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Tom Wrigglesworth - why I’m mourning the closure of Bardwell’s in Sheffield

PUBLISHED: 15:43 15 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:44 15 September 2017

Tom Wrigglesworth

Tom Wrigglesworth


Good day dear readers! I hope so far the summer has been abundant/not too bad/has actually started (delete as appropriate) in your part of the world. This month I bring two pieces of news, one good and one bad, so I’ll deal with both in turn.

Bardwells on Abbeydale Road (pic: Google Maps) Bardwells on Abbeydale Road (pic: Google Maps)

There’s a small shop in Sheffield, kind of just outside the city centre called N.R Bardwell’s. I was first alerted to its presence about 30 years ago, when I was 10-years-old and trying fix the power lead of a Z X Spectrum. On reflection, a machine that boasted 16KB of memory and a 3.5MHz processor probably only needed to be connected to a three legged hamster’s wheel to give it enough juice but either way, Chuckie Egg, Jet Pack and Manic Minor games were totally off the menu until I’d got the power lead fixed.

N.R. Bardwell’s takes up a single retail unit on a main road leading into town. You have to know where it is in order to find it, I can’t imagine them doing a roaring passing trade as it’s one of those dimly lit places that look perpetually closed. Even for my first hundred visits I felt like I was trespassing after perhaps stumbling through the wrong door.

To put it into context, first think of any Maplin shop. They’re all the same, with prepubescent staff surrounded by the whirring-beeping-internet-ready tat they sell. This is very much the mild cheddar of the electronics shop. Dull, soulless, but worryingly popular. Now imagine the strongest, ripest, most lip curling stilton. This is Bardwell’s. Not for the faint hearted, not for the uninitiated, and certainly not for anyone who didn’t smell faintly of bakelite.

The counter was covered with small plastic containers, all full of transistors, inductors and capacitors, like a robot’s version of a Subway sandwich shop. Cardboard boxes peppered with dayglo stars lined the floor, usually containing the innards of old stereos, televisions and arguably their most bizarre product, the ‘bag of ass’. This was generally a mixture of all of the above and it’s fair to say that buying these bags of random components took up the lion’s share of my teenage years. We used to separate out certain bits and recklessly connect them to the 240v mains power. This would cause a small but controlled explosion much to our delight, and obviously blow the fuse. Not a problem, you could buy fuses by the tonne in Bardwell’s.

In short, Bardwells was a shop so niche it made acoustic jazz grimecore look as mainstream as anything sung by Michael Ball. I was saddened to hear recently that the inescapable pincer movement of online retailing and the ‘throw-it-away-and-buy-another-one’ attitude we have to consumer electronics has lead to the death of N.R. Bardwell’s. After 70 years of loyal service to the radio hams, computer builders and teenage geeks like me, may it rest in peace.

In other news, we’re expecting twins to be born in the next few weeks. Just in case anyone assumes I’m the kind of guy who hates children and celebrates the demise of traditional family businesses, let me stress that the twins are the good news and the above shop closure is the bad news.

I’m now following the well worn path travelled by so many first time expectant fathers, with my mood swinging from sheer elation and excitement at the prospect of nurturing new life into this world, to utter despair at the futility of doing anything, seeing as we seem to be hurtling towards a Kim Jong Vs Donald apocalypse. Generally I try and steer course midway between these two extremes by pouring over reviews for twin buggies and baulking at the price of cots. I’ve also been given a pile of books to read but they’re currently being used to prop up the kitchen worktop while I cut a hole for the sink. After all, knowledge is pointless without the ability to make tea right?

I have learnt a few things though, such as the number of twins being born is on the increase. Due in part to IVF which often yield multiple births as more than one fertilised embryo is popped in for gestation. Also, women are having children later on in life which increases the chances of two eggs being released. I suppose this is equivalent to a stock clearance sale, or buy one get one free offer. Either way, they’re imminent, the kitchen is nearly ready and everywhere feels like the calm before the storm.

However, I am left with one niggling feeling that I’m sure will get kicked firmly into the long grass as soon as the pandemonium starts, but until then, I can’t help fear that in about ten years time when one of them needs a new coil for their flux capacitor, or the starter motor has gone in their teleportation booth, the demise of N.R. Bardwell’s means I will have no idea where to buy the parts.

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