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Meet the Islington couple who restore vintage 1950s jukeboxes in their Colebrooke Row townhouse

PUBLISHED: 12:00 10 December 2016

A Rock-Ola model 1448 from 1955 at Jukebox London in Colebrook Row, Islington. Picture: Polly Hancock

A Rock-Ola model 1448 from 1955 at Jukebox London in Colebrook Row, Islington. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Behind the front door of an Islington townhouse, the sounds of a different age ring out. The Gazette hears how Jukebox London is bringing the past to life.

An AMI Continental 2 from 1962 is among the wares on show in the Webbs' house. Picture: Polly Hancock An AMI Continental 2 from 1962 is among the wares on show in the Webbs' house. Picture: Polly Hancock

David and Margaret Webb are noisy neighbours.

They have been for the last 20 years.

Inside their Colebrooke Row townhouse, noise and light whirl; a bygone era is being brought back to life.

The Webbs are used to the racket. When they first moved in there were four families living in the building. “There wasn’t even a roof,” says Margaret, 60. Now there is, and under its protection sits a collection of vintage music boxes restored to former glories.

This is the home of Jukebox London.

"People always have their favourites. It’s like a pet shop – there’s one you’ll be really drawn to and want to take home. You buy the one you bond with"

Margaret Webb

It all began two decades ago.

David, 70, an antiques dealer, had a regular client make an irregular request: find me a jukebox.

He’d always specialised in sourcing silverware. Margaret’s career in graphic design meant she wasn’t able to offer any expertise, either.

More than two years later, after an “obsessive” search, David found the right one. He’s been hooked ever since.

Step inside today and you’ll find pristine machines ranging from £8,000 up to £20,000.

A Wurlitzer model 2000 from 1956 in the showroom. Picture: Polly Hancock A Wurlitzer model 2000 from 1956 in the showroom. Picture: Polly Hancock

With Wurlitzers, Rock-Olas and Continentals, the stock sounds more Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than Chaz and Dave.

As Margaret points out, it’s all about fun. Jukeboxes come and go but the joy remains.

“This is a showroom, not a shop,” she says. “There’s a big difference. We don’t sell things – people buy them from us.”

Customers are expected to play the right tune. “If we don’t like you, we won’t sell to you,” she adds. For instance, Margaret tells the Gazette, one potential buyer wanted a jukebox for his bathroom. The Webbs were worried about the machine rusting

and sent him away.

In numbers

2

Some machines take Jukebox London up to two years to restore

10

About 10 machines are sold by Jukebox London each year

1899

Year San Francisco’s first ‘phonograph parlour’ opens – forerunner of the jukebox...

1930

...but the term ‘jukebox’ only came into use during the 1930s

750k

At the height of their popularity in the mid-1950s, about 750,000 jukeboxes were in use throughout the USA

This isn’t simply a business; it’s a hobby and a labour of love.

“People always have their favourites,” says Margaret. “It’s like a pet shop – there’s one you’ll be really drawn to and want to take home. You buy the one you bond with.”

Buyers come from countries ranging from Australia to America – and there’s been more than one celebrity visitor. Business is slow but steady: about 10 machines are sold each year.

Each purchase departs with a specialist engineer in tow – the jukeboxes take a little warming up to new surroundings.

Much like the Webbs, once settled they tend to stay. “Islington is home,” says Margaret. “I don’t think we will ever leave.”

The neighbours aren’t complaining. “In fact,” she laughs, “they often ask for requests.”

There’s something intimately social, neighbourly even, about a jukebox. “Now everyone has their own tunes. You put on a pair of headphones and you’re shut off from the world outside. These machines were about a more shared experience of music,” she adds.

Like the beautiful jukeboxes that adorn their home, the Webbs are marching to the beat of their own drum.

Somewhere in the showroom a machine begins to crank and turn. It misses a record but finds the next: San Francisco by Scott McKenzie.

For Margaret, there’s something beautiful in that unpredictability. “They play what they want to play,” she says. “We just have to enjoy it.”

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