History of 2a Gwydir Street

See History of Gwydir Street and Buildings in Gwydir Street.

This has always been a bit mysterious! For one thing, it's unnumbered. There is a discussion about this in 1a Gwydir Street.

photo of building

In 1979, this was Gwydir Street Post Office. I think it must have closed late 1984 or early 1985, as I collected my child benefit from here, but remember later having to go to the Post Office in Burleigh Street.

The first Dinky Door was outside here, but it was removed.

This was published in the Cambridge Independent in 2018.



You'd be surprised what nonsense takes up valuable room in my head. (Unless you're a regular reader, in which case you absolutely won't be.) Last week, for example, I became mildly fixated with a vacant retail unit that's been quietly crumbling away in Cambridge's fashionable Gwydir Street ever since I've moved to the city (13 years ago this week, if you want to send me a card).

When my wife and I first arrived in town, we lived just around the corner from the dilapidated shell of the shop formerly known as Roll On Blank Tapes, and every time I walked past it I would stop to consider the unlikely notion of a store that **only sold blank tapes**; a bit like Blockbusters or MHV, only without any actual films or music. ("Have you got Titanic?" "No." "Bat Out of Hell?" "No." "Well what have you got?" "Nothing. Hours and hours of it."?

I was a child of the VHS and audio cassette era (and yes, we were one of those families that, back in the 80s, kept our video tapes in faux leather 'book' covers, fooling unsuspecting visitors into thinking we might own an early folio of Martin Chuzlwit, when it was actually three episodes of Knight Rider). But even then I don't remember ever patronising a specialist emporium. I think we just got them from Woolworth's.

Anyway, it seems I'm not alone in contemplating the rise and fall of Roll On Blank Tapes. After I mentioned it on Twitter last week, a friend pointed me in the direction of an online forum dedicated to unspooling the secret history of the shop (which also sometimes traded as Top Tapes.)

Naturally, some claimed to have it on good authority that the shop had been a "front" for something more sinister - drugs, prostitution, money laundering, that sort of thing - before adding that the exact nature of the criminality "depended on who in the pub you were talking to". But others stressed that, far from being a sham facade, Roll On Blank Tapes was nothing less than a passion project for its owner, who was always keen to engage whatever customers he had in "a long conversation about recordable media". Another correspondent added that the shop was still open in the mid-90s when they used to cycle past it on their way to their flute lesson, which is peak Cambridge reportage.

Meanwhile, someone contacted me on twitter to tell me the shop also used to offer a service rewinding tapes, "as the first cassette recorders didn't have that function". This sounds highly unlikely, but it did make me wonder if that's where a young Craig David was first introduced to the question "Can I get a reeeewind?"

My favourite anecdote, though, was the forum user who wrote:"He tried branching out into magic tricks, which I thought was slightly dubious. Not a great combination." Oh I don't know - who doesn't love watching a man pull 12 feet of magnetic tape out of a hat?

Anyway, the mystery was finally solved when Ian, the actual founder and CEO of Roll On Blank Tapes, popped up himself to regale us with the full unexpurgated story. Apparently, the shop had opened on December 9, 1991, and had received its first customer just four days later, on Friday 13 at 4.30pm. He'd sold "blank media only" (what, not even pre-recorded tapes with a bit of sellotape over the hole?), and had finally shut up shop on May 4, 2002, unable to withstand the final hammar blow of an increase min council rates on top of a chronic lack of local parking.

While these may well have been contributing factors, the imminent extinction of tape-based recordable media (magic tricks notwithstanding) surely can't have helped. And so it is that, over 16 long years, Roll On Blank Tapes has stood alone and abandoned - a decaying tombstone to the analogue age, its makeshift sign slowly fading away just like that singing skeleton used to assure us Scotch Video Tapes never would,

But, hey, who knows - if someone as outmoded and silly as vinyl can make a comeback, what's to say impressable hipsters won't soon abandon Netflix and Spotify and the whole streaming shooting match for the retro charms of the E180 and the C90?

Roll on the Roll On Blank Tapes revival...

Main index - Buildings and houses in Gwydir Street.