LANES OF BRADLEY

by

Jeffrey Lane

 

Lane Brothers, were suppliers of televisions, electrical appliances and furniture to the people of Bradley for nearly 50years.

The business was originally started in 1927 by Wilfred Lane in his father�s house in Ash Street, Bradley.  Initially he made crystal radio sets under a Marconi licence. These were encased in a small wooden cabinet built by Harold Smallshire, a local joiner, and sold locally.

Wilfred was the youngest of four brothers born to Daniel and Bertha Lane.  He was a toolmaker by trade but was always fascinated by new discoveries.  In his early teenage years he was a keen photographer, processing his own photographs.  By the beginning of the 1920s he was the projectionist at the newly opened Forum in Bradley.  This was built by his uncle, Harold Crewe.  It was here that he met his wife to be, Dora Warwick.

When the shop first opened it sold cycles, radios and other small electrical items. Many radios then were powered by "rechargeable batteries".  These were not the type of battery used today. They were sealed, square shaped glass containers, larger and heavier than a pint glass, containing an acid solution and lead plates.  At the top there were two contacts for connecting into the radio.  These batteries had to be re-charged frequently.  This was not a simple task.  First the strength of the acid solution had to be tested and adjusted if necessary. Then the battery was connected to a large electrical charger, to which 30-40 batteries could be connected at a time.  Each was regularly tested to see when it was fully charged.  Due to demand eventually two chargers had to be installed. Wilfred's father, Daniel, looked after the shop and the batteries.  To local children he was known as "the battery man".

His elder brother, Daniel, who had worked at Sunbeam, also joined him and together they began installing electrical wiring into houses.  It must be remembered that at that time most of the houses in the Bradley area had no electrical supply.  Lighting was provided by gas, oil lamps or candles and many still cooked over open firegrates - only the more fortunate had gas cookers.  It could be said that Wilfred and Daniel were responsible for "lighting up" many houses in the area.  They were also sub-contracted to undertake this work for Mr Roberts, a local builder.

This was the age before the motor car became readily available for the working populace and therefore cycles were an important means of transport.  Through the shop they sold many cycles.  These were supplied by local companies such as Sunbeam, Viking and Wearwell.  They also provided a full repair service for all the products they sold.  Most of these repairs were undertaken in one of the two large wooden buildings erected in the garden.

In 1938 they purchased nearly 500,000 battery bulbs from a Mr Evans, who had a scrap yard in Walsall Street, Wolverhampton.  members of the family sorted and tested these bulbs and put them onto specially printed card holders.  They were then sold onto other shops and cycle dealers in the area. With the advent of the Second World War bulbs and other electrical items became rationed and therefore were difficult to obtain.  Consequently many of these bulbs were traded for batteries and other items.  One consignment for 50,000 was sold to a Birmingham business man. This sale alone covered the total cost of the bulbs. It is believed he then sold them onto Woolworths for an even bigger profit.  The bulbs ensured that the shop had a ready supply of most electrical items during the war years.

By 1947 Wilfred's second brother, Arthur, had joined the business and television was beginning to become the new entertainment media.  Seeing the growth potential they were one of the first in the Wolverhampton area to apply for a television licence. Initially they sold mainly Pye and Invicta 9 inch and 12 inch TVs. Yes - the screens were that small then.  To enlarge the picture a Perspex magnifying glass was sold that was clipped to the screen.

When first introduced televisions were expensive and unattainable for most working class families. To overcome this the Lanes introduced an interest free credit loan. Weekly payments were then collected by Wilfred and Daniel.  As the business grew they always offered this type of credit.  They considered that it was unfair to charge their customers interest as many had supported the business since its foundation.  On at least one occasion they turned down an offer from a well known loan company who wanted to buy their 'book', which would have provided them with a substantial profit. I believe this demonstrates the type of business they operated, where they always considered the customer first, not profit. What a change from today!

Lane's Shop

As the business grew they looked for alternative premises in which to expand. Fortunately in 1955 the adjoining property at 47 Ash Street became available, which they purchased and converted into a new showroom. At the same time they were joined by their brother, Leonard, who had previously worked at the Bradsteads.

This new showroom allowed them to stock all types of electrical goods, furniture and carpets.  It was not uncommon for customers to be taken into the main furniture suppliers in Birmingham to see alternative furniture designs, or taken to Kidderminster to select carpets.  As the business grew, the sons helped by cutting carpets and floor coverings to customer requirements and with the delivery of televisions and furniture.

In the mid to late 1960s three of the bothers, Leonard, Arthur and Daniel, died.  This left only Wilfred.  His sons and nephews were married and had forged new careers; therefore there was no one to continue the business.  Wilfred, helped by members of the family continued to run the business for a further four years.  During this period he ensured that his brothers, wives and families continued to benefit from the business.  Then, in September 1973, he sold out to Stanley Pugh, who subsequently converted the premises into a builders merchant.

Although the shop no longer existed as Lane Bothers, the name continued in the area for a further four years. For every Saturday morning Wilfred visited many customers who could not clear their debts when the shop closed.  Therefore he continued to collect weekly payments from them until the debts were cleared.  Surprisingly very few failed to complete their payments.  The trust he had placed in the people of Bradley all the years he had been in business were duly repaid.  I wonder what would happen today?

October 2006

 

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