Dope

Shop Window Display from Hobbies, 28 Stratford Road

One of the great boyhood pleasures from the 1950s was building model aeroplanes from balsa wood, thin plywood and tissue paper. Usually this was an activity for a cold and wet winter’s day. Inevitably this meant taking over the kitchen table.

Lake Brothers, at 28 Stratford Road, as Wolverton’s retailer of such kits, was therefore a favourite destination during my early teens when I was interested in such things.  Lakes covered quite a range. It was an ironmongery and you could buy paint, wallpaper, tools and wood. They also sold shotguns and I think the rather fine glass cabinet in the window was used to keep shotgun cartridges under lock and key. It was probably because they sold guns that the entrance had a wrought iron locking gate. Of more interest to me as a boy was the range of models kits.

Keil Kraft (and you can see a box in the picture) were the premier company for this kind of model building. The kits were designed by stamping out sheets of balsa wood with the necessary struts. These could be easily cut using a Swann-Morton or Xacto knife. If plywood reinforcing sections were required in the model they were pre-cut shapes. The balsa struts were glued together with Balsa cement – a transparent glue made from plastic dissolved in acetone. It’s probably not on the market today in this form.

Once the frame had been assembled, it was covered with tissue paper, held in place with wallpaper paste, I think.  What followed was the dramatic part. A cellulose product, which came in small jars, was painted onto the tissue paper, which immediately became transparent. It dried quickly leaving a reasonably tough skin on the fragile tissue paper. It was known as “dope”

I am set to wondering today if these products are still available to children. You know, Health and Safety and all that. They were certainly highly aromatic and I think there were instructions about using in a well-ventilated area, but nobody back then bothered too much about potential health risks. These things we took in our stride, and I am, after all, still alive to tell the tale.

In some respects the times were more innocent. A friend and I decided one day to try our hands at making gunpowder, so we went off to Dales the Chemist and bought a few ounces of salt petre, flowers of sulphur and scraped some soot out of the chimney for the carbon component. Then we set about making gunpowder in the garden shed at my friend’s house. I have to tell you that we were unsuccessful. We got the salt petre to burn, but we never got the ingredients in quite the right proportions to produce a satisfactory explosion. Probably just as well.

Well, we were kids and we were curious, but what amazes me, looking back, is that we were able to get the chemicals we needed from our local chemist with no questions asked!

I’m pleased to see that Lake Brothers shop has survived in some form and the present owners are to be commended for respecting tradition with their window display. After the Lake Brothers retired, their long term employee, Vic Old, took over the shop and ran it until his own retirement.

Keil Kraft closed as a factory around 1980. I don’t know why, but perhaps they did not change with the times. In the late 1950s Airfix made their appearance in the market place with cast plastic model kits that could satisfy the model building urge and provide more detail and possibly more authenticity. The Keil Kraft models reflected the first half of the 20th century. Some of the Keil Kraft aeroplanes were powered with a twisted rubber band which would allow the plane to fly from a hand launch for a few yards. Inevitably they crashed and needed repair and maintenance. More satisfactory, were the little 1 cc petrol engines that powered the craft.. These were controlled with two wires held by hand which allowed the model plane to fly around in a circle, while the controller could move the ailerons and make it soar and swoop. I think radio controlled model planes were beyond most people in those days.

Lake Brothers


The shop frontage at Number 28 has gardly changed in 50 years. In the fifties it was run by two brothers, one who lived in Hanslope and another Newport Pagnell way. They were physically dissimilar, I thought, but they were both assiduous in providing excellent customer service. If you wanted a piece of wood exactly 1ft. 11 3/4 inches, Mr Lake would disappear to the back yard, saw the wood to dimension and bring it back . If you only needed 29 1″ screws these were counted out and supplied in a white paper bag. No blister packs in those days.

Vic Old was also working there as a young man. I assume he started there straight from school and when the Lake Brothers retired he bought the business and continued, I assume, to his own retirement. He had a very good manner with customers.
Obviously the present owners inherited a lot of old stock and for nostalgia seekers like myself have kindly placed them in one of their display windows. It does remind me of many a happy hour spent as a boy building a Keil Kraft model plane out of balsa wood and tissue. You could also buy cellulose dope to tighten and waterproof the tissue skin. It was highly aromatic and I suspect that health and safety regulations would prevent its sale today.
The cabinet in the window used to contain shotgun cartridges and airgun pellets. This was another side of Lake’s business. The guns were displayed in the west side window. This probably explains why the shop had a wrought iron locking gate.