A VERITABLE time capsule, these pictures give us a glimpse of a man who was once an institution in Hexham.

Wardhaugh’s in the Market Place still speaks his name, but the shop front is all that is left of the age in which he lived.

And it wasn’t that long ago really. that John George Wardhaugh, known to his friends as Jack, died in 1994, at the age of 82.

A renowned radio ham, until a fortnight before his death he was still transmitting morse code messages around the globe on his call handle, G4LA.

But it was his television and radio shop for which he was most widely known.

He and his wife Martha had no children and so Gilbert Rourke, who was just 15 when he started working in the shop, took over from Mr Wardhaugh when he retired in 1979.

It was Gilbert’s wife, Phyllis, keen on local and family history, who saved these old photographs for posterity.

“After he retired, Jack continued to come into the shop one or two afternoons a week just to keep his hand in,” said Phyllis. “He knew all the customers, of course, so he’d pop in to chat to them.”

Mr Wardhaugh first set up in Hexham with a workshop at his house, Hallgate Cottage, which he rented from the Robb family.

He supplied accumulator batteries to country folk who weren’t connected to the electricity grid. The batteries had to be recharged, so he was a common sight in the local highways and byways as he criss-crossed the district, dishing out fresh batteries and taking the old ones back to his workshop for recharging.

He and Martha, keen members of a Hexham cycling group, were often to be seen out and about on their bikes too.

They also loved nothing more than to go for a run out on a Sunday in their motor car, often driving up to the Scottish borders with a picnic.

“They would take a kettle with them and put it on the engine to boil up the water for their tea,” laughed Phyllis.

In the early 1950s, he opened his shop in the Market Place. It looked the height of modernity, with its rows of radios and televisions and the latest technology they represented.

“He was one of the first people in Hexham to have a television,” said Phyllis. “So for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, he had it set up in his workshop for family, friends and neighbours to watch.”

Many an evening, Mr Wardhaugh could be found hunched over his radio, conversing with contacts all over the English-speaking world.

His expertise took him into the RAF during the Second World War as a radio engineer/radar operator, when he was mainly based at RAF Haverfordwest in Wales. Martha and her sister kept the accumulator battery business going in his absence.

He became good friends with a fellow RAF operative, a Canadian who shared his passion for radio communication, and they kept in touch forever afterwards by that means.

At some point, Phyllis isn’t sure when, the Robb family decided to demolish Hallgate Cottage to make way for the customer car park behind their department store (now owned by Beales) that is still well-used today.

Mr Wardhaugh took several Polaroid pictures of the cottage and surrounds. One of them, of his cobbled backyard, is dated ‘May 1971’. Were they taken when he knew the house was going to be pulled down? Perhaps.

Anyway, it appears the Robb family bought the house next door, number 19 Hallgate, christened Apsley House, and turned it into two flats.

Mr and Mrs Wardhaugh moved into the downstairs flat and lived there for the rest of their lives.

Martha (nee Breckons) died in the old Hexham War Memorial Hospital in 1987, at the age of 85. They had been married for 52 years.

The Rourkes looked after Mr Wardhaugh in his old age and the shopping Gilbert did for him is another lovely taste of times gone by.

Phyllis said: “Gilbert had to go to a certain shop for his scones and a certain shop for his pasty– they were different bakers. You did all your food shopping round the individual shops then.”