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Steve Hare, the genial face of Tradition, fondly looks back at the history of the London shop since it closed its doors for the final time on December 31, 2012
As many of you will know by now Tradition of London's Shepherd Street shop closed at the end of December, after nearly 50 years in the Mayfair area of London. This is the end of an era for me but not the end of my interest in military figures and collecting Napoleonic Militaria and books .
Like most boys growing up in the 50's I played with toy soldiers and modelled with plasticine.
Back then I preferred the plastic 'unbreakables' with their variety of poses. Many were available at Woolworths unpainted for a few pennies each, and from these the obligatory Airfix kits followed.
From the age of 13 or 14 I started earning money from a paper round and with the money I was able to buy a sword every few weeks or so from an antique shop in Walthamstow, the owner of the shop Mr. Cooke recongised a enthusiast and lent me several books on military history which stirred even more interest.
Later when I had started working in the City, I visited Gamages store in Holborn and spied metal figures by Marcus Hinton of Hinton Hunt Figures. I traced him to a stall in Camden Passage, Islington which only opened on Saturdays, where I purchased my first proper metal figures. I became a friend of Marcus, an eccentric collector with a museum in his house at Taplow Bucks. He gave me work as a painter and later I did illustrations for his catalogue.
In the late sixties Marcus purchased a shop in the area and asked me to run it along with his mail order business and this is how my true involvement in the model soldier business began.
Roy Belmont-Maitland, the original founder and owner of Tradition, was a legendary collector of uniforms and militaria and he took over the shop which then became Military Heritage with Alec Griffiths, Alan Caton and myself as Directors. The shop sold militaria as well as figures and books. When the lease ran out we moved everything to Tradition in Shepherds Street, Mayfair where I was going to work on the militaria side of the business in one of the three shops. At this time there were not so many companies making military figures the big three being Tradition, Rose and HHF.
Tradition, known then as Norman Newton Ltd., started in the early 50's by Roy Belmont-Maitland with later Charles C. Stadden as the main sculptor and with the backing of Alan Lewis a friend and the company accountant. Roy Maitland had escaped from Nazi Germany prior to the war and soon after joined the British army seeing service in various capacities.
A shop in Bond Street followed by shops in Hertford Street and Dover Street were opened in the late 60's and all were eventually amalgamated into one large shop at 188 Piccadilly next to the famous bookshop Hatchard. This new larger shop had several floors one with militaria, one of figures, another with wargames figures and finally one which was used for publishing of the superbly informative Tradition magazine.
The magazine was special at the time as it gave many illustrators and authors a chance to get their work seen in a specialist magazine. Contributors included Brigadier Peter Young, Lt. Col. Nicolson, Bryan and Don Foston, Bob Marrion, Gerry Emberton, to name but a few. Tradition magazine was also the journal of The International Society of Military Collectors which had a monthly meeting in a Dover Street pub, which later transferred to the London Scottish Sergeants Mess. At these meetings fellow collectors discussed all areas of military uniform and history, there was normally a guest speaker, accompanied by a good amount of drinking!
At this time the mainstay of the figure production was the 54mm animated Charles Stadden figures. All figures were hand-made to customers' requirements so infinite variations could be achieved from single figures, vignettes and large dioramas. On the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, Tradition was asked to produce a scene from the battle. A large diorama was made of the action around Hougoumont which included the farmhouse and several thousand pieces. Later 90mm figures by Chas Stadden and 35/30mm ranges were added plus 54mm figures in kit form, and over the years new masters were also added to the range by other famous sculptors, among them Ron Cameron, David Scheinmann, Alan Caton, Jeff Willis & Charles's son Andrew C. Stadden.
1976 saw the business move back to the Shepherd's Market area with two shops in Shepherd Street the militaria shop in Whitehorse Street, at this time I mainly worked in the figure shop while Roy Maitland concentrated on the Militaria side. Former wartime SAS soldier Alec Griffiths was General Manager, Alan Caton sat and sculpted new masters in one shop and author David Johnson helped Roy at Whitehorse Street.
The manufacturing at this time was in the Angel Islington area with David Scheinmann as manager, Les Osborne as his assistant plus various casters.
The now famous 'Toy Style' range was added in the 80's sculpted and produced by David Scheinmann who had previously worked on the Tradition Magazine producing both artwork and editorial. These figures were initially made in a style to resemble old style toy soldiers in marching positions. Later, as tastes changed, the range developed to feature sets which were more action based and this series is now quite extensive with many new masters being produced by Andrew Stadden after David left Tradition a few years ago.
In 1988 Roy wished to retire, and having already sold the 25/30mm ranges to Lt. Col Anders Lindstrom of Tradition Scandinavia, he offered the company to him. Tradition became Tradition International Ltd with Anders and his brother Gunnar as Directors and I became general Manager on the retirement of Alec Griffith.
Bigger premises opposite at 2 Shepherd Street were moved into in 1988 and several overseas 'Traditions' were opened. Unfortunately due to increased costs in late 1992 Tradition International ceased trading. A new company Tradition of London Ltd. was formed in 1993 when a move back to 5a Shepherd Street was made. Alan Lewis, company accountant, then became Managing Director with David Scheinmann and me as fellow directors. The 'Governor' Roy Maitland sadly died in 1993 and the militaria business subsequently closed, this was a great loss to the hobby as Roy was a man who had given many a start in the business, and was an inspiration to many more.
All this time production continued at our factory near Royston, Hertfordshire and a small army of out-work painters, under the direction of David Scheinmann, painted the toy soldier range. The matt collector 54mm and 90mm ranges were still being painted from the shop in London.
Over the years Tradition supplied many museums and special editions for customers including Carlton Television (sets for the Sharpe TV series), National Army Museum, Portsmouth Naval Museum, Mary Rose, Blenheim Palace, Tower of London to name just a few.
In the 90s Tradition moved to 33 Curzon Street, five minutes walk from Shepherd Street, but then returned to the original 5a shop 10 years later. In the more recent years Tradition started to stock other manufacturers figures including CBG Mignot, King & Country and Britains plus Delta Bravo wooden aircraft as well as some books and artworks.
Gunnar Lindstrom, the previous Director took back the company in 2000 and in 2008 it was decided to close the factory and move all production to another manufacturing base (RP World Models in Nottingham) and as such David and the staff at the Royston site were made redundant.
Over the years, the business has expanded and contracted, we have had visits from collectors from all over the world, from Royalty, film stars, soldiers of every rank, Politicians and the man and woman in the street, all have shared a common interest and chat easily together in the shop.
Now unfortunately after many years in the Mayfair area rents have became prohibitive and the Swedish Directors have decided to close the retail shop and operate a mail order only service from Sweden. Tradition will continue to manufacture in the UK but myself and assistant of 21 years Steve Taylor will be leaving.
Over the past 40+ years in the business I have been fortunate enough to travel to shows around the world, meet fellow enthusiasts and collectors and make many friends along the way. Unfortunately I will not be able to contact everyone personally but I will continue my interest and involvement in the model soldier world and hope to meet up with people I know at shows etc. in the future. I would however like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all those I have worked with over the years Steve Taylor, Les Osborne (for over 35 years), Alec Griffiths, Alan Caton, David Evans, John O'Brien, Nicolas Courtney (Dr. Who's Brigadier), Peter Tilbury, Dot Tichband, Frau Heathfield and Saturday and show helpers, Alan Felix and Richard Phillips, and anyone else I have forgotten.
Over the years I have seen the average age of the collector rise and I feel it is a shame younger people are not coming into the hobby. People tell me I'm lucky to work at a job which is also my hobby and I have to agree, I will miss it!
Main photograph: Outside the Curzon Street shop (from left) Les Osborne, Steve Hare and Steve Taylor
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