Electric memories of a Sunderland family business

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Nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner tunes in to the history of a Sunderland electronics store

A HOARD of old photos has opened up a shop full of memories for Wearsiders.

Mr Dixon of Chaplin Street, Seaham and wife being presented with colour TV won in Lynns competiton circa 1971. Mr Dixon bought a radio from Lynns in the Blandford Street, Seaham shop in 1936.

Mr Dixon of Chaplin Street, Seaham and wife being presented with colour TV won in Lynns competiton circa 1971. Mr Dixon bought a radio from Lynns in the Blandford Street, Seaham shop in 1936.

 Tom Lynn unearthed a treasure trove of snapshots relating to his family’s business while sorting through old boxes recently – and today we share a few of the images.

 “Some date to the 1920s, while others are more recent,” he said. “Our shop was well known for decades, and I thought the photos might bring back memories for people.”

 Thos Lynn Limited was founded by Tommy Lynn, son of engine fitter Robert and his wife Margaret, in 1924 – soon after he returned from several years in the Royal Navy.

 “My grandfather didn’t come from an entrepreneurial or retail background but, after receiving a £300 inheritance, he invested it in a shop in Roker Avenue,” said Tom.

 “Here he sold newspapers, tobacco and sweets, ultimately branching out into retailing radios. Shortly after he had a wooden kiosk – the Lion Kiosk – built on Roker front.

 “This sold books, sweets, newspapers and camera film, and he also set up a large telescope where tourists could look out to sea for 2d a go!

 “One night someone threw a ship’s anchor through the window and stole all the cigarettes.”

 Despite this setback, Tommy remained an enthusiastic businessman and, in 1935, he gained a sub-postmaster’s licence – operating from the post office in Chester Road.

 Just a year later, he opened a Murphy Radio dealership in Newcastle and, in 1938, he took his most ambitious business step to date – buying a shop at 39 Holmeside.

 “My grandfather wanted to sell more radios,” said Tom. “But he later said that if he’d known war would break out the next year, he’d have jumped off Wearmouth Bridge!

 “He made it work, though, and bent over backwards to help his customers. He had a pretty short fuse at times, apparently, but was always very loyal to his customers.”

 The war years brought tough times for all retailers, especially those supplying luxury items, but a combination of two factors helped Tom’s business survive.

 “The first was that, in conjunction with Pye Limited, Lynns were appointed the official War office contractors for Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle,” said Tom.

 “This meant the firm had to test and fit all radios and intercoms in Vickers-made tanks and self-propelled guns. One of the perks was a supply of petrol coupons!

 “The other factor for survival was an agreement my grandfather signed with his business rival Rediffusion, to buy all their old radio stock – which he used for parts.”

 Tommy’s son Hugh helped out as much as possible until, in 1946, he was called up for national service with the Royal and Electrical Mechanical Engineers.

 “My father travelled all over, from Cheshire to Cairo, coming back very well skilled due to top class military-backed training,” said Tom, who lives in East Herrington.

 “He was demobbed in 1948 and did everything needed to keep the business going – from washing windows to selling radios, erecting aerials, cashing up and servicing goods.

 “The years of austerity which followed the war proved very tough at times, just as the war had been, but dad would start early in the mornings and work until late at night.

 “In later years he and I even worked on Christmas Day if a customer’s television broke down, as he knew just how important Christmas TV was to most people.”

 The dawn of the far more optimistic 1950s saw staff at Lynns embrace the ever-changing electronics market – especially the arrival of TV on Wearside in 1953.

 A TV mast was erected at Pontop Pike, near Consett, just in time for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – sparking a stampede for the rental TVs provided by Lynns.

 Just two years later, however, Tommy died suddenly at just 55. Hugh took over the Sunderland side of the business, while his sister Elsie took on the Newcastle one.

 “Granddad died before I was born, so I don’t remember him. By all accounts he was a great character, and I really wish I could have met him,” said Tom.

 The 1960s saw Lynns move to a larger shop at 23 Holmeside and, in 1970, Hugh bought the nearby Turvey Garage workshop – as a base for servicing electronic gadgets.

 “Our ‘firsts’ included being the first to display TVs in shop windows in Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as the first to use radio phones in our service vehicles,” said Tom.

 “Lynns was also the first to both sell and rent ‘brown goods’ – such as radios, radiograms and televisions – to customers across the area.” While the Queen’s Coronation provided the pinnacle of rented TV watching in the 1950s, it was Sunderland’s FA Cup Final against Leeds which sent colour TV sales soaring in 1973.

 “Colour TVs had recently been introduced and we had massive sales,” recalls Tom. “People seemed to say ‘If I can’t be at Wembley, colour TV is the next best thing’.”

 Tom joined the family firm in 1977, at a time when the electronics business was booming, eventually working his way up to become a director.

 “The shop was modernised in my time and new innovations like video, stereo TVs, the Sony Walkman, ghetto blasters and tape machines all came along,” he said. “These helped to diversify the business and Lynns thrived as an electrical retailer for many more years – until increasing Government interference in the 1990s.

 “The plethora of out-of-town shopping outlets, as well as the advance of electrical goods giants such as Dixons, also made it impossible to compete on price.”

 Lynns of Holmeside finally closed its doors in around 1996, putting an end to more than 70 years of history, but memories will now live on through these photos.

 “We received hundreds of thank-you’s from customers when we shut, many who still remembered buying their first TV there – or enjoyed our window displays,” said Tom. “It was sad to see it come to an end, but realities had to be faced.

 “The current disgraceful state of Holmeside unfortunately justifies the tough decision to close. This street used to be nicknamed Quality Street and was home to some fantastic retailers such as Saxons, Simpson’s, Joseph’s, Hodgson’s and Milburn’s. All now gone.”

 Tom retrained as a personal advisor to vulnerable young people following the closure of Lynns. He has never, however, forgotten his retail roots.

 “My father died about five years ago, but it was only when I was tidying up some his stuff recently that I came across these old photos of the family shops,” he said.

 “They brought back lots of memories for me – and I thought readers might like to see them too. I still miss the fantastic staff and customers we had over the decades.”

•Do you have memories to share? Email Sarah Stoner at: sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk