Friday, 7 May 2010

Nostalgia part 2!

Well, the order from Perry has arrived and the next batch of British line are undercoated. To recap on the Brits so far I have 2 x 16 figure line battalions plus another 8 figures completed as well as the 4 x 95th rifles. The sergeant painted in the last post has also now been given a spontoon so just 7 figures are needed to complete battalion number 3. After that its another 4 of the 95th rifles then one more full British line battalion, all plastic. So I have just another 27 figures to paint which will give me 4 x 16 figure battalions plus 8 x 95th Rifles. I plan to add a metal command to the rifles later to make them up to 12 figures. After that its back to more French.


I was thinking back to when I used to be able to visit wargaming shops in the South London area where I lived. With everything so readily available online now days it seems odd to think that there were quite a number of wargaming businesses around back then! All are now gone which is a bit of a shame really I think. Thought I'd share my memories of a few with you.

John Tunstills ' Soldiers' was in Lambeth and I met him several times over a number of years. His shop was my first experience of seeing metal figures when on a school trip to the Imperial war museum the teacher took as across to the shop as he was also a wargamer and ran the after school wargaming club! I remember being astonished at what I saw there. He had a table in the centre of the shop and a game was in progress. In the display shelves were hundreds of painted figures, the full minifigs range on display. John himself was always polite and friendly even to a coach full of snotty school kids! This would have been around 1973 -ish!

A few years later I was introduced to a shop in Lewisham SE London that also carried the full range of Minifigs although I only went there a couple of times as I subsequently saw an ad in Military Modelling for the 'Rye Stamp and Hobby shop' in Peckam. By then I was working and driving so one saturday morning I set off to find the shop run by Bill Brewer. I recall getting lost but eventually managing to find a car park behind Peckham High Street, a bustling multi cultural place, very noisy and colourful. After much searching I came across the shop right at the top of the High Street... it was TINY. I hesitated before going in as I could see little sign of toy soldiers from the outside but knew it had to be the right place. Once inside it was very narrow but covered in display cases of some of the most beautifully painted figures I had seen. I'd say Bill was years ahead in his painting style and basing methods, they were staggeringly good. Over the years I made regular trips to Bill's shop and must have bought hundreds of figures there. My one issue was that he didnt stock Hinchliffe figures which I had come to like.

Another ad in military Modelling bought me to another tiny shop behind Charing Cross station in Villiers Street, London. I often would stop in there while waiting for my train home and always ended up spending some money. My biggest single purchase there was 45 ECW cavalry from Hinchliffe, a mountain of lead. (I later sold off my large early ECW collection to John Tunstill who offered me a very good price for them, far more than I had anticipated, although they later went up for resale in his shop at a staggering price).

A more local shop 'Eltham Models' began to stock the Hinchliffe range later and so I had a local source for my figures. Something about those neat blue boxes always got me excited and the castings seemed just incredible. I began to build my first 25mm Napoleonic collection.

Fast forward a few more years and yet another shop opened up in Dulwich, not too far from Bills shop in Peckham but a very different kind of area. This was 'Battle Honours' who sold, well the complete 15mm Battle Honours range as it was then. A lovely old Victorian double fronted shop with the windows full of painted units. That started my 15mm ACW collection. The shop sold only 15mm figures and lasted for a couple of years only sadly before closing down, I believe due to legal issues over the production of the figures which were cast and packed behind the shop.

Of course the explosion of the internet and online shopping later killed off the small high street hobby shop, and it was good to be able to choose from many manufacturers; but it was sad to see them go. John Tunstil of course moved into 54mm traditional toy soldiers and still sells them today from his home home in Italy. Today I'm told 'Hamleys' the huge toy shop in Oxford Street still has wargames figures on display in its store but I've not been there for many years.

With so many 'retro/vintage' dedicated blogs a round today I hope some followers will find the above of interest, I have to admit that it was something I always thought I would have liked to do as a means of making a living! if anyone can add to the list or visited any of the shops I mentioned please leave a comment and share your experience.

Back soon with more Brits! Meantime here's 'Bump' the cat refusing to budge from my painting chair!


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Excellent - I remember seeing John Tunstill's shop as well - probably at pretty much the same time you were visiting, and also after a visit to the IWM.... I went to the little shop in Camden passage maybe once??

John T. is still going strong by the way - he runs a hotel and model soldier museum in italy!

DC said...


Interesting stuff.

I guess you'll have seen the couple of Brewer articles on my blog? I remember someone once telling me that BB had raved about Essex 25s when they first appeared 'so much more character than Hinchliffe' (or words to that effect).... Philistine! 8-) Regardless, he was certainly an artist.

BTW, that cat of yours looks smug in the knowledge that his owner (do cats have owners, maybe sponsor would be more appropriate?) doesn't do 20mm WW2 - cat whiskers make excellent radio aerials....


Lee said...


I recently visited John's soldier site and its great, I always liked those 54mm traditional soldiers. He runs another good site (name of which escapes me now!)featuring stills from old film locations with photos showing the same spot as it is today.

DC, yes I enjoyed seeing those scans of Bill Brewer again on your site. He really was a great artist. Every time I went into his shop he would be sat behind the counter painting, you almost felt like you were disturbing him! I bought a lot of Essex stuff there too. He also stocked early Dixon ranges but he wasn't too impressed with them, and once showed me some of them saying "they've all got big heads!"

The shop was so small that if there was more than 2 or 3 customers in there it was jammed, but so much was on display, floor to ceiling cabinets both sides.

I should have also mentioned my trips to 'Essex Miniatures' shop in Canvey Island, Essex. First time I went there I missed the entrance to the shop and found myself wandering the production area! They were very friendly and it was interesting to see it all happening. The little retail outlet was lovely (still is) and you could browse every figure in the range on display. Its a shame that Essex never updated their ranges as they do look somewhat dated now, do you think? But saying that I never once had a bad casting from Essex.

On the subject of poor castings my worst experience was after the 'Connoisseur' range was run by Peter Gilders son and quality control of that formerly magnificent range nosedived. I had casting after casting with withered legs or arms or missing bayonets so I stopped buying them. That was a real shame.

Stryker said...

Hi Lee - Surely the shop in Camden Passage was the Hinton Hunt one? I did visit it once but was disapointed with the limited 20mm stuff on offer. I can't beleve there were two shops there! Can you remember?


Lee said...

Doh! You are of course right Ian, I don't know where that came from, put it down to age :-) I'll correct the post as the shop was infact in Villiers Street,('Google Earthed' it) just behind Charing Cross Station! I must have had Camden Passage on my mind. The shop was tiny but stocked the full Hinchliffe range. I apologise for my error.

Thanks Ian.