1930 - Country Garage
Between 1919 and 1939 the number of cars on Britain's roads rose from 110,000 to 2,034,000; in the same period, goods vehicles increased from 62,000 to 488,000. This massive growth in road usage encouraged many people to open garages, stimulated by low land prices (industry and agriculture were in recession for much of this period) and relaxed building regulations. By the late 1920s there were over 30,000 garages, as well as a huge number of roadside filling stations owned by the oil companies. Unfortunately these premises did nothing to enhance the environment. Threatened by cheaply built corrugated iron sheds, unsightly clutter and a barrage of gaudy advertising signs, organisations such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England suggested more 'suitable' alternatives for garage buildings - brick and weatherboarding for walls, tiles and slates for roofs, a general toning-down of colour. Legislation was introduced that laid down specific criteria for the appearance of garages, while competitions were held to try and promote a more sensitive attitude to design - even if most owners, already labouring under heavy capital investments in their businesses, understandably lacked enthusiasm for thatched greasing bays, pagoda-style offices for their pump attendants and other 'improving' features. Are today's petrol stations and motorway service areas visually interesting? Or are they, at best, blandly acceptable?
Early motorists needed a sense of adventure. There were no filling stations (petrol pumps were not introduced until 1914) so they carried as much fuel as possible on board, if necessary buying cans of 'motor spirit' from an ironmonger or oil dealer en route. If they broke down, they had to fix things themselves. Until asphalt or concrete roads came in, unsealed surfaces were murder for canvas and rubber tyres, and vice versa: punctures were frequent, power-driven wheels loosened surfaces designed for free-rolling traffic and the suction effect of rubber cut roads to ribbons. In the 1900s a service industry began to develop to cater to the motorist's needs, often growing out of an existing trade such as a coachbuilder or a cycle shop. At first most garages were in towns, because these had the largest concentration of car owners - wealthy families, mostly, or professional people such as doctors - but gradually they spread outwards. Cars needed much more frequent servicing than they do now, but parts could be difficult to obtain and mechanics had to do the best they could; great powers of ingenuity and improvisation were called for. Garage owners were often also car dealers but not until the 1920s did manufacturers succeed in persuading the bigger operators to become exclusive agencies, selling only one make of cars and spares. At the other end of the scale were the small family businesses and partnerships. In country areas, with fewer regular customers, many of these 'doubled up' - some ran local bus services, others hired cars, almost all did general work, from welding repairs on farm machinery to mending the vicar's lawnmower. The end of the First World War released thousands of ex-army lorries which were snapped up at rock-bottom prices, enabling many garage proprietors to set up as haulage contractors and thus help engineer the general switch of freight traffic from rail to road.
|1885 - Tram shelter|