PYE of Cambridge at the Cambridge Museum of Technology

Once one of the biggest employers in Cambridge with a huge factory off Coldham’s Lane/York Street by Newmarket Road, the brand name and the memory of this firm has somewhat faded from memory. Hence why the exhibition at the Cambridge Museum of Technology is ever so important.

PYE of Cambridge were once one of the most well-known manufacturers of electronic consumer goods in the UK. Their more detailed story displayed at the Cambridge Museum of Technology is told in the pages of The PYE Museum online. The permanent display at the Museum was launched in June 2019. In the mid-20thC they dominated the market for radios and wireless sets – one of which is pictured below with Puffles the Dragon Fairy.

Above – an old PYE Wireless unit which I recently donated to the Cambridge Museum of Technology.

This model will be used by the Museum for their education programmes – where participants will be able to prise open the unit and see what is inside. (They have another model which is on display inside one of the cabinets, but with this one I’ve encouraged them to let people get their hands on it – subject to CV19 precautions!)

“How big was the PYE site?”

Huge. And there was more than one of them. This photo below from the PYE Unicam Story via Paul Lucas here, shows “New Street” running down the bottom of the photograph, with the straight line of the railway line running horizontally just above the wing at the top.

Above – the PYE Unicam York Street site. You can see the Howard Mallet Centre and St Matthew’s Piece to the bottom-right of the photograph. Consider how many people would have been employed on that huge factory site, and the social networks that formed as a result. Consider too the impact of the closure of that site on the city and the local economy.

The same site via GMaps here.

Above – the same site today – the factory has been replaced by a housing estate. Furthermore, the industrial units at the bottom of the photo have also been replaced by housing. Sign of the times?

PYE in Chesterton.

They also had a large factory north of the river in Chesterton old town.

From Britain from Above.

The factory above was replaced by a short-lived building completed in the 1980s. Today it’s known as St Andrew’s House, with offices leased to various companies. The Chesterton Community Archive has more photographs.

Cambridge and District Co-operative Society moves in next door.

One other organisation that lost its way on this site was the once mighty Cambridge and District Co-operative Society that moved onto the Beehive Centre site and effectively bankrupted itself in the process. Perhaps when we look at the original decisions in the 1960s it made sense to open a supermarket by the factory of one of the most well-known electronics firms in the world. PYE supplied broadcast manufacturing equipment to broadcasting firms all over the world – TV cameras, studios and production equipment. With so many employees and family wage earners in the neighbourhood and in one place, you can see why there was a big incentive to sell off their magnificent premises on Burleigh Street to be close to what should have been a booming industrial heart.

The old Co-op Cambridge HQ, Replaced by a temporary John Lewis store, then Primark

Above – I think this was from one of Mike Petty’s or Fonz Chamberlain’s FB pages, showing Burleigh Street prior to its pedestrianisation. The area had been suffering from planning blight for decades as interested parties squabbled over what to do with the area having been identified by Holford & Wright as an area for retail expansion in 1950.

“Why did PYE fail?”

The personal experiences of Stan Harrison and David Jamson is told in the PYE Unicam Story – scroll about halfway down. It’s a case study that deserves much more attention, in particular from some of Cambridge University’s institutions that do research on and for businesses. What are the lessons learnt from PYE’s demise? There’s also scope for social history research – in particular while so many of the former staff of PYE are still alive and local in and around Cambridge. How does the workplace differ from those of today? What social institutions built up around the firm and how did this affect the life, lives and culture of the city as it expanded in the 20th Century? (e.g. The former PYE Rowing Club is now the Chesterton Rowing Club).

They made the record players sooo… they formed a record label.

How did PYE Records influence the history of UK pop music?

Mungo Jerry with “In The Summertime” by PYE Records

Via Discogs, details of In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry. For those of you interested in the local music scene in Cambridge during the 1960s, including the lost concert halls, have a look at Warren Dosanjh’s book titled The Music Scene in 1960s Cambridge. (Hard copies are on sale at Miller’s Music in Cambridge).


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