Posted in History, Motoring History, Museum, Rural Heritage, Vintage, World War Two

Britain’s Rural Heritage – The First Village Garages

Village Garage exhibit, 1930s. Breamore Countryside Museum.

The motorcar were first introduced to Great Britain in 1895.  Wealthy individuals and sporting enthusiasts were among the first to own them.  Motorists needed to be proficient at undertaking their own repairs in this pre-garage era.

A wonderful example of a hand cranked petrol pump. This is an American made pump brought in 1916 by C. Ford & Co Ltd of Lymington, Hampshire. Originally it was used to fill Ford's own lorries right-up until it was removed in the late 1970's. Exhibit displayed at St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.

Planning your journey carefully was essential. Fuel was not readily available but could be purchased at a number of ironmonger’s or chemist shops.  A majority of motorists would carry spare fuel on long journeys, just in case they found themselves stranded without a pump in sight.

The Museum's description of how the pump works reads: 'The crank handle was turned raising a piston in a cylinder which drew petrol up from an underground storage tank. The crank had to be reversed to move the piston back down for the process to be repeated.' St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.
AA Roadside Assistance vehicle, 1950s. Sammy Miller Museum, New Milton, Hampshire

When the first Automobile Association Handbook was published in 1908 there were 664 affiliated Agents listed in Britain whom motorists could call upon in their hour of need.  In 1902, the Imperial Motor Works in Lyndhurst, New Forest opened and is thought to be one of the first garages in Britain.  In these early days, garage owners had to be skilled at a wide range of repairs, from rolling springs, stitching upholstery, replacing stretched belts to stripping down cars and filling headlamps with carbide.  At a time when roads were unsealed and horses still outnumbered the motorcar, one of the perils for the unsuspecting motorist were horseshoe nails that would puncture the car’s canvas and rubber tyres. The early village garages did a brisk trade.

1096cc Aero Model, Morgan, 1929. On display at the Sammy Miller Museum, Hampshire

In the 1920’s the number of garages and petrol stations began to increase.  Many of these establishments were associated with cycle repair shops. Motorcars were slowly replacing horses as the preferred method of transport and the canny blacksmith also saw a business opportunity and subsequently started stocking fuel at their forges, as well as providing a full car repair service.

In 1927 the Roadside Petrol Pumps Act came into force which meant that local authorities were now allowed to license fuel pumps.  Hand-cranked pumps were the first to appear and it wasn’t until 1930 that electric ones emerged.  Before the Second World War just under 100,000 petrol pumps existed in Britain.  The Second World War had a significant impact on the village garage. Petrol became scarce and was subject to strict rationing, therefore fewer and fewer civilian motorists were able to take to the road. Sadly, a large number of mechanics that had joined the armed forces did not return.

In post-war, austerity Britain the motorcar was a luxury that very few could afford and the village garage became a rare sight in the countryside. The British motor industry was slow to make an economic recovery, fuel tax doubled in 1950 and petrol remained rationed until 1953, only to be rationed once again during the Suez crisis of 1956.  However, as material wealth improved for a majority of the population toward the end of the 1950’s, so too did car consumption.  The village garage gradually made a comeback.

  • You can see a splendid collection of historic petrol pumps and vintage motorcycle memorabilia at the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum and Farm Trust located in New Milton, Hampshire.  For further information CLICK HERE
  • The rare American hand cranked petrol pump from 1916 is displayed at the lovely St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire. For further information CLICK HERE.
  • There is also a charming Village Garage exhibit at Breamore House Countryside Museum, Fordingbride, Hampshire.  For further information CLICK HERE
  • National Motor Museum in picturesque Beaulieu, in the heart of the New Forest National Park, has an extraordinary collection of vintage motorcars and memorabilia.  For further information CLICK HERE.
    Village garage exhibit at Breamore Countryside Museum, Hampshire.

    Village garage exhibit at Breamore Countryside Museum, Hampshire.


Social historian, based in the UK.

One thought on “Britain’s Rural Heritage – The First Village Garages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s