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Then and Now: 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton
Photographic comparisons of old and modern views of Lambeth
(Modern photo © urban75, July 2009)

T.W.Brown and Sons and Bookmongers, 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

1912 A cyclists stands outside the motor and cycle works of T.W.Brown & Sons at 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton.

The old fella in the centre is Thomas William Brown, and his son Walter stands on the left, holding their belt-driven motorised cycle. As was the custom of the time, everyone is wearing a hat.

Their well stocked window display advertises Minerva Motors, Hyde Free Wheel, Brooks Saddles (which are still being made today) and Moselely Tyres.

A selection of tyres and inner tubes are hanging in the window, while the company's plating, repairs and enamelling services are promoted underneath.

(pic: Lambeth Archives)

T.W.Brown and Sons and Bookmongers, 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

July 2009 Although T.W.Brown & Sons have long gone, the premises remain in independent hands, with the excellent Bookmongers secondhand bookshop trading from here since 1993.

We're not sure if the original bike shop moved here first but the larger premises next door were taken up by the Brixton Cycles co-operative from 1983 to 2001, before they moved to Stockwell Road.


T.W.Brown and Sons and Bookmongers, 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

1905 Printed on a trusty brown bag, this advert for Brown's gramophone shop invites users to lug their gramophones down Coldharbour Lane to be repaired. Seeing as the shop name hasn't changed we suspect that the bike shop - with all its engineering prowess - also doubled up as a repair shop.

The advert also tells customers that, 'Accumulators can also be charged on the premises'. We had no idea what that meant, but found the answer on the external link Bygone Derbyshire website:

Early wireless receivers were either crystal or valve sets. The transistor, which was to replace thermionic valves, had yet to be invented. Crystal sets were simple devices using a mineral crystal (usually carborundum) in contact with a tiny coil spring, called a catís whisker, to detect the signal from an outside aerial.

No batteries were needed but only headphone reception was possible. Valve sets, able to amplify the aerial signal sufficient to operate a loudspeaker, required three batteries as few people had electricity in their homes at that time.

They were a two-volt rechargeable lead acid battery (like a small car battery and called an accumulator) and two dry batteries Ė one of nine volts to provide what was called grid bias and a 120-volt high-tension battery. The latter was about the size of a large breakfast cereal packet and cost five shillings (25p), a major expense for many in those days. So, when exhausted, they were often given a new lease of life by warming them in the oven!

The nine-volt grid bias battery was long lasting but the two-volt accumulator needed recharging about once a week. Many garages, cycle and electrical dealers provided a recharging service for a few pence. Those who could afford it had two accumulators, one in use and the other on charge!


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