Newcomers probably don’t realise that there was a garage in the village centre until quite recently. This was located at Pimpernel House on Petworth Road, now Pimpernel Bed & Breakfast. Older inhabitants may remember that there was an earlier garage located at Butts Works and where a solitary petrol pump still serves as a reminder of its past.
The first garage in the village was operated by Graveley Engineering and was established soon after the First World War by the two brothers Vernon and Jack Graveley. It was located at Butts Works, but the site was a lot larger than today as Thornton Meadow was built on part of its ground. The garage was on part of the site of the old Butts Farm and utilised many of the old farm buildings; the present Thornton Cottage, the home of Nick and Victoria Maddalena, was its farmhouse and was named, quite sensibly, Butts Farm House.
The brothers lived in what is now Pimpernel House and Thornton Cottage. The house had been attached to the farmhouse and the whole was originally named Thornton House, after the family that built it in the nineteenth century. The family was headed by Rev John Thornton, vicar from 1820 to 1866; they owned several properties in the village and 16 acres of farmland, including the site of Thornton Meadow.
The brothers divided their roles. Vernon was the general manager and Jack was the engineer. They were never a large company; in the1930’s, they employed just three men.
The company was a Ford commercial agency and a Trojan and Jowett agency, but most of the delivery vans in the area were serviced at the works. They were also agents for Chevrolet lorries and its successor, Bedford lorries.
The garage had two hand operated petrol pumps at the entrance to the lane, one of which survives today. Although the garage could have been disadvantaged by not being on the main road, it advertised itself during the 1930s by a huge sign on 15’ high posts that went over the garage entrance and by another large sign where the notice board is nowadays.
During the 1930s and up to 1946, the Aldershot & District bus that was used on route 49 to Guildford was out stationed overnight in the garage. Owing to the length of the bus, it had to make a wide turn to gain access to the garage; the effect of this can still be seen today as the lane is noticeably wider opposite the garage access. It is believed that the corner of the wall into the garage was rebuilt as a curve so that buses could gain access. This rounded off corner is still visible.
When the bus was garaged for the night in the winter the water from the radiator was emptied into containers and put in a straw box and kept warm for re-use next morning.
The pumps at Graveley Brothers garage were sometimes taken over by the Canadian Army during the Second World War. At one time, lines of DUKW amphibian vehicles and lorries queued around the green for petrol while the pumps were wound by hand. The garage itself was turned over to the manufacture of munitions.
After the war, things returned to normal. The company started manufacturing shop window displays featuring mechanical toys such as little men that moved and danced and vehicles that ran around tracks. They also made domestic equipment such as mincing machines.
Vernon Graveley died in 1956. The following year, Jack sold the service station business and Pimpernel House to Vernon Wilde. He retained the workshops and employed Ernie Richardson to run them. These later became Butts Works. Jack moved into the old Butts Farm House called Thornton Cottage where he died in 1973.
Vernon Wilde converted the front of Thornton House to a service station called Wilde’s Service Station and the old Shellmex pumps became disused. However, one of the pumps remains as a monument to the old filling station.
We don’t know how long it took for Wilde’s new service station to be open but it took some time as he had a lot of preparation work to do, e.g. installing underground fuel tanks. Perhaps someone could tell us?
We know that by 1959 there were three petrol pumps on a central island separated by two kiosks. These delivered Power Petrol that cost 4/6½ for a gallon of low-grade petrol similar to two star. The higher grade petrol was branded National Benzole; a gallon of its four star cost 4/10 and its five star cost 5/-. In 1959, a showroom was added to the left of Pimpernel House, built by Pat Crichton-Smith’s building company. The garage became a Citroen franchise and an agency for Hurley Silhouette Sailing Cabin Cruisers.
Wilde sold the business and Thornton House to Charles Hodgson around 1962. He changed the name to Pimpernel Garage and he started selling second-hand cars.
In 1968, Charles sold the business to George Gabriel and Roy Nash who both moved into Pimpernel House with their families. The filling station had a single bay workshop alongside that was used for car maintenance. Roy ran the filling station and car sales and George ran the Butts Works garage workshop.
Around 1970, the workshops were enlarged to two bays. The pumps in the forecourt by then consisted of four Amoco petrol pumps and a paraffin pump next to the shop. There was also a car showroom to the left of the workshop called ITC Trading that sold vintage and classic cars.
The managers of the Pimpernel Garage, George Gabriel and Roy Nash, employed a mechanic called Jerry Thurston. New tenants Brian and Midge Cecil were appointed in the late eighties. At the same time, George and Jerry started a car repair and service business called G & J Motor Repairs with premises at Ansell’s Yard, Kirdford Road. It is currently run by Jerry and his elder son Mark.
In the nineties, Peter O’Leary and Carole Sandaver ran the business selling Elf petrol, but the business closed in 1999 and Pimpernel House became a private dwelling.
When Jack Graveley sold the service station business to Wilde in 1957, he retained the workshops that are now Butts Works and let them to Wilde and, from 1969, to Jim Pearce who ran James E Pearce Ltd. This company designs, builds and restores coachwork on vintage cars, especially Bentleys.
After Jack Graveley died in 1973, Butts Works and the adjoining land was inherited by his niece, Mrs Brett and later acquired by her children. In 1988, they sold the land for housing, viz. the plot that became Thornton Meadow, and sold Butts Works to James Pearce. As some of the Butts Works land and premises was required for the housing, Jim extended his workshops in 1989 to enable him to continue with the business. He continued running the company until 2000 when his son David took over the running of the business.
Carter Brothers in New Pound ran a filling station and garage called Reliance Garage that was situated on the site of Gander and White’s shipping and storage business. The garage was mainly for their own use repairing agricultural machinery. The filling station had two BP petrol pumps situated beside the road as was the custom in the early years of motoring. They remained there until the early 1960’s.
After a few changes of ownership and relocation to its present location, Geoffrey Sizzey bought the business in 1976. The company was an independent garage that sold Peugeots and provided general maintenance and service. The filling station started selling Pace petrol and installed modern pumps that were located in the garage forecourt that was now set back from the road.
From the eighties, Sizzeys sold Q8 and later Proteus petrol, but the filling station business closed in 1998. At one stage Brian and Midge Cecil ran the filling station before they went on to run the Pimpernel Garage. Sizzeys Garage ceased trading altogether in June 2007.
Wisborough Green Tyres started trading in 1987 from Pimpernel Garage. They moved to Sizzey’s in 1992 and to their present location in the old railway goods shed at Billingshurst station in 1994.