This article was contributed by John Holman in 2012. 




Name: John Holman

Based: Renown Typewriter Service Ltd, City, London EC3
Years of Service: 1975-1994 (and father before me 1948 to 1994)

 Customers: Credit Lyonnais, Stewart Wrightson, W. K. Webster & Co, Holman Fenwick & Willan, Clyde & Co, Tea Planters & Importers, Shipton Insurance Services, Turtquand Barton Mayhew, Ernst & Whinny, R. E. Trust, W. Straker (Office Suppliers, Fenchurch Street), BFI Lines, Billiton UK Ltd (E.G.M. Solders Ltd), Wright & Co, Christies Auctioneers, K.G.M. Motor Policies at Lloyds, C.J Coleman Insurances, Spinneys UK,  and many more.


Renown Typewriters Service Ltd was one of the biggest typewriter firms in the city of London. We were known by everyone at the time as one of the best in the business. My father was also a mechanic before me in the same company and before that worked with Bennett Typewriters in New Cross (Lewisham Way opposite Goldsmith College). We worked under the governors of the Eaton’s who established the firm originally known as “City Royal Typewriters” just after the First World War. I have been told of many stories when the typewriter shop was bombed at the bottom of Lloyds Avenue EC3 and soon after they had a massive clearance sale of all the old destroyed stock. It was mayhem as people were struggling carrying machines and parts on their shoulders up from the bombed basements. I was told it was a mad rush for this equipment after the war to start getting the City of London business’s on the move again. The company salvaged what was left and opened a new shop for many years in Jewry Street and Crutched Friars, before moving to it’s prime position just of the Jack The Ripper square at No.3 Mitre Street (see image attached). At one stage the typewriter firm had a least 12 engineers working out in the field repairing all kinds of office equipment. The typewriter company moved again around 1985 to Coopers Row and then for a few years to Snowfields until it’s closer in 1994. Renown also had an establishment in Welling High Street, Welling, Kent. Run by head workshop mechanic Frank Winder for many years through the 1960’s to the late 1980’s. This shop had large workshops and was convenient for the owners (The Eaton’s) who lived in Bexleyheath and could stop off mornings and evenings dropping off and collecting equipment and refurbished machines to transfer to the City. By 1994 Renown Typewriter Services closed it’s doors. The days of the typewriter as we know it were over. What was left of the business was taken over by Westminster Typewriters and also Evans Business Machines (now known as Central Business Machines).



I done most of my theoretical and practical service training on various types of manual, electric and electronic T/A Typewriters at various buildings that were owned by OEM (Office & Electronic Machines Group) 140 Borough High Street, London.  I passed with distinction on Adler Triumph models ranging from Electric 21D/131D, Golf Ball SE100 & CD, Electronic Daisy Wheels SE 1005/1010/1011/1020. I studied many other makes of machines including IBM, Olympia, Olivetti, Grundig, Smith Corona, Sharp, Phillips, Cannon. Working with Dictating Machines, Calculators, and Photo Copiers. Printers. I later joined the Danwood Group in 1999 where I became a Photocopier Demonstrator and Installer.



I use to start at the shop at 8.30am that was based in Mitre Street, City of London EC3. I would double check with the service boys on their workload. Making sure they had enough old rags and mentholated spirits to keep them going for the day. The boys would usually go out in teams of 2 - 4 to various company typing pools in the City of London. Their main jobs were to clean the Typewriters and report back with faults so the head mechanic could quickly sort out the problems. Around 9pm I would gather up my repair calls that had been taken in the previous afternoon on the telephone by Ted one of our company secretaries. I would work out my dissent route around the City and the West End. My morning work log was usually around 5 to 10 calls to some of the above-mentioned companies. I tried to spend not more than 15 minutes per job, that way hoping the company van was still outside the building when I returned. On some occasions the city police would compound the company van and we had to arrange to collect it after paying a nasty fee. I would usually get spotted in the offices by a typist in need of a repair and before I knew it my name “Typewriter Mechanic” was all over the speaker systems, and of course I was then being head hunted by others who required assistance. Some of our bigger companies like Stewart Wrightson Insurance (contact Sally Turner), Holman Fenwick & Willian (contact Lydia Pinner & Ray Pacthing), had over 200 typewriters on the books to be serviced every 3 months. What a challenge it was for the service boys! After the morning calls I would report back to the main office for a bite to eat before I started on the repair calls that had come in that morning.



It was a very cold and wet windy day when four of us (John, Dave, Bill & Tony) loaded with heavy long type oblong coffin cases packed with lethal smelling metho spirits, that could be easily detected for miles. The four of us battled amongst the populated crowds along Fenchurch before descending upon the French Bank (Credit Lyonnais) on the corner of Lombard Street. The building was grand, with old wooden swing doors, counters and offices and mega big vaults in the basement next to all the spare typewriters! An old well dress and spoken French bank manager overlooked us from a mezzanine floor. The typewriters were located all over the building and were well used and filled to the top with rubber dust! We had to carry most machines out to the post room where we had room to make lots of mess! Upon one of the trips to this room one of our older boys Bill suffered a heart attack and died on the spot. An ambulance was called and they tried to retrieve him, with no success. Poor Bill passed away the winter of 1977.



Being located in Mitre Street a prime position in the heart of the City of London was one of Renown’s advantages over many of their competitors. Right on the doorstep for quick sales and services. We were often visited by many of the major office equipment reps. Including Denis (the menace) from Grundig and Columbia paper works to every make of typewriter maker in the world. We had large basements that’s stocked boxes and boxes of typewriters, calculators, dictating machines and classic old adding machines. Tons of paper, carbon paper, paper rolls and hundreds of boxes various typewriter ribbons. The old shop building block (below Sir John Cass primary school) contained another 2 basements that went way way down in the building. It seemed like a bottomless pit and I never ventured beyond the 2nd basement, as it had no electric light and very deep long old ladders. All our mechanics and service boys were equipped with tools and equipment supplied by Longs in Bow Lane EC4. At longs you could pick up all various tools and parts for many typewriters. If you wanted a rubber power roller on an electric typewriter resurfaced, just see little tubby Don Perry at Longs and it would be exchanged over the counter. Don was like at father figure for many up and coming engineers and service boys. He also work alongside my father Harry Holman for many years at Renown Typewriters. The main Triumph/Adler (OEM) building for equipment stock, repairs and training was located in Webber Street, London SE1. Also there was a very helpful over the counter parts, or should I say under the counter parts department that was run by Kenny boy. 



Around the City of London in the mid 70’s there were loads of office equipment firms employing many mechanics and services boys of all types of office equipment. You would find just after 9pm in many small cafes in the city these early morning workers taking down a full English breakfast before taking on there their busy work loads. Café’s in Union Street just around the corner to OEM building in Webber Street. The small cafes outside Fenchurch Street Station EC3 and in Bow Lane EC4 and also a popular one in Bury Street EC3. Tips and tricks were often traded across the table of repairing office equipment.

 John Holman


Date : 22nd August 2012

Creator : John Holman

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH22727. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Memories - Recollections of a Typewriter Mechanic

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