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Changing Times | Range of town’s garages was sign of the times

As you travel around the area, can you remember all those large and small garages that were readily available for petrol, car sales and garaging of cars? Today, to buy petrol we have to find mostly large out of town outlets.


There was a time when petrol was served at all garages which were situated frequently throughout any village, town or city.


In the past few weeks, I have been driving around the countryside and was amazed at the number of roadside garages that are closed, been demolished or now the site is covered by a block of flats.


Gone are the pumps, with someone coming out to serve you with your petrol. Gone are the pumps selling petrol only by the gallon. Today, we can buy petrol at the pumps, by the litre or tank full, with cash, credit card, account or swipe card.


I recently came across an advertisement in a 1928 trade directory for Evershed and Company situated in High Street. I do like the early adverts. This one explains that their services included an ‘extensive garage with lock-up boxes’ and they also ‘charged accumulators’. A world away from today’s garages and facilities.


Also in the High Street, there are numerous pictures of the William Hardwicke when it was named The Sussex, showing the Sussex Motor Garage and Works, joining the two buildings. In the 1916 town directory it advertised that they were the ‘largest garage in the town’ and they also had premises in Sudley Road.


Another early advertisement, unfortunately undated, is for Hillsboro Engineering Co. Ltd, on the corner of Hillsboro Road and Chichester Road. Here, they could supply any make of car, for ‘cash or deferred terms’. One interesting fact was that in this advert their telephone number was written as –‘nine double nine’ – yes that’s right 999!


Who can remember Mearman’s who were situated at 43 West Street and also Scott Street, according to the 1953 Kelly’s directory?


I recently came across some sales particulars for the ‘Bognor Station Garage.’ The auction was held on Monday, September 4, 1961, and consisted of a number of sites. Site A was for 16–28 London Road, which had planning permission for a petrol filling station with showrooms. Interestingly, it was advertised as ‘not tied to any petrol company’. A sign of the times I think.


Site B was in Clifton Road which it was claimed would make excellent workshop accommodation. Site C was No 1 Longford Road and, according to the sales particulars, was ‘situated immediately opposite the northern entrance to Bognor Regis Railway Station’ and ‘almost contiguous to the main shopping area of Station Road’.


In London Road, there was another garage which can be seen in many of the postcards and photographs depicting the area around the 1915 period – situated to the south of St John’s Church on the same side.


Can you remember the Empire Garage, which was situated facing the Southdown Hotel at Felpham? In 1984, they celebrated their 21st anniversary when the owner announced ‘that they had seen the rise of Beetlemania’ – no, not the group but the car.


Their contract with VW in 1963 was to sell 30 cars a year. They used to have a demonstration car and one in stock at that time but in the early days they also sold petrol. It is today the site of the Tesco superstore.


When plans for the new Queensway development were reported in the press in 1959 it was reported that alongside the flats, shops and offices there would ‘be a petrol filling station’. While the premises remain, they sold principally second-hand cars for a number of years. And this is now the site of a car wash.


The advertising of petrol stations and garages has changed. In the early street directories they could be counted on to have advertisements extolling their services. As the years pass, these advertisements declined and for many years it is quite difficult to find any visual evidence of many of these premises in guidebooks and directories.


Today, they advertise in the local press, and on Facebook, because this is a more immediate medium for obtaining customers. Mind you, the price of petrol has also changed dramatically over the years – I can remember buying four gallons of petrol for a £1 – yes, a long time ago.


Many garages now have developed into small supermarkets, have coffee facilities and hot food etc, to entice customers and increase their businesses.


Finally, of course, petrol is sold at the majority of supermarkets, apparently Sainsburys having the largest number of sites, with 11,809, in 2018. There was a peak of 40,000 garages in the mid-1960s and this has declined to 8,422 in December, 2017 – and we have an increase in the number of cars.


Other types of garage facilities used to advertise quite a lot. One car-linked advertisement astounded me. It was in a local paper in 1917, and the headline was PETROL! PETROL! ‘Offers wanted for 74 gallons of petrol and tins left in Bognor’, after the owner had left Bognor two years previous. Very interesting! Imagine health and safety today.


I found quite a number of advertisements for ‘garages to let’. One advert from 1958 said that lock-up garages were available in Streete Court, Victoria Drive, for £1 per week or 3/ (15p) per week.


Field’s Garage in Scott Street had lock-ups available for up to 40 cars. They had special rates for long term periods.


On a linked subject I found an article for May, 1946, with the headline of ‘No sudden rush on petrol pump’.


On reading further, it transpired that regular customers of Bognor Regis garages would soon be able to get a restricted amount of petrol until December 17, though I’m not sure of the reason for the cut-off date.


However, visitors and strangers would still have a problem in obtaining petrol. I was not sure of the reason for this article, but petrol was fully curtailed during the war, and for about five years afterwards, but this article must have referred to a loosening of the restrictions.

Posted in Lifestyle.