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The Golden Days of the Great British Petrol Station

When I was a youth, many decades ago in the days when a Cider Quench ice lolly was the height of luxury (even if they tasted of sour apples) and Bedford Beagles still roamed the earth, my village boasted two garages.

One had a TVR Grantura Mk. IV parked outside (I wonder where it is today) and the other was a Jet station where I encountered my first ever Japanese car, a Datsun 140J Violet. There is an innate fascination with service stations of the past, which is why The Golden Days of the Great British Petrol Station, one of the most fascinating (and addictive) groups on Facebook.  The group was established by Ed Coldrick, who explains that it began:

Not for any particular interest in cars, garages, never been connected with the trade and no specialist knowledge. My interest is in images of British social history, and I started collecting mainly pre 1960s, corner shops, butchers, market traders along with traction engines, trams, buses etc.

But petrol stations seemed to me to combine so many elements, trade logos and adverts, commercial and private road transport, changing fashions, architecture, so many images of petrol stations show the surrounding buildings etc.

And so, our first shot, courtesy of the group, is of Britain’s first self-service garage; Turnbulls of Plymouth.  Judging by that Austin A60, I would suggest that this photo was taken circa 1961 while the drivers of the Ford Anglia 105E, Prefect 100E and A40 Somerset seem to be understandably awe-struck by their surroundings.

Next, there is a picture that readers from Jersey will instantly recognise – the Falles Motor Works. The array of Renault 4s,  including a multi-coloured “Fourgonette” van,  is wondrous; the owners of that Commer Cob at the pumps are clearly staring these fine cars in envy.

The third photograph shows the London Road Garage in Moreton-in-Marsh in a state of transition; the year seems to be 1981 with the “Austin Rover” style logos are already in place on the building. There is an Allegro Series III parked in front of the Vauxhall Viva HC while the age of the Metro is already upon us and the launch of the Maestro is less than two years away.

Picture Number Four dates from 1961 and is, of course, of Markham Moor on the A1 at Retford. The picture must have been taken just after the opening of the station and that unmistakable hyperbolic paraboloid roof not only dwarves that Renault Dauphine, it looks like a preview of Thunderbirds. Just bear in mind that 58 years ago a petrol station often meant a prefab shack, an ex WWII Bedford crash wagon and fuel being dispensed by a morose youth sporting a Billy Fury quiff.

Finally, we have a shot that one might have fairly dated as being from the late 1940s were it not for a) the BMC rosette and b) even more tellingly, the MOT logo. This shot actually dates from 1963 and to see Botley near Southampton so free of traffic is quite astounding for any reader who hails from the Solent region.Absolutely no-one seems tempted to save 3 ½ d on Cleveland fuel and another period detail is that telephone kiosk in the background – ‘Press Button “A” caller’.

The result of the dedication from Ed and the other members of the group truly is a priceless archive of social history. The material is a reminder of how impossibly distant the 1970s and 1980s now appear, with the twilight of the forecourt attendants and pumps with circular dials that slowly indicated how much 4-star you had bought for your Victor FE. 

Then there are the various promotions that range from the imaginative  (“Put a Tiger in Your Tank”)  to the really unfortunate, and forms of station that you may have forgotten such as mobile pumps and queues of Hillman Hunters during the many fuel shortages of the late 1970s…

In fact, The Golden Days of the Great British Petrol Station is essential viewing and Ed reflects that

 I did not expect to attract so many members, but it seems to be a popular group particularly for vintage and classic car enthusiasts. I have learnt a lot from members input, there are some very knowledgeable people in the group.

One final thought - did Five Star really cost 5/5 ½ d per gallon?

WITH THANKS TO:

Ed Coldrick and The Golden Days of the Great British Petrol Station

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