The joy of re­ceiv­ing

Lind­say Want dis­cov­ers an un­likely mu­sic hall with more gifts on dis­play than Santa’s grotto at the Sounds of the Past col­lec­tion near Laven­ham

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

A his­tory of ra­dio at a spe­cial Monks Eleigh mu­seum

SO what’s it to be for Christ­mas then? A flashy new phone or wire­less de­vice to send mu­sic stream­ing in to your world? A big­ger flat screen to beam in Big Ben’s New Year chimes and make those happy Hog­manay par­ties re­ally hap­pen right in your liv­ing room? Or maybe you’re minded to ‘go retro’ with a record player? Vin­tage vinyl may be back in fash­ion, but when things go round in cir­cles, the whole nos­tal­gia thing can seem a bit warped. One minute we’re rush­ing im­pa­tiently to up­date our tiny high-tech gis­mos be­fore they be­come ‘un­sup­ported’ and an­cient his­tory, the next we’re sim­ply han­ker­ing af­ter the orig­i­nal qual­ity of ‘the good old days’, crack­les and all. But if you’re long­ing for the true sounds of the past to en­ter­tain you once more, head to Monks Eleigh, where Paul Good­child and his col­lec­tion of tech­nol­ogy tin­ker­ers have more than just old records up their sleeves.

HERO WOR­SHIP

“Let’s have a tune upon the grapho­phone,” sug­gests the el­e­gant voice of turn of the 20th cen­tury en­ter­tainer Billy Wil­liams, as the fa­mil­iar sea­sonal sounds of Auld Lang Syne segue seam­lessly into the wel­com­ing words of his in­vi­ta­tional cho­rus. It’s an odd sort of greet­ing to be waft­ing down a path lined with grave­stones, but sim­ply step across the thresh­old of the old red-brick chapel and ev­ery­thing falls into place. Or at least sort of. First get your head around the rather un­ex­pected glit­ter-ball hang­ing from the ceil­ing, the Wurl­itzer juke box and disco decks in the cor­ner by the some­what psy­che­delic shim­mer cur­tain. Then there’s the much revered 1934 Ham­mond organ, brought to life through­out the day by Bryan, which takes pride of place be­neath the orig­i­nal bright ‘Wor­ship the Lord in the beauty of ho­li­ness’ ban­ner. Drink all this in and only then do your eyes re­ally re-fo­cus and look up at the shelves reach­ing to­wards the heav­ens, crammed with TVs and tran­sis­tors, ra­dio-sets, reel-to-reel record­ing equip­ment and turn­han­dle ‘gramo­phones’.

From His Mas­ter’s Voice clas­sics to a groovy red 1950s Sky Baby, from a pris­tine Monarch record player to the stylish McMichael Twin Su­per­vox or beau­ti­ful bak­er­lite West­min­ster, all the big names are here. In­clude the ‘Cu­rios­ity Cor­ner’ and the ex­hibits are count­less – and as a ‘reel’ added bonus, there’s even a vin­tage film show us­ing time-hon­oured pro­jec­tors courtesy of Nor­man in the Sun­day school room next door.

A REAL GIFT

Given a home in the re­dun­dant United Re­form Chapel only in 2014, the Sounds of the Past col­lec­tion in­cludes over 370 vin­tage ra­dios and 50 his­toric tele­vi­sions (well, that’s how far they’ve got with the cat­a­logue to date), all mainly do­nated over the decades since lo­cal lad and bygones buff, Paul Good­child, founded the Monks Eleigh Bygones Col­lec­tors Club more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago.

“If it’s junk, Paul will col­lect it,” jokes col­league and re­tired TV en­gi­neer, Dave. “Where there’s muck, there’s his­tory, that’s the motto, and we’ll al­ways try not to say no to a rel­e­vant new ex­hibit.” He pauses, then ad­mits: “All of us here love tak­ing things to bits, clean­ing things up, re­pair­ing where we

can and putting stuff back to­gether again. We can gen­er­ally get the parts and valves we need to get things into work­ing or­der, though re­place­ment tubes for some of the tele­vi­sions can be a prob­lem.” It seems that in this old chapel what­ever they are about to re­ceive – from his­toric TVs to po­ten­tial ra­dio sig­nals – they are al­ways truly thank­ful.

WIN­DOWS ONTO THE WORLD

Rows of wooden boxes, dull brown bake­lite ra­dio-sets from the in­ter-war years of aus­ter­ity and util­i­tar­ian fur­ni­ture don’t quite cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion like the gleam­ing brass gramo­phone bells glint­ing by the win­dow in the win­ter sun­shine. But be sure to take a closer look and you’ll soon dis­cover all things ab­surdly bright and beau­ti­ful in the fret-work of Sun­rises, the geo­met­ric shapes of art deco de­signs, sub­tle lines of gild­ing and all sorts of knobs and but­tons. Decades be­fore the days of broad­band and bound­less in­ter­net surfing, with the right set up you could sim­ply slide across the globe from Lux­em­bourg to Mon­te­carlo, Oslo or Stuttgart and pick up other cul­tures at the turn of a dial. Back then, the press of a but­ton lit­er­ally put you on a dif­fer­ent wave­length and in tune with the world. “If you lived in the coun­try­side your wire­less was a real life­line,” ex­plains re­tired elec­tri­can Dan, who now just loves to mend ra­dios as his hobby and trav­els all the way up from Cogge­shall to help with the col­lec­tion. “Ad­mit­tedly though, if you were liv­ing with gas lamps, an old wood stove and earth closet for com­forts, it was all a bit of a palaver. Mains sets were more ex­pen­sive, but cheaper bat­tery sets had higher run­ning costs. You’d need more than just the set it­self of course. There were the bat­ter­ies, ac­cu­mu­la­tor and an aerial to think about too.” He pauses as the rose-tinted spec­ta­cles re­place re­al­ity once more. “My favourites are the 1930s ra­dios re­ally. They’re lovely lit­tle sets - a bit more flimsy, but that’s be­cause they were made to a price.”

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Hmm, price. Therein lies a tale. Th­ese days old ap­pli­ances like a cir­cu­lar EKCO wire­less or Bush TV3 in ther­moset­ting phe­nol formalde­hyde resin (‘bake­lite’, named af­ter its New York in­ven­tor, Leo Baeke­land) are well trendy, but at­tract real pre­mi­ums. Orig­i­nally th­ese ‘plas­tic cabi­net’ ra­dios and TVs were sold as the cheaper op­tion over wood. “When TVs were first mass-pro­duced in the fifties ev­ery­thing was fran­chised and sub­ject to pur­chase tax,” ex­plains spe­cial­ist Dave. “It crip­pled sales though. My favourite solid fur­ni­ture Fer­gu­son 103T with its flu­o­res­cent tube ring­ing the screen sold for £96 and 12 shillings back in 1954 and £24 of that was pure

tax. Fran­chis­ing made it im­pos­si­ble to of­fer dis­counts, but the Co-op got round that with their div­i­dend scheme. I reckon their Plessey­made TV was called ‘De­fi­ant’ for a rea­son!”

Past the domed 1949 Pye LV20 (pur­chased by many to watch the corona­tion) and along­side the sil­very Sony Trini­tron (the UK’s first mass-pro­duced colour TV), there’s talk of

‘Ad­mit­tedly though, if you were liv­ing with gas lamps, an old wood stove and earth closet for com­forts, it was all a bit of a palaver’

how Sony side-stepped UK leg­is­la­tion lim­it­ing the size of TV screens on for­eign im­ports by can­nily mov­ing pro­duc­tion to Wales, and about the years of TV rentals rather than own­er­ship un­til the 1980s. And with Pye, Phillips, EKCO and Plessey all hav­ing early fac­to­ries across the East from Low­est­oft to Southend and Il­ford, it’s cer­tainly a her­itage that res­onates re­mark­ably close to home and makes the Sounds of the Past col­lec­tion even more wor­thy of a visit.

By the TVs dis­play­ing test­cards near the café cor­ner, one vis­i­tor looks par­tic­u­larly lost in thought, gaz­ing down the line of black and white and colour sets. Then sud­denly she turns and smiles.

“My fam­ily was the first in the vil­lage to have a colour TV, you know,” she con­fides over her cup of tea. “My dad’s 92 now.“She stops and smiles again, point­ing proudly at a gen­tle­man in deep con­ver­sa­tion with Dave about a mighty tome en­ti­tled Set­mak­ers. “He used to work at the Cam­bridge fac­tory and built our set him­self!”

The Sony Trini­tron, the first colour TV made in Wales. All im­ages: Lind­say Want

Dan and Dave with their ra­dio favourites

Pye’s fa­mous sun­rise ra­dio set

Fer­gu­son 103T with flu­o­res­cent ring

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