Fill up the tank

An essential stop for early motorists, garages and petrol stations were often at the centre of village life, as seen in these old pictures from The Francis Frith Collection.

Gwynn’s Service Station, Pontiiiw,

West Glamorgan, 1937

A smart 1930s’ Austin 10 pulls up in front of a typical house of the period in Wales, but Gwynn’s was the service station in its garden. With Shell Mex at l/5d, it was a good spot to fill your tank, when the average price per gallon for 1937 was l/7d. Other brands on sale included Power (at 1 /51/2d per gallon) and BP Ethyl. The garage is still there, and is now called Pontiiiw Service Station.

High Street, Poriock, Somerset, 1960 A 1950s’ Austin J2 minibus, which has seen better days in spite of not being very old, stops for petrol in the years when it was not unusual for garages to be sited among regular shops. This RAC affiliated garage offers a range of services, including VIP petrol, and BMC Morris sales. Once you had filled up, you could always pop next door to Leach’s Dairy Guest House cafe for a cuppa, and buy your Bristol tipped cigarettes at the same time. The Standard Vanguard parked outside W. S. Prosser’s on the opposite side of the road -perilously close to a bus stop -looks in much better condition.

Martin’s Garage, Forest Row, Sussex, 1960 This high street garage was one of many at the time to have its petrol pumps right there on the pavement, which must have been awkward for pedestrians. If you have memories of using the garage in this village, why not add them to this photograph on The Francis Frith Collection website – you could be the first to do so.

The Hotel,Church Stretton, Shropshire,


“My grandfather, Bert Hedger, managed the garage attached to The Hotel during the late 1920s. It was a five-star hotel and all the best people stayed there. A lot of famous racing drivers from the 1920s booked in for the Shelsley Walsh hill trials, including Woolf Barnato of Bentley and also Freddie Field of Bugatti – he would stock up with two gallon tins of aviation spirit and tins of pure benzene.

“The autumn meet would fill the place with racing cars. The drivers or their mechanics would arrive at eight in the morning to warm their engines up and would rev them for five or ten minutes at a time. Petrol was sold at 1/- per gallon and punctures were repaired for 2/6d. Warming up the engines resulted in a lot of complaints from the local townsfolk.”

A memory contributed by Christopher Grant to The Francis Frith Collection website.

The Cross Roads, Cobham, Surrey, 1955

“The white building is the Thompson & Taylor garage. I worked there briefly, but the name of Thompson & Taylor was very well known in motor racing circles and particularly with the nearby Brooklands motor racing circuit. There was a huge old car, a Napier-Railton, I think, which was kept in the showroom and with which the land speed record was won sometime in the 1930s.

“Stirling Moss was an occasional visitor as he had then just purchased a very special Mini Cooper, and John Cooper (from Cooper Cars) also came and went.

“To top all that, the great legend Juan Manuel Fangio once visited. Sadly, I was so in awe and so very junior I didn’t think to ask for any autographs.”

A memory contributed by Vee Williams to The Francis Frith Collection website.

The Francis Frith Collection Over 150 years ago pioneering Victorian photographer Francis Frith set up his company with the grand plan of photographing all the cities, towns and villages of Britain. His two sons, and later his grandson, continued Frith’s massive task, and The Francis Frith Collection now contains more than 360,000 images taken between 1860 and 1970. Over 120,000 images are available to view online. Prints of the Frith photographs as well as a wide range of other products and local history books featuring these vintage images are available from the Frith website

Share Your Memories

The Francis Frith Collection invites you to visit the website and add memories of the places featured in the photographs, or comment on others already added. Seeing a place from your past can rekindle forgotten or long-held memories. Why not add your story for others to read and enjoy – making your memories and stories part of this growing chronicle of British life.