I bought my first Tek scope (a 465) from John's Radio, 30- odd years ago, it nearly bankrupted me.
To this day, I still remember the excitement of opening the box when it arrived.

Where abouts in Hove are Proops ?
 

Offline tggzzz

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I remember all those London shops, plus:
  • buying from Technomatic, Watford, Bi-Pak and the like
  • buying newfangled 6-digit digital clock chips and enormous (0.5") LEDs from California, and paying by international money order
  • the Lisle-St-type shop in the school near Southampton University
  • the Lisle-St-type shop near the horse butcher in Kingston
  • Gees in Cambridge
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Online mikeselectricstuff

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Frank Mozer's was a well known one, because it was on the North Circular Road, so many people saw it as they passed.
Only went there once, when they were closing down due to North Circular expansion, but the guy was too mean to let anything go cheap!
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Online IanB

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I used to cycle to Mozer's when I was too young to drive a car. Bi-Pak had a shop in Ware and I used to cycle there too. When a bicycle is your only means of transport it is amazing how you shrug off distances where people would normally drive.
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Offline SeanB

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I bought from Cricklewoods via mail order, using bank drafts that were cleared by Barclays Bank PLC London. Those cheques from my local bank, using a cheque book held in the bank managers safe, were a lovely thing to see when you got them, with all the figures, details and numbers typed in by the managers secretary using an IBM Selectric typewriter, before being signed by the manager and then embossed with the sending bank seal.

Last ones I got were less so, simply dot matrix printed off a sheet of bank stationary.
 

Offline Gyro

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Not a Londoner, so sadly not.

I do remember Stewart of Reading (still going), also John's Radio, who were up north somewhere, but did mail order, from their ads in Wireless World / Electronics World.
I bought my first Tek scope (a 465) from John's Radio, 30- odd years ago, it nearly bankrupted me.
To this day, I still remember the excitement of opening the box when it arrived.

Where abouts in Hove are Proops ?

I guess I was lucky twice over. I ended up moving from Sidcup to Reading so got the benefits of regular outings to Stewarts too. What's more, later on they were within 'group lunchtime outing' distance from work... That's when they were in the old corner shop near Cemetry Junction. They had a fantastic 'junk room' out the back full of stuff too cheap to be worth listing in their adverts (I never could afford the stuff at the front). Stewart of Reading was previously called Chiltmead by the way. I haven't visited them since they moved to Mortimer Common (I've moved again too), I don't know if they've had time to establish another 'junk room'?

Proops have moved again too, they're now up in Leicester. Their business has changed again, last time I looked they were selling surveillance stuff, crossbows and all sorts of weird stuff. They now have a good website stocking tools and engineering supplies, some interesting looking tools that could be re-purposed for electronics too. Funny to think that a tatty little shop started in 1946, selling war surplus stuff now resides in a building called 'Technology House'.  ;D  I'm glad they're still doing well...

http://www.proopsbrothers.com/
Chris

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Offline Dataforensics

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I used to get most of my early stuff from Jobstocks too. My pocket money did not often stretch to TCR or Edgeware.

I remember getting a new/old stock Russian marking type 19 set complete with rotary converters from Jobstocks all in wooden boxes. No idea how much it cost as was a birthday present in my very early teens. My dad was bemused by my interests.

 

Online mikeselectricstuff

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In Walthamstow there was also a place called Radio Unlimited in Hoe St - I think it was mostly a repair shop but they also sold components and had a box of scrap boards you could rummage through
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Offline German_EE

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I grew up in Manchester so I missed out on a lot of the London shops until the 1980's when I had my first trip up and down the Edgeware Road. I never even knew about Lisle Street so all of that experience is now lost.

In Manchester had a much smaller selection. On Shudehill we had three or four shops plus there was Berwick Electronics on Tib Street and New Cross Radio at the bottom of Oldham Road. New Cross Radio was a real junk shop and until they closed their doors there was a massive pile of 'useful' stuff including AR88 spares. Finally there was Mazel Radio on London Road which as well as electronic surplus also sold records, amplifiers and valves/vacuum tubes. Sadly they're now all gone and my visit to Manchester in 2006 was not a happy experience.
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