Old Petrol Stations and the History of ‘Filling up’
Filling up a car with petrol is not a strenuous task. In fact, it’s one we take for granted. But it hasn’t always been this way. For the first 25 years of British motoring, petrol pumps did not exist. Instead, people were required to buy fuel in two-gallon cans from their nearest petrol station, garage, hardware shop or hotel. So how did petrol stations evolve and are any of the first filling stations still around in Britain? Let’s find out.
The first filling station in England
The first petrol station was opened in November 1919 at Aldermaston, Berkshire by the Automobile Association (AA). It had a single, hand-operated pump and motorists were greeted by AA petrol men in full uniform. During this post-war period, the AA was trying to promote the sale of British-made benzole fuel which was a by-product of burning coal. While benzole had been readily available from Russia, this deal was tainted by the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rise of the Bolsheviks.
The initiative was successful, and the AA opened another seven filling stations. A total of 7,000 pumps were in operation by 1923.
The oldest filling station in England?
Sadly, the oldest filling stations didn’t survive in their original form. However, the West End Garage in Golden Valley near the Welsh border is a significant landmark. Regarded as the oldest filling station still standing, the West End Garage was first granted a license to sell petrol in 1922 and was only the second filling station in Herefordshire to do so. Today, you can top up your car from the same pumps located either side of the garden gate of an early 19th-century cottage. How quaint.
With garages now located wherever we look, be it on the highway or even a quiet country road, it’s interesting to flashback to a different era when things weren’t so straightforward. Now known as Glendore, West End Garage is a listed, Grade-II building.
Other vintage pumps and garages
Maintaining motoring history is not always easy, especially as the industry evolves at a rapid rate. That said, there are other vintage pumps dotted across the country. Petrol pumps on the forecourt of Laurel garage in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, for instance, have occupied this site for over 50 years. They’re believed to be one of the oldest working sets in the UK.
The Avery Hardoll pumps, as they are known, are capable of counting to just 20 gallons at a time. After that, the gallon counter goes back to zero. The pumps run off electric motors and the face resembles a clock with hands telling the motorist how much is being pumped. The nozzles have been adapted to fit modern cars while seals around the hose have been added to prevent leaks.
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