I worked at the Armstrong’s Warlters Rd factory for some years during the 1970s. During that time I got to know Ron Sheppard and Ted Rule. Ron was at that time the longest serving employee and had joined the firm at a time around the start of World War Two. Ted had joined them after the war. The early ‘history’ given on this webpage was for many years largely based on what Ron told me in conversations.
However later research has revealed that some details he recounted may have been mis-remembered. So I have expanded this page to give both his recollections and then the later details I found when I did a survey in 2018 of the content of old magazines. So first, here is Ron’s account as told to me some decades ago...
Ron’s Account of the early years.
The company was originally called Armstrong Wireless and Television Ltd, and it was started by Claude Charles (C. C.) Jackson in 1932. At that time he set up in a small factory on King's Rd, Camden Town, in London. He decided not to name the company after himself, but called it “Armstrong” after his favourite car! As the original name implies they started off by making both televisions and radio sets, and only later switched to manufacturing what we would now recognise as Hi-Fi equipment. Their first product was a ‘portable’ radio. This wasn't perhaps portable by modern standards as it was very large and very heavy. Even its mahogany box was heavy without the electronics and the batteries. However since it worked from batteries and could be lifted, in those days it counted as being portable.
The company moved from King's Rd to Warlters Rd, Holloway, London, N7 in May 1939. C. C. Jackson had decided that they should start making TV's using a new 9-inch tube and felt that they needed bigger premises to provide room for the new production line. At that time, their TV's were designed by Reg Strickland. Alas, almost immediately after they moved war broke out and plans had to be changed.
Ron Sheppard joined the company in 1940. Initially he was involved in the design of equipment. For many years he and C. C. Jackson wrote the installation and user guides that were provided to the customer with each set sold. Ron tried to join the RAF in 1940, but much to Jackson's relief he was turned down due to his very poor eyesight. Otherwise Jackson would have tried keep him on the basis of a ‘reserved occupation’ as he was essential for the running of the business.
Jackson himself had been a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during the 1st World War and had been wounded and left the service. His airfield was in Chingford, and by a curious co-incidence, when Ron was married the first house he bought for his wife and himself had been built on the land previously used for the airfield.
During the second world war the factory was used for making munitions. They made a variety of things, but the main item was a “J Tube” which was a vital part of incendiary devices. They also repaired radios and produced sound reinforcement systems (i.e. public address systems) for factories
They remained at the Warlters Rd factory throughout most of their existence as a manufacturer . This was on the first floor, above a shopping arcade. The production line ran almost the entire length of the building, with test bays and offices to the side. The image to the left of this text is a small map of the area. Click on it if you wish to see a larger map. The map page also has a diagram showing the factory layout during the 1970's.
When they first moved in they did not initially occupy the entire first floor, part of which was then a dance hall. However once the war had started this area was taken over for machinery installed for the munitions work.
Once the war ended, the munitions machinery was removed and the area became used for offices and development labs. In the post-war period they briefly made radios for ships as well as TV sets, but then settled down into making consumer radios, amplifers, and tuners. They specialised in making chassis models without a cabinet. These were designed as high-quality units, with a technical performance superior to mass production radios, etc. The units were purchased mainly by individuals who wished to what we might now call ‘upgrade’ their equipment to obtain better performance. As enthusiasts, they would expect to build or provide their own cabinet. Some units were also sold to other manufacturers.
During 2018 I did a systematic survey of the content of old issues of magazines like “Wireless World” etc, looking for advertisements and other info about Armstrong during the periods from their beginnings up until the end of the 1940s. This let me discover many details of their history which has been forgotten. It also indicated that some of Ron’s recollections were probably inaccurate.
The main significant discrepancies with Ron’s account were as follows:
If you are interested in the details of Armstrong’s activity before 1950 then you can find the full results of the survey on the following UKHHSoc pages:
There was an indication that the company actually started up as early as 1926, not 1932, although as yet I have not been able to find any details of that earlier period of activity.
- The company traded under various names over the years. However they did not adopt the name “Armstrong Wireless and Television” until the end of 1944 or beginning of 1945.
Before WW2 http://ukhhsoc.torrens.org/other/Papers/JCGL_July_2018/AAA.html
The 1940s http://ukhhsoc.torrens.org/other/Papers/JCGL_July2_2018/AAA.html
Those pages also include copies of many of the relevant printed items and indicate when various models, trading name changes, etc, appeared. The page for the 1940s also considers the mystery of just what Armstrong did during – and just after – WW2 in more detail.
The 1950's onwards...
During the 1950's the audio and ”high fidelity“ market developed, and the traditional radio and radogram market started to fade. As a result, Armstrong slowly evolved into making Hi-Fi tuners, amplifiers, and receivers. They changed their name to Armstrong Audio in 1963. The change of name indicated that by then they had shifted away from being a radio chassis manufacturer and become hi fi specialists. As before, however, thair aim was to provide units of high quality to enthusiasts and others who wanted a better sound from their domestic audio system.
During the 1960's and 1970's Armstrong produced their best known ranges, the 500 and 600 series. These sold many tens of thousands units, both through specialist Hi-Fi dealers and the new ‘discount warehouses’. The 600's have proved particularly durable, and even now - over twenty years later - it seems that many thousands of them are still in use. They still sound good, and their appearance remains attractive.
At the end of the 1970's Armstrong ceased manufacturing and moved out of Warlters Rd. The building was to be demolished and they decided not to invest in a new factory. The site and building were actually owned by the British Coal Pension Fund. For some years during the 1970's the owners had been planning to redevelop the site. As a result during the last six years or so of the factory's life they did not charge Armstrong any rent as they wanted to be able to knock the place down as soon as they were ready. The factory and arcade were demolished during 1980.
At the time Armstrong had been investing in developing the new (700) range. In itself, tooling up to make these and invest in manufacturing stock was a significant enterprise. When the requirement to find and set up an entirely new factory was added, the capital committment became more than the company owners were willing (or able) to provide. The story did not finish at that point, however...
Some of the staff did continue for a while under the name Armstrong Amplifiers, with those involved working part time, or on a consultancy basis. In effect, investing their own time and money to see if they could bring the 700 range to market and continue as a manufacturer. Alas, although the 700's did eventually go on sale, and did fairly well, lack of capital for a suitable factory, etc, meant that design and manufacture eventually ceased. The company continued in another guise, however. It moved to Walthamstow and changed name again to Armstrong Hi-Fi and Video Services, It now provides service and maintenance under contract for a number of stores, retail chains, and other manufacturers, as well as to individual customers.
Armstrong always had an excellent reputation amongst dealers and customers as their products sold well, worked well, and were easy to service. Armstrong's service dept became legendary for its '48 hour' repair promise. They were also a superb firm as an employer. They were considerate to their staff and the social atmosphere at the factory was good. The directors believed in finding good people and encouraging them to do what they were good at. In effect, the factory had a ‘family’ atmosphere. This meant that the people working there were generally willing to be helpful and give each other and customers good service.
The company also developed a well-deserved reputation for attention to detail. For example, when 600 range tuners and receivers were sold, a small screwdriver was included in the box. This was to enable the user to adjust the six tuning pre-sets to the stations of their choice. Similarly, when packing amplifiers and receivers, a small adaptor lead (phonos to DIN) was included in the box to ensure the user could immediately connect their record playing equipment to the unit. As each unit was being packed into its box the wooden top was polished. This ensured that when the owner opened the box it would look and smell fresh and new!
The enquiries dept (run by Ron Sheppard for many years) also established a reputation for being outstandingly helpful. They were quite willing to engage in long discussions over the phone - giving advice even when it was not leading to an immediate sale. This approach came partly from feeling that this was the right way to treat people, partly from a belief that if you treated potential customers well they would be more likely to consider buying your products in the future.
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