Garland Brothers and the golden age of hobby electronics | Odd Blog

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Garland Brothers and the golden age of hobby electronics

Does anyone reading this remember Garland Brothers on Deptford Broadway? When I was about 11 onwards, I became interested big-time in what my Dad did as a hobby – Electronics. He had studied radio maintenance in the RAF as a National Service recruit and it led to a lifetimes interest in radio and electronics. In it’s time it led to a lifetimes interest for me too.

He worked in London and when his son became interested, he began picking up components for me on the way home. These were the days when you actually built electronic projects, didn’t just go and buy them as a kit, or program an embedded system. This isn’t acurate actually, as he would have been buying components for himself for a very long time before I became interested!

He got to know a chap there called Ernie who would recommend new things to try or alternative components to those I asked for. My first project, I believe, was a two-transistor metronome. I think it used two OC71 transistors in an astable configuration. I say I think, I could look as I still have that, built very precariously on a piece of tag board. I wil check and post a pic of it.

Not too long after, I ventured into the relatively new world of the ‘silicon chip’ or integrated circuit as it was variously called then. I remember making a Star Trek red alert siren using two 555 timer/oscillator chips. You know, I had huge pleasure just two weeks ago building a 2KHz oscillator using a 555 on a piece of Veroboard to go with a Raspberry Pi project I am working on! It’s a security system and rather than making the Pi generate a 2KHz bip when a sensor was triggered, I made a 555 circuit and had the Pi enable it for about 200mS!!! Very satisfying.

This was also the time of the classic electronics magazine for the hobbyist. There were several and I think I must have bought them all, ETI and Hobby Electronics were my favourites. Practical Wireless and Short Wave Magazine served our ham/amateur radio desires (G6AFY/G6RAD me and my Dad respectively) I didn’t buy Everyday Electronics or Practical Electronics so often for some reason. Elektor was another favourite although quite high-brow in those days.

They were really the golden days of electronics in my view, but then maybe one’s ‘own’ days ‘were’ always the best! It doesn’t seem as much fun now with the prevalence of vlsi chips and embedded systems. Having said that, my definition of a heavenly day is one spent writing code for a Pi !! Oh And taking the wife out for a good meal of course. She may come across my blog one day ;-P

If you remember Garland Brothers and/or these were your golden days too, I woud love to hear from you, please do leave a comment.

EDIT: I found this publication in my loft, I thought it may be of interest to some. Lovely to look through and see how things were once presented. This would have taken a considerable amount of work to produce, with the drawings and layout.

Another EDIT: My furlough loft sort-out led to this coming to light too!


  • I came across your blog because I was trying to find out what happened to Garland Brothers! They were still going about 8 or 9 years back when I saw them at a Car show in Kent selling mainly PA and disco equipment. However going past their old place in Deptford Broadway last year I saw it was boarded up.

    At the end of the ’70s we were living nearby and I used to visit ten regularly.

  • A few doors down from Garland Brothers there was a small shop which sold a lot of electronic salvage. As I recall they were rather expensive but I still have an isolating transformer I got from them. I think that this place closed down around 1980 or thereabouts.

  • Hi, I read your blog from April with interest.
    Co incidentally y father also did national service in RAF and maintained radar for Lancaster bomber during early 50s.
    He bought a Unitelex reel to reel tape recorder which was made at 2 Pagnell St Deptford and I suspect he might have bought it from Garland Bros in 1953. I have the receipt for it hand written by “J Peyton” or is that Payton. I also remember adverts that Garland Bros were putting in Practical Electronics from 1960s and 70’s and Everyday Electronics 70s. I never visited the store unfortunately, I live in Manchester, but I did wander around Deptford in 2011 but somehow omitted to visit the store (I did not know it was there) which was probably still open at that time sigh…

  • I too fondly remember Garlands Brothers in Deptford. As a teenager. living in Belvedere (1975 – 1978-ish) I got the Electronics and Radio bug also through my fathers influence, he had done his National Service in the REME and later worked in the Post Office Radio Interference Dept. I would take the No99 bus from Belvedere to Woolwich then the No53 which passes through Deptford. I can remember queuing up on a Saturday in a busy Garlands with a shopping list of electronic components, Resistors, Capacitors and Semiconductors for my latest project, standing at the long counter as the staff went around collecting the order. Components would be tipped into a small paper sweet bag. I can remember buying 2N2926G green spot Germanium transistors there. I particularly remember the smell in that shop, possibly a mixture of cigarette smoke, Paxolin (resin circuit boards ?) and maybe the odour from a Parrafin heater, I would love to smell it again. In those days it was still possible to buy electronic valves there too, and I seem to recall that they may have had a valve tester device where people would bring valves from their faulty TV sets to be tested. Two members of staff that I recall would have been an older gentleman with neat dark hair and glasses very much of his generation and a much younger big lad with straggly shoulder length blond hair, both going about wearing Lab or Warehouse coats. Leaving the shop. Deptford Broadway always seemed very grim with many down and outs from the nearby hostel, some of them often lying unconscious in the street. At that time in the mid to late Seventies there were several wonderful (to me anyway) surplus type electronic junk shops in Deptford Broadway, close to Garlands and I loved (and still do) rummaging and perusing electronic junk. Garlands quite often couldn’t supply specialist components like Denco Coils or Jackson Variable capacities so a longer trip to the Edgware Road would have to be planned. It was a hobby that served me well in my later work and even to this day. Even now when I pass through Deptford I always take a poignant look at the Garlands site and remember happy days.

  • I remember them well from the 1970s. I lived in Eltham and used to go to Garlands for components regularly. I also remember across the road there was another shop. The guy there used to build big audio amplifiers (1kW) for Reggae bands using, if I remember correctly, pairs of Mullard MZ2-200s. Paul G8FUR/G4DCV

  • I used to buy electronic bits and pieces from there in the 60s.

    They would also test customers’ valves for (I think for 6d each) and that process was fascinating to watch.

    Just looked up “Chesham House, Brookmill Rd” in Google maps and the place still appears. The the sign over the door has been removed and replaced back to front.

    So sad!

  • When I was an apprentice, some of the other lads who were at college with me in Woolwich worked for Elliotts- who were in lewisham- Thats how I first found Garlands- in about 1972. I brought my Sharp RT10 cassette-deck there in about 1978 when we first got married- Ive just finished repairing one I brought off Ebay for nostalgia reasons- they had LED VU meters. You could buy anything from Garlands if you were interested in electronics- I used to pop in there now an then on my way home from work on my CB175 or whatever to buy a thermistor, an ORP13, an BY146…the list goes on…

  • I was a young lad with straggly dark longer hair and managed the shop for a while. The older bloke was Ernie, retired from the fire brigade. I remember the long lists of components. Arguing with the MD about selling 555 chips and car radio cassette players , he was a germanium man.Helping customers to build pirate radio stations. Selling lots of disco stuff to mainly black DJs. Ernie used to send punters to Baker Street (lost property dept) if the sound on their tvs went. Lashed up one of the first kit built computers to a TV teletext board….PL509s KT88s….BC109Cs, those were the days. Norman M

  • Hello Norman,

    Many thanks for leaving a comment, great to have someone drop in who actually worked there.

    Judging by the comments here and conversations I have had over the years with friends and colleagues, it was a much loved shop. I think I only visited a few times as I live in Ashford. My Dad worked for the Post Office (Royal Mail now!) in London, near St. Paul’s and came home that way to pick components up. He was buying his own before long before his son took an interest and then his visits there multiplied drastically. I used to ring him and read my list of components, including those wonderful 555 timers you mentioned! I have quite a few pieces of paper safely tucked away with my Dad’s writing on and what I always assumed was Ernie’s writing, as he said he talked to him quite a bit. But some of the writing could well be yours then! He wrote the alternative component he had given if the one I asked for was out of stock. I certainly still have some components that would have come from the shop.

    I do miss those days of building and the large number of hobby magazines and their designs. My background is all electronics and it has completely shaped my life to what it is today. I’m sure Garlands had some large part in that too. I’ve drifted into IT but still sit at a bench and build. A lot of it is Raspberry Pi based but there is plenty to build in the interfaces etc. It’s an interest that never goes away.

    Thanks again for dropping in. If you think of anything else, I am sure there will be many who would love to hear.

    Cheers, Chris – blog owner.

  • Hi Chris, I certainly remember Garland Bros from the 50s because my father was one of the Brothers! I had a Saturday job working in the record dept when I was aged between 11 and 15. My father bought his brother out earlier in the 1950s. In those days we had two booths where you could listen to a record before you bought it. About 1956 or 57 there were a lot of wannabe rock n roll stars in the area,and my father put a recording studio in the basement that they could hire on an hourly basis and make a record to take to promoters when they were hoping to be discovered. Sorry I know very little about the electronics side! My father died in 1959 when he was 44 years old, but my mother kept the business until she died in 1995 although she knew nothing about electronics so never worked there, but always had a manager. Interesting for me to read all the memories, my father was always building things in his little workshop at home. I don’t think his brother had the same interest.

  • Hi Val,
    I really appreciate you adding to this thread. As you can see, there are many happy memories of the business. I think I can safely say many thousands of people would have found very great benefit from the existence of Garland Brothers in its time. It certainly was a bedrock of my electronics education! Thanks also for the little family history you included. It is sad to know your Father died so young and great fortune that your Mother kept the business running for all that time, which more than covered the time of my familiarity. I wonder if any of those wannabe rock n roll stars actually made it? I believe Squeeze began in the area, perhaps they dropped in at some time!

    If you remember anything else, it would be good to hear from you again.

    Best wishes, Chris.

  • I remember my teenage years at probably the oldest boys’ school in Lewisham, in the 1970s. For members of either the Electronics Club [run by the head of Technology, an ex WW2 RAF officer] or the Amateur Radio Society [run by a Physics master who also had significant interest in recorded music], a visit to “Garlands of Deptford” was almost akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca (and I don’t mean the Bingo joint!).

    Maybe not the cheapest place, but a wider range and greater knowledge than Tandy, and available to visit before the days of Maplin’s arrival in Forest Hill (one of their first walk-in stores).

    Without a trip “up town” to either the Edgware Road or Tottenham Court Road, Garlands’ and one or two related store around Deptford Broadway made the Borough of Lewisham a good place for the young electronics entrepreneur of the 1970s.

  • I too remember Garland Bros; as I lived in Deptford; Garland Bros was not only a Saturday job for me, but became my first full-time job when they (Alan) hired me! I was there in the very early 1970’s and the shop manager was Nick, the No.2 was Keith and Alan was the Boss. Ernie was either prior to me and after me – I never could work that out!
    Garland’s was great to me; Alan insisted I went to evening classes at SELTEC and took my C & G 271/777 courses and eventually steered me into an apprentiship in the IMTR (International & Maritime Telecoms) section of the Post Office which led to a career in many forms of Telecoms and Technical Forensics. Working at Garlands was like being at school – odd school – and I picked up so much knowledge and the enthusiasm of the other staff was fantastic.
    The ‘valve tester’ was a Mullard with hundreds of large punched mica (?) cards! Great Times!

  • I came across this thread. I used to work in Garlands in the 90s/2000s when i worked with Kevin who eventually bought it and Linda and Arthur. Some really great memories

  • Jerome Perkins mentions a sometimes rather expensive salvage shop – ah yes, I well remember one of my first lessons in not trusting a shopkeeper who won’t quite answer a question or look you in the eye.

    From that salvage place I bought what I thought was a great bargain – a huge drum of solder.

    Only after a frustrating night of dry joints and non-joints did I realise the damned stuff didn’t have flux cores running through it!

    An older gent in Garland’s kindly sold me a shoe-polish like tin or two of flex gel. This solution sufficed for some while, until I got regular supplies of Ersin Multicore at affordable prices through Maplin.

    Ah – Maplin – another era consigned to history – still, I am grateful for CPC …

  • EDIT: I found this publication in my loft, I thought it may be of interest to some. Lovely to look through and see how things were once presented. This would have taken a considerable amount of work to produce, with the drawings and layout.

    Garland Bros Catalogue 72-73 2nd Edition

  • Me and a friend occasionally used to cycle to Garlands from Forest Hill.
    On other days we would venture to Lisle St or Edgeware Road.
    We must have been about 15 or 16 at the time. Henry’s Radio, GWSmith etc. were all wonderful places for us as kids interested in electronics.

  • Yes, I remember this place very well, and I often visit straight after school. My two favourites shops are Garland and the RC shop in Peckham near the post office.

    I must have been around 11-12 years old then. I remember when buying small components, I get them in a small sweetie paper bag. After Garland, I would visit the small salvage shop a few shops away.

    I remember buying two broken Atari video consoles from the salvage shop and managed to get one working as well as build a PSU for it.

    Before we moved to SE London, my favourite place was Edgeware Road, it was heaven for me as a 9 years old kid.

    Then Maplin came to Forest Hill, so I tend to go there often. I do miss those days though, now I buy things online.

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