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Old 16th Jul 2019, 11:23 am   #1
Steve
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Default H Gee - Cambridge

It's sad to report that the Cambridge institution of H Gee caught fire this morning.

For those not familiar with this shop (which has been "Temporarily Closed" for the past few months), I can do nothing better than quote this flickr piece :-

"In the days when 'wireless' still meant 'radio' and 'Hi-Fi' was anything but 'Wi-Fi', Gee's on Cambridge's now colourful Mill Road was something of a mecca for all audio and stereo enthusiasts. I remember the shop listing themselves as 'radio engineers' in those days. They are now more of a Cambridge institution where anything electrical may be sought and it's been suggested they are the oldest retailer on Mill Road.".

Fortunately, everyone in the building has been accounted for. I hope plans are already formulating to ensure H Gee doesn't simply become another Cambridge memory.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/innpictime/9559980281
https://capturingcambridge.org/mill-...-road/mrs-gee/
https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/new...eally-13328656
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Last edited by Steve; 16th Jul 2019 at 11:44 am.
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Old 16th Jul 2019, 11:43 am   #2
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

I'm glad that everyone who was in the building is safe, but I'm heartbroken that the shop has finally gone. It had rather gone to seed in the last couple of years. Last summer I had some short conversations with Phil Gee, who'd been running it, and it seemed to be just pottering along although the whole place was piled up with cardboard boxes and old newspapers.

I've known the interior intimately since childhood, and could tell you exactly which of the hundreds of cracked perspex storage drawers contained 10k resistors, or crocodile clips, or pots ("lin or log?" said Mrs Gee). All gone now, I guess, along with the glass cabinets containing mysterious surplus relays, transformers and motors.

Though it would be marvellous to revive it (I'll have to have a word with my bank manager!), I suspect there's little chance. My home town being what it is today, the shop is likely to become yet another cafe or hairdresser, topped with 'luxury apartments'. I can only hope that the Raspberry Pi shop picks up the mantle.

Chris
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Old 16th Jul 2019, 12:10 pm   #3
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Well, that is sad news indeed - it was indeed a Mecca for all things electronic, even when Maplin was still around.
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Old 16th Jul 2019, 12:57 pm   #4
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

I used to live just down the road from Gees in the 80's, super shop.
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Old 16th Jul 2019, 4:35 pm   #5
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Still using my wire cutters bought there in 1970.
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Old 16th Jul 2019, 4:41 pm   #6
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

I heard first thing on the local news of the big fire on Mill Road, never dreaming that it could be Gees. What a sad loss!

With having so many electronics companies around Cambridge, and with the rapid rate of technology progress, there seemed to be a constant flow of manufacturers' redundant stock available to H Gee & family. In some ways it seemed comparable to those joyous days of post-war ex-WD 'government surplus'.

Back in the 1970s, high interest rates meant that our 'bean counters' were keen to realise (and be seen to realise) every possible scrap of cash from redundant stock. That was after I had assured them that those old passive components were really impossible to design into the new generation of IC-based technolgy. So that prompted a massive drive by Production Control to clear out every possible redundant and potentially redundant component from the stores. Who was it sold to? Gees of course!

However, such was our 'silo-style' management that no account had then been taken of the component needs of other departments such as after-sales service, customised additions to existing products etc. As a result, our after-sales manager would from time to time take a trip down Mill Road to ferret around in Mrs Gee's stock to find those essential components crucial to completing a contract, and buy back what we'd just sold to her a few weeks previously. Gees had become an 'archive store' for the company.

I'm sure that this story was repeated in many electronics companies and is still continuing. What will happen now though?

Martin
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Old 17th Jul 2019, 4:18 pm   #7
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Sadly this shop burnt down on Monday 15th July 2019. https://i66.servimg.com/u/f66/17/77/69/16/dsc07518.jpg

It had been closed for some months but had been steadily running down before that. Ironically it could in many peoples opinion have prospered when Maplin closed its shops in Cambridge, but the owner, the son of the founder Harry Gee did not seem to want to carry on. Stock ran down and he never replaced it, and in the last months it was open it wall full of cardboard boxes stacked up in the shop. Probably old now obsolete stuff from the upper floors.
The shop was getting very tatty both inside and out, with stuff in the window fading due to prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Harry Gee must be turning in his grave, in the 1960's it was a mecca for radio hams and hi-fi enthusiasts, Mr Gee always smartly dressed and smoking a small cigar
RIP H Gee 94A Mill Road Cambridge.

Last edited by AC/HL; 17th Jul 2019 at 6:45 pm. Reason: Link fixed
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Old 17th Jul 2019, 7:08 pm   #8
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Gees had character. A memorable feature was that the Christmas decorations remained in the window for many months after the New Year, sometimes surviving until the following Christmas - an early example of efficient recycling. As John observes though, they did tend to fade in the summer sunshine.

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Old 19th Jul 2019, 6:08 pm   #9
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hartley118 View Post
. . .
Back in the 1970s, high interest rates meant that our 'bean counters' were keen to realise (and be seen to realise) every possible scrap of cash from redundant stock. That was after I had assured them that those old passive components were really impossible to design into the new generation of IC-based technolgy. So that prompted a massive drive by Production Control to clear out every possible redundant and potentially redundant component from the stores. Who was it sold to? Gees of course!

However, such was our 'silo-style' management that no account had then been taken of the component needs of other departments such as after-sales service, customised additions to existing products etc. As a result, our after-sales manager would from time to time take a trip down Mill Road to ferret around in Mrs Gee's stock to find those essential components crucial to completing a contract, and buy back what we'd just sold to her a few weeks previously. Gees had become an 'archive store' for the company.

I'm sure that this story was repeated in many electronics companies and is still continuing. What will happen now though?

Martin
You would wonder if that's such a bad idea - a national chain of 'spare bit warehouse stores' that buy up the parts and hold them for companies/repairs. Most makers do not like to hold excess inventory so somewhere that did for 'just in time' purchases could be quite good. Of course it would need a lot of capital to set up but has merit I'd think. After all it's service where the local retailer will win out over online/overseas and if you could get the parts in a couple of days/turn around repairs etc fast it would keep a lot of buyers loyal I reckon. You will of course always get those for whom price is more important than quality and service but I know I go locally if I can even if it is a few dollars more.
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Old 19th Jul 2019, 6:32 pm   #10
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

It'd need a lot of capital, and be problematic: these days a business involved in professional equipment manufacture/mainenance/repair will expect its suppliers to have a whole slew of quality-assurance accreditations, traceability on the parts supplied, RoHS compliance etc.

It's no longer good enough to pull-out an old cardboard box of 20-year-old transistors from a cupboard - you don't know where they came from or if their leads are tinned with leaded-solder.
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Old 19th Jul 2019, 6:35 pm   #11
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Where I was last employed, occasionally there was a stores year end surplus stock sale, of which I was usually keen to buy from at the very discounted prices. Few other employees were interested.
It was not unknown to be asked at a later date if by chance i had "xyz" in my famous garage, as some were needed back at work! These were all non-rohs. My garage became quite famous!
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Old 19th Jul 2019, 7:23 pm   #12
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Thing is it's a throwaway society these days, no one repairs domestic electronics and many appliances are fitted with anti tamper screws so can't be taken apart easily.
Back in Harry Gee's heyday TV's and radios had lots of individual components resistors capacitors transistors etc, these days all integrated circuits. They are so cheap to buy new that repairs are not cost effective anyway.

I worked at Pye in the 60's & 70's and like most other big companies they were controlled by accountants, a stock take each year with 1000's of parts skipped. There was another local scrap/salvage dealer Harry Coilins (if I remember his name correctly) he used to take the higher value parts transformers motors etc. Store them in his shed and then sell them back to Pye when they found they later needed them to service/repair customers equipment.

Cambridge like the rest of the UK no longer has any big electronic manufacturing companies!

Sadly I cant see a market now for the parts that Gee used to stock, in fact the shop had been running down for some years, not replacing stock. Even Maplin went bust, leaving only RS Components and Farnell trading on line.
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Old 20th Jul 2019, 8:37 am   #13
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

As an aside, don't forget that Cricklewood Electronics is still very much in business both on-line and at their shop in Cricklewood. AFAIK Watford Electronics are also still trading.
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Old 20th Jul 2019, 4:44 pm   #14
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

The following poem to Gee's appeared in the local paper. It was written by Patrick Widdess of Norwich (formally of Cambridge)

Ode to Gees
But if your radio dates from '73 or your kettle's blown its fuse. If you need to change a light bulb, or a plug to work in Timbuktu. Step into this treasure trove of gadgets, parts and spares. A bow-tied man is waiting behind a cluttered counter. Patiently he listens then disappears into the shop's dark recesses, leaving you surveying the museum or wares. Wires, cables, adaptors, fuses, chemistry sets, microscopes, batteries; large, small and obsolete, smoke detectors, circuit boards, remote controls, magnifying glasses, row upon row of unlabelled boxes, a whoopie cushion, microphones, headphones, a magnet set, a bubble machine, bike lights, strip lights, disco lights, a galaxy of LEDs, then a voice disrupts your reverie. The bow-tied man has returned with your plug in a battered box. 'Works in Timbuktu, Atlantis and Middle Earth' he mutters placing it on the counter for inspection. Did he rummage through box after box of unsorted stock? Take a lift to some deep vault stretching beneath Mill Road and beyond? Or was it just lying by the cash register for the last 40 years? 'That's one twenty-five' he says. O bless this eclectic, eccentric, electric boutique with more bulbs than a garden centre, more diversity than sterile plazas sparsely stocked with laptops and digital TVs. The door is open, a handwritten sign invites you in.
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Old 21st Jul 2019, 12:32 am   #15
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Oh my goodness, how did I not know about this place? I have known Cambridge on and off for the last 50+ years. I first remember going down Mill Road in the late 1960's. Renbro, the model and train shop was there. The model and train shop later moved to the Kite area, near the Grafton Centre.

As an undergraduate in the 1970's, I very occasionally visited the Devonshire Arms, which is almost next door, but only in numbers. There were other pubs in the area, eg "The Locomotive", which is also on Mill Road, where undergraduates were not welcome. And my grandfather grew up round the corner in St. Barnabas Road.

Part of the Pye site in Chesterton was on the site of the old Banham's boatyard. But that was before my time.

73 John
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Old 21st Jul 2019, 12:10 pm   #16
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Members of the Gee family were thoroughly trained in mental arithmetic.

Hand-written on your paper bag was a list of the individual prices of everything you'd bought. These prices would then be totted up at great speed, the total written on the bag, and the transaction concluded. That brown paper bag was your receipt.

Minimal paperwork. So economical!

Martin
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Old 21st Jul 2019, 12:33 pm   #17
John Wakefield
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They would give you a receipt on headed paper if you asked for one, these would be required for any commercial purchases for local companies (Pye or University departments). I think the reference to a cash register in the poem is poetic licence, as as far as I can recall they never had a cash register.
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Old 21st Jul 2019, 12:55 pm   #18
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

ISTR a vintage cash drawer.

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Old 21st Jul 2019, 1:12 pm   #19
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Quote:
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Part of the Pye site in Chesterton was on the site of the old Banham's boatyard. But that was before my time.
If you're local, details like this are interesting markers of time. Where I live, clusters of new houses were invariably mills, some disused decades ago. Scraps of remaining walls can indicate the old road layout too. Interesting dog walks!
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Old 21st Jul 2019, 1:52 pm   #20
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Default Re: H Gee - Cambridge

Living in Almondbury, on a hill to the South of Huddersfield, I grew up with a view straight across the densest area of Yorkshire mills.

I remember from trips down to see my parents in the late 70's and into the eighties a lot of evenings you could see big fires in the distance as yet another mill complex had an 'accident'. For years afterwards these places were left as latter-day bomb sites. Now, 50% of them seem to have become housing developments, the rest are industrial or retail estates.

It was amazing how much the landscape changed in a few years. I don't think many of the buildings were insurance scams - they quickly became uninsurable, perhaps it was seen as a quick way to reduce rates liabilities without paying demolition costs?

I miss Jim Fish and Ms Taylor's shops. Padgetts in Liversedge and M&B's in Leeds, but it wasn't just the radio bits shops which were going.

David
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