Look Back With Little: When the motor vehicle became king in Banbury

Mr Golby, father of Hook Norton farmer David Golby, at work at Ewins Garage. NNL-180816-165634001
Mr Golby, father of Hook Norton farmer David Golby, at work at Ewins Garage. NNL-180816-165634001

During January and February of 1901 the letters column of the Banbury Guardian was dominated by correspondence from a G Miller.

In his whimsical way he assessed the condition of local roads: “Banbury no doubt was, in the old Midland dialect, a very picturesque town then with its old houses and countrified appearance, but though it was pleasant to the eye, it was nearly as trying to the feet.”

Especially bad was the Daventry Road where ruts caused the vicar of Chacombe to dismount and lead his horse to the opposite side of the carriageway.

Despite these concerns by the 1920s there was a significant growth of motor traffic in the Banbury area.

As a consequence local garages increased in number and business. Sidney Ewins developed close to the present Cross and set up roadside pumps in the Horse Fair. He had a service workshop at the top of Marlborough Place, in the area known as Marlborough Mews. The address suited the business because Ewins’ garage grew out of a horse and carriage dealership started in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Over 40 years later the firm was an official repairer to the AA and the RAC.

In the 1930s Sidney found himself in an increasingly competitive world of local garages. On the corner of the Horse Fair and West Bar was Banbury Cross Garage. Run by Tarrant and Gooch, it was a motor exchange dealing with new and second-hand cars and their equipment.

Apart from being an agency for Siddeley Autocars, they assured customers their repairs were in the hands of skilled workers.

An interesting example of enterprise was provided by Sewell’s Garage in West Bar Street. In the early days old Mr Sewell used to provide gig transport so doctors could visit their patients. Later their successors and other customers had accounts rather than pay at the pump every time they filled up.

The Warwick Road attracted developments by Young’s Garage, Shire Motor Company and the Banbury General Motor Company. Like Banbury Cross Garage each enterprise was an agent for a different range of vehicles, yet such was the determination to succeed, the Banbury General Motor Company made much of the slogan for Riley’s, ‘Cars being for the man who would reach the height of performance without plunging into the depths of his pocket’.

Mr Young was equally determined about sales. In 1938 he organised a visit to Fords at Dagenham for prospective buyers of vehicles available from his garage.

The car business was also important in Bridge Street. This was the outcome of a partnership involving Jo Bustin and Stan Wrench. The latter took over the motoring side and became an agent for Humber 4 cylinder cars.

Middleton Road in Grimsbury was also attractive to owners of motor businesses. Lido Service Station, Grimsbury Motors, City Motors and Bridge Motors have all at some stage contributed to the street scene.

Remarkable initiative was also displayed by George Mumford. A quiet man, he always had a cigarette dangling and wore an old brown smock. His business began with sales of cans of petrol from a corrugated iron hut but developed into a repair garage next to the Bell Inn. Outside there were four pumps. Mumford’s big business was also the charging of radio accumulators. Each morning there would be a procession of people along the Middleton Road.

Amazingly they were able to identify their own accumulators. Signs of the new era in the motor vehicle business were evident by 1954 when Young’s on Warwick Road revealed a more effective showroom which enabled them to display a wider range of Ford cars, giving them a competitive edge over local rivals. Seventeen years later Hartford Motors had opened on Foundry Street corner of Warwick Road and included tractors as part of an expanded business. Today the huge complex is but a memory replaced by Clark Court apartments.