Your town or city definitely had one, perhaps even two, or three in some cases. Not red-light districts, but BL dealers. Lest we forget, Mann Egerton, Henlys and the like, once had large showrooms packed with the best of BL (and later Rover) tin, but which are now turned over to Hyundai or Kia, or converted to other uses, or derelict, or torn down and long gone…
You know, it’s amazing that what was once one of the largest networks of new and used car sales and vehicle servicing outlets that ever existed in the UK does not exist at all anymore. Again, the cars that were once sold in these garages, lest we forget, were BL and Rover…
I was born in a small market town in rural Lincolnshire called Boston and, as BL/Austin-Rover dealers went locally, we had Holland Brothers in Boston town centre, Lewis & Kime in Kirton, a whopping four miles away, Austin Munks in Leverton (six miles), Davies of Coningsby (17 miles) and David Lefley in Holbeach (15 miles), TH Gosling in Mareham-Le-Fen (13 miles) and that’s just the ones I can remember, or have heard of, although I’ve heard that there was one once in Friskney, called AEL Motors, about 13 miles from Boston.
How did all those dealers survive?
Looking back now, it does make you wonder how all these garages, selling the same product co-existed within a 20-mile radius of each other. However, Lincolnshire, due to its conservative, quiet, rural, background has always had a lot of elderly people in its environs.
People who bought Austin Sevens and Morris Oxfords new and were still going to the same dealer with their pension funds to buy Metros and Itals (that ‘one last car’) 30 or 40 years later. That’s because these small, local dealers were not the big franchise chrome and glass car dealers we know now. Even in the Eighties, these places were, for the most part, a tiny parquet-floored, two-car showroom and a set of workshops. The dealer as a ‘personal friend’ and part of the local community.
‘People who bought Austin Sevens and Morris Oxfords new and were still going to the same dealer with their pension funds to buy Metros and Itals (that ‘one last car’) 30 or 40 years later.’
Because of this, until as recently as the late-1990s around the South Lincolnshire area, it was quite common to see ancient, low-mileage locally registered Austin Maxi 2s, Allegro 3s, Morris Itals and first-generation Austin Metro Vanden Plas still chugging around town and doing 40 in a 60 zone out in the open country. Their Trilby and Flat-Capped drivers would be found pottering around on a eternal Sunday drive before putting their cars back in their garage, not forgetting to put a old sheet over, ‘to keep the dust off’ until its next jaunt out in two months time.
Boston’s main BL/Austin Rover dealer was Holland Brothers, a chain of Lincolnshire BL dealers, with a long heritage. Unlike many former BL and Rover dealers though, this is a company which still survives to this day, but just as one sole Jaguar dealership in Lincoln.
Holland Brothers in Boston was based on Wide Bargate, with a smaller showroom around the corner, on Tawney Street. Eventually the large Wide Bargate site was sold to Iceland around 1989-1990 and the Tawney Street showroom and sales pitch was demolished to make way for two new smaller showrooms, one for Rover and another for Jaguar, and that’s pretty much how it continued until the late 1990s, when Wrights, a division of the local Co-Op took over the Rover sales and then pulled out altogether. Since then, it’s been a Bed Showroom, then empty and now a Co-op Pharmacy. Holland Brothers Jaguar ceased trading in Boston about a decade ago.
A book that sparked a memory
I was lucky enough, a few years ago, to get as a Birthday present a book I hadn’t seen for years and had been trying in vain for about a decade to find: a children’s book from the In the High Street series by Wayland Publishing, printed in 1982, called In a BP Garage.
The In the High Street range of books were part of a series of books printed for children in the early Eighties by Wayland Publishing to help Primary School-age children to discover what goes on (or did…) in the various institutions of the High Street, such as WH Smith, Marks and Spencer, an Electricity Board shop and, in one rather entertaining book, Bristol’s Radio West.
The book was illustrated, in part, by a small selection of stock publicity pictures from BP and, in the strangest quirk ever, Wayland, a Sussex-based publisher, had taken most of its pictures and story from Holland Brothers Boston, 188 miles from Wayland’s Hove HQ. Why, I don’t know, but I am assuming some sort of competition. What had once been a piece of history of a small rural town, and a distant memory, is permanently captured in a book, and now, this story!