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Garages & Filling Stations

Major contributions to this section have been made by Ian Mackay, Rob Batten and Ian Franz, all of whom know far more about this subject than I do.

For more information on oil companies and petrol brands see also Lineside Industries - Petroleum and LPG.
For more information on lubricating oil company brands see also Lubricating Oils & Associated Works.

Since this section was first written Shire Publications have released a booklet on 'The Country Garage' by Llyn E. Morris (1995, Shire Publications). This little book is most informative and well worth obtaining you to plan to model a garage

Petrol stations and garages are an attractive proposition on a model railway. They were and remain quite colourful and provide an excuse for vehicles which are not moving. The scope for detailing is considerable but there were a number of elements which indicate the date so some care is required in designing the model. Petrol stations operated by the larger companies are refurbished every ten years or so and there have been a number of trends which have affected all petrol outlets over the years.

To summarize the subject for a modeller if your layout is set prior to 1920 petrol filling stations would be rare, a lot of petrol was sold at chemists and hardware shops in tins. Just add a sign to a suitable shop on any street.

The petrol pump became increasingly common in the 1920s, although many smaller outlets had only a single pump. At outlets with more than one pump (typically three) these would generally offer different brands of petrol as motorists found a brand that suited their engine and stuck with it. The 'garage' offering the services of a mechanic became common in this era, usually also selling petrol. By about 1930 such an establishment would have two pumps (one for 'regular' and one for 'super'). These were often a converted shop on a street with no 'forecourt' as such, in the country areas however (where land was cheaper) they were often set back from the road with a forecourt for the pumps. Some larger motor car dealers (who often had a garage attached and employed mechanics to service customers cars) also installed a set of pumps on their forecourt.

During World War Two all petrol was pooled, a single grade was offered (under the rationing system) and advertising was discontinued. Illuminated pump tops tended to be plain white globes.

After the war, in the early 1950s, rationing ended and brands re-appeared. Petrol retailers were increasingly tied to a particular brand and all the pumps would have the same name on them. Pump tops branded with the company name became the norm by the mid 1960s, very few plain globes then remained. By the 1960s the smaller 'back street' outlets were getting scarce and very few had only a single pump.

By the 1970s the most common petrol station had a large forecourt, many had a roof over this area (although not all did). Self service stations were starting to become common. Mechanical car washes were seen installed at many garages (often behind the garage itself).

By the 1980s self service was standard, a lot of outlets were simply filling stations but some of these had a car was (usually off to one side of the forecourt).

If you need to know the details read on.

Garage and Petrol station design

The early garages tended to be rather rustic affairs, often made of corrugated metal, often black and usually featured a large sliding door. The petrol pumps were at this time mounted at the kerb side for easy access. Prior to the First World War there was a proliferation of enameled advertising signs and petrol stations were often supplied with large numbers of these, often in quite large sizes. The combination of rather ugly utilitarian buildings and a plethora of colourful advertising signs adorning both the buildings and any nearby trees provoked a public outcry and central government issued guidelines on what local authorities should allow. The result was a toning down of the advertising and a switch to more elegant construction for garage buildings, in either brick or timber. The large sliding door(s) remained a feature of garages however, and some metal advertising signs were still used.

The illustrations below are based on a photograph of a local building which has over the years served as a taxi garage, a funeral directors and a garage. The photograph has been modified to show the trends in garages over the years prior to the domination of the large covered forecourt type. These illustrations will probably be changed as I find more information and more time. The last of these small garages seem to have died in 1995 with the switch to measuring petrol in litres as it was simply too expensive to change their old pumps to the new units.

Fig ___ 1920s Garage
1920s Garage

Up to the 1940s it was common to see older pumps actually by the road side, in towns they were sometimes seen mounted on the pavement outside a car showroom or garage. The idea was that the motorist could see they were there and simply stopped to fill up. As the roads became more busy in the 1930s this became a dangerous practice, especially if the filling cap was on the off-side of the vehicle, and the pumps were increasingly mounted on an island on a tarmac forecourt so the driver had to pull off the road to fill up. It is worth noting that at some stations in the 1930s a drive-through roadway was established but the pumps, fitted with the long swinging arms, were mounted against the outer wall so the hose could swing out above the pavement to serve cars on the street itself.

Fig ___ 1930s Garage
1930s Garage

The first stations with the filling area roofed over appeared in the 1930s but this was generally only seen at in-town petrol stations. Where a roof was provided for the pump island this usually did not extend very far over the paved area around the pumps, the covered forecourt was really a feature of the 'self service' filling station of the later 1960s.

It was the electric petrol pump that saw the introduction of the 'gun' type nozzle with the trigger that in turn allowed for a 'self service' approach to filling the car. Self service was a contentious issue however, the first such filling station was actually opened in Plymuoth by a certain George Turnbull in 1934 and there were odd other ones dotted around afterwards but they remained rare in Britain. Self service fared rather better in America, they began operating in the 1940s, one having the rather splendid slogan 'service you can rely on'.

Self service reappeared in Britain in the 1960s (one station opened in London in 1961) when remote monitoring of the pumps became practical, but this required purpose built pumps and purpose built forecourt's so it remained rare until the later 1970s. Most British petrol stations and garages up to the 1980s has an attendant on duty who would fill the car for you (in some American states it is illegal to have self service petrol stations). Quite often the attendant worked from a small cabin on the same island as the pumps and would usually offer to check the oil, tyre pressures and water levels for you as well (selling you a tin of oil, or topping up the tyres or radiator if required).

From the later 1960s petrol station forecourt's were increasingly roofed over (a flat roof supported on very few columns). These more modern stations were usually only offering a single make of petrol, the trend toward single brand stations accelerated rapidly in the 1970s and by the early 1980s this was the norm.

Fig ___ 1980s Garage
1980s Garage

The small shop attached to a petrol station appeared in the later 1960s, usually associated with new service stations fitted with the overall roof. In the later 1970s as the self service trend deepened they became more common and by the end of the 1980s they were a standard part of the garage scene.

Background to the petrol retail business

Following the repeal of the 'Red Flag Act' in 1896 motoring gained in popularity among the wealthy and petrol 'filling stations' sprang up all over the place in a totally haphazard way. The equipment could be rented from the oil companies for a small deposit. The first (hand operated) pump supplied from an underground storage tank was opened by Anglo-American Oil (Esso) in 1920 and the idea caught on. The AA set up their own (members only) filling stations, ten in 1920 or thereabouts), but enterprising individuals were already offering the service to the general public.

Unlike the American model of a purpose built facility, most British filling stations remained as street side facilities outside motor garages or chemist's stores. Few had any particular allegiance to any one oil company and many offered fuel from several companies, a lot of oil was still sold in tins right into the late 1920s.

The facilities at a filling station could be very basic, I once found a photograph taken in about 1910 showing a hand operated pump at a wayside filling station in which the fuel was stored in wooden barrels with the hose from the pump pushed in through the bung and some cloth wrapped round to reduce the fumes a bit. The whole assembly was mounted by the road side with no 'forecourt' as such, motorists simply pulled up alongside the pump (pumps on the kerb side remained common up to the mid 1930s). The company logo on the pump, in this case Shell, was a thin enamel metal plate, at many garages these plates were used to repair holes in the roof or walls when more modern pumps were supplied.

By the later 1920s the sale of petrol in tins was in decline, chemists were less inclined to stock the stuff (not least because of the fire risk) and pumps fed from tanks became the norm.

By the 1930's there were four big 'national' companies; Anglo-American (who had over 50% of the market), British Petroleum and Shell-Mex (who combined their distribution network in 1932), National Benzole Co. Ltd. and Redline-Glico. There were however about a dozen independent suppliers who had set up during the 1920s. These were buying oil from the 'spot market' via brokers and selling to local retailers direct using small road tankers. The two biggest independent firms were Power Petroleum Co. Ltd. (established in 1923) and Russian Oil Products (R.O.P., established in 1925) both of which distributed Russian petrol at below the oil company rates. The oil companies tried to deal with this using special pricing, lower in areas where the independents were trading, but the introduction of tax on petrol in 1928 made people more price conscious and the smaller firms continued to prosper.

An agreement was finally reached in about 1930 between the larger independents and the oil companies when the whole business of selling petrol had become uneconomic in the late 1920s.

Meanwhile the big four companies were working in co-operation with the Motor Trade Association and the Motor Agents' Association. In the early 1930s they set up a system in which they did not sell direct to private motorists but only to retailers and commercial consumers. To qualify for supplies from the national companies the retailer had to be genuinely engaged in the motor trade on a site approved by the M.A.A. (Public houses, cafes and other establishments selling petrol as a sideline were thus excluded).

The retailers however were not 'tied' to the oil companies, and many continued to offer a selection of brands as motorists wished to stick with the blend that suited their particular engine.

During World War Two petrol was pooled, a single grade was made available to the public (which they had to buy on a ration system), advertising and branding were discontinued. Rationing of petrol ended in 1950, in late 1953 'brands' were re-introduced and more than one grade of petrol was made available. In the same year the government removed price controls on petrol.

In 1950 Esso introduced a scheme whereby the nominally independent retailer was tied to selling only the Esso brand for several years in exchange for a slightly discounted price. By the end of 1951 all the oil companies had introduced similar schemes the American oil companies supplying filling stations in the UK introduced these so called 'solus' arrangements. This lead to a number of complaints from independent retailers about oil companies refusing deliveries, and Castrol (as an indepenent supplier of lubrication oils) encouraged people to complain about solus garages not stocking their products. In the mid 1960s the Monopolies Commission compiled a report on the matter but the big oil companies pleaded poverty and the commission found in favour of the solus schemes.

By the mid 1950s there were just three established firms and two newcomers controlling the bulk of petrol supplies in the UK:
S.M. & B.P. (with its subsidiary Power and its associate (subsequently its subsidiary) National Benzole).
Anglo-American (which had changed its name in 1951 to Esso Petroleum Co. Ltd. and by this time owned Cleveland)
Regent (owned by Texaco and Chevron)
Vacuum Oil Co (which changed its name in 1955 to Mobil Oil Co. Ltd.)
Fina Petroleum Products Ltd. (which changed its name in 1957 to Petrofina (Gt. Britain)).

Both the new companies adopted solus marketing systems with prices the same as those of the Big Three.

Vacuum (Mobil) was until 1952 only selling lubricating oils and some fuel oil, having built a refinery at Coryton (originally to make base oils for its lubricants). Fina Petroleum Products Ltd. appeared in 1953 when it bought out the Cities Service Oil Company Ltd. (an existing distributor of petroleum products)

By the 1960s the oil companies themselves were increasingly buying out retailers and establishing their own chains of petrol stations and this trend continued thereafter. In the 1950s when the motorways were being planned there was some discussion as to petrol supplies. Motorway services were to be established at 12 mile intervals and following representations from the RAC and AA the legislation required that these offer multiple brands of petrol.

The general standard of petrol stations was not very high, many were still just converted shops and had no 'forecourt' as such, cars pulled up on the road in front of the building. Other facilities were also generally lacking. In 1947 the Minister of Transport appointed a Technical Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Waleran to consider and report on the state of filling stations, and to see if they should be more closely regulated. The Committee reported in 1949, suggesting that stations should be officially 'graded' and that measures should be put in place to improve the facilities. The report was not acted upon, but the larger petrol company owned sites were already improving. In 1949 there were about 35,000 filling stations, of which about 4,000 were 'one pump' sites, mainly at small country garages. The last one pump site I know of, outside a small 'back street' garage, closed in the later 1980s or early 1990s when the Government told him he had to have his pump modified to show litres, he felt the cost of the change to the pump was prohibitive.

From the later 1970s, the 'garage', often owned by a mechanic and offering service facilities was increasingly displaced by the 'filling station' which just sold petrol. This was in large part due to the increasing ownership of the stations by the oil companies, who had no interest in employing mechanics. In the 1990s the supermarkets, having killed off the competition on the high street, began building petrol stations at their retail outlets, which coincided with a drastic reduction in the number of petrol stations on the roads.

In 1970, there were nearly 25,000 filling stations in the UK, of which 10,000 were 'independents' (although virtually everybody was trading under a solus arrangement). By the end of 1999, the number of filling stations had dropped to 13,700 and by the end of 1995 it was down to 9,700. In recent years, filling stations have been closing at a rate of 50 per month.

There are a very few small independent petrol stations still operating, often these establishments buy their fuel on the spot market through specialised resellers. hey make very slender profits on their sales (perhaps 2-3 pence per gallon, mainly because they generally have to pay inflated prices to the oil companies (who wish to ensure their own outlets are patronised). There have been various petitions regarding unfair trading practices to the government, however faced with the economic muscle of the larger oil and supermarket companies, the government has proved unable or unwilling to make any changes to the rules. Most of the remaining independents are located in rural areas of no interest to oil majors or supermarkets. The station shown below was still operating as an independent station (just south of Northwich in Cheshire) in 2007. I am grateful to Ian Franz for making the trek and taking the photographs for inclusion on the site.

Fig ___ Independent petrol station in 2007
Photos of a small Independent petrol station in 2007

Note the old wheel mounted on the left of the left hand pump, on which the air hose would normally be coiled (hence the tyre pressure charts mounted on the fence beside it), these 'free air' lines are discussed below. The station trades as Flare petrol, supplied by a company called Barton petroleum, which functions as a petrol and fuel oil re-seller operating four major depots at Watfod, Bedford, Wellingborough and Leicester. Barton Petroleum as been supplying independent stations, farmers and industrial users with fuels and lubricants since about 1980.

Fig ___ Close up of Flare petrol sign in 2007
Photos of a small Independent petrol station in 2007

Up until the 1980s this station had only a single pump, at some point since then they have had an additional set of three added. The owners have a small collection of their earlier pumps set up at the rear of the station.

Fig ___ Old petrol pumps at a small independent garage
Photo of a small collection of Old petrol pumps at a small independent garrage

Another independent supplier is Murco Petroleum Ltd, established as a British subsidiary of the American Murphy Oil Corporation in 1960. Initially they purchased an oil terminal at Grays in Essex, allowing them to tanker in their own fuel. This was followed by the development of rail fed terminals at Bedworth, Warwickshire and Theale, Berkshire to supply the expanding Murco and EP service station chains. In 1981 the company took an effective 30% interest in the (then Amoco now Elf) oil refinery in Milford Haven, Wales allowing them to refine their own North Sea Oil supplies. In 1990 the final link in the supply chain was added with the opening of the Westerleigh terminal near Bristol. Although a small company by comparison to others in the field Murco has managed to survive and thrive by reacting quickly and effectively to the ever changing market conditions. Today Murco supply over 160 company owned and 260 independently owned service stations in addition to a growing number of commercial customers. Being an independent company the benefits of rail transportation outweigh the costs of pipeline building so rail deliveries remain in use in 2007.

Economy, Regular, Super, Star Rated and Unleaded Petrol

Up to early 1920s a single pump would suffice, demand was not that great and oil refineries only produced four grades of fuel at that time, paraffin, lamp oil, petrol and fuel oil. Most petrol at this time was sold in sealed tins.

Petrol in the pre-world war two era was a rather mixed bag, the refineries were still not very efficient and a lot of firms added alcohols or other ingredients to their petrol to give it a bit of a boost. There were various additives used to improve fuel, a several companies used 'benzol' recovered from coal tar and some (notably Cleveland) added alcohol. These boosted the power delivered, and were claimed to make starting easier, but they did make engines slightly more thirsty.

During the 1914-1918 war many benzol extraction plants had been installed alongside the coke ovens at collieries, gasworks, steelworks and tar distilleries. The output was used for making explosives during the war but after peace was declared they sold the benzol to be blended into petrol. The National Benzole Co. Ltd. was formed as a co-operative selling organisation by the benzole producers. Initially they were just selling the benzole to oil companies (some people used it instead of petrol), later they started selling their own brand of petrol/benzole mix, the company obtained its petrol requirements from B.P.

Fig ___ Benzol and alcohol petrol brands
Examples of Blended petrol signs

Pinking or knocking occurs either when the ignition is too far advanced (that is the spark is delivered too early) or when the compression inside the cylinder ignites the petrol before the spark is applied (also known as dieseling). This causes a metallic 'plinking' sound and damages the fuel inlets. Engines need to be properly set up to avoid this, but the quality of the petrol also makes a difference. It was found that adding some benzole improved this considerably, hence there were quite a few 'benzol blend' petrols on offer. Motorists would generally find the blend that suited their engine and try to only fill up with that particular brand. As a result many filling stations would carry several brands (typically three), so there would be three pumps, each with a different 'globe' on top.

There were various experiments to try and eliminate the problem of engine knocking, one idea involved adding dyes to the petrol to change the way the flame propagated though the vapour in the cylinder, many claims were made but I doubt this had any real effect. In 1921 Thomas Midgley (1889-1944) discovered that adding tetraethyl lead (usually called TEL) to petrol improved performance and virtually eliminated the 'knocking' problem. A couple of years later Esso introduced their 'Ethyl' petrol (an idea adopted by several other companies by the 1930s).

It was at about this time that the 'octane rating' was developed, this is in essence a measure of how resistant to knocking a particular blend of petrol might be. The petrol companies did not generally bother much about telling people about the octane rating of their petrol, but they did introduce 'Super' brands for high performance engines (which have higher compression and hence are more prone to knocking). The pumps would be marked 'super' (or High Grade or Ethyl) for the high octane petrol and 'regular' or 'standard' for the lower octane type. The price difference between the two was about a penny a gallon.

There were still some outlets with only a single pump (some were still operating into the 1980s), and larger establishments would typically have four or even five pumps on their forecourt, offering different grades of petrol from one company as well as supplies from other companies. By the later 1930s some stations labeled their pumps Regular (typically in white lettering on a dark blue stripe) and Super (white lettering on a red stripe) and by this time the word DERV (diesel engined road vehicle) was routinely painted on the globe of any diesel pump.

During the Second World War, and for some time afterwards, petrol was pooled and a single low-octane grade was all that was available. By the early 1960s two grades were again available and the 'regular' and 'super' signs reappeared. In America the basic two grade system has remained consistent but in Britain more grades were introduced offering various octane ratings and there was a certain kudos in specifying a high octane brand. In the later 1950s some pumps were adapted to blend two grades to produce an intermediate mixture and Mobil introduced a pump in the early 1960s that could mix the different grades to produce a total of eight possible combinations.

Grades of Petrol marketed and Octane Ratings in January 1964 (according to Which)
GradeOctane Rating
Best or Super 99-101
Premium 96-98
Mixture* 95-95
Standard or Regular89-91
*Mixture in this case being a mix of standard and premium, not common by the 1960s.

Obviously a lot depended on what the supplier considered appropriate and there was a bit of a fuss when Cleveland petrol offered a mixture they branded something like Super Economy. The government decided to act and in the later 1960s a 'star rating' was introduced for petrol, based on a British Standard set of octane ratings.

Under this system one star was the lowest grade (and I do not remember ever seeing that available), 2 star was 92 octane, 3 star 95 octane 4 star 98 octane and 5 star 101 octane. The lower end was for the low tuned/low compression older design of engine (and skin flints ) the middle range for more modern higher compression engines and the skin flints who got sick of that awful pinking noise and five star was for big, fast and powerful engines.

Most cars would run happily on three star petrol (assuming the timing was set correctly) but most motorists seemed to believe that four star was 'better'. Most stations would offer two, three, four and five star grades, and as these had to be accommodated at older stations often with only two or three pump stands on the forecourt pumps were built on which the customer could select which grade they wanted. These pumps, technically called Multi Product Dispenser (MPD), were common in the later 1960s but as filling stations were modified or re-built with additional pumps to cater to the growing demand single grade pumps became the norm by the later 1970s.

Concerns over the pollution caused by the rapidly growing numbers of motor cars lead to a series of legislative changes from the mid 1970s on and by the later 1990s emissions from petrol additives (mainly lead) had been reduced by over 90%. First to go was five star petrol, usually the fourth pump was converted to four star, which remained the most commonly requested fuel for many years, with two and three star also on offer. They left some lead in the petrol to act as a lubricant for the valves, briefly with engines of the rime there was a risk of the valve sticking to its seat, which could wreck and engine.

In the 1980s catalytic converters were introduced, fitted to the exhaust these reduce the emission of unburned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. The cars so fitted had to have no lead at all in the petrol, but by this time the engineers had solved the valve seating problem so by the mid 1980s 'unleaded petrol' was regularly seen on the forecourt.

By the later 1990s the star rated petrol's were increasingly rare, the motor manufacturers had been preparing for this change, cars built after about 1975 would run perfectly well on unleaded petrol with a small adjustment to the timing. The elimination of leaded petrol has caused problems for vintage motor enthusiasts running cars built between about 1940 and 1975 as unleaded petrol causes severe wear on the engine valves on these engines. There were complaints that the main source of lead was still the lead water pipes in houses, but this was also being addressed by legislation with plastic pipes becoming a legal requirement. In practice adjusting the timing and fitting hardened valve seats should eliminate these problems.

I believe the last pumps offering leaded petrol were phased out in about 2000. These days all pumps offer the same basic 'unleaded' petrol but the oil companies are experimenting with alternative additives to produce 'premium grades' they can sell at a higher price.

Petrol Prices

The price of petrol on display is a good indicator for the date, individual stations might vary by a penny or two but the price was always consistent across the country. In general the price of petrol fell slowly until the outbreak of World War Two (with a bit of a hike during World War One). Tax on petrol was introduced in 1909, then taken off again in 1921, then reintroduced in the later 1920s.

Ignoring petrol tax the cost of petrol followed a gentle curve prior to the 1970s. In 1900 you might pay 4s a gallon, the price then fell to about 2/- by the outbreak of war. 2/- is two shillings, 10p in modern money, or just over 2p a litre.
During the First World War the price rose to almost four shillings a gallon, in 1918 petrol sold for 3s 1d a gallon, falling to 2s by 1922. In 1920 a price of 1/9d (one shilling and nine pence) would be about right, falling to about 1s by 1930. The price fell further during the 1930s to about 10d per gallon by 1939, a couple of pence more for 'high grade' or 'ethyl' brands.
When the Second World War broke out the price was back up to 2/- and because rationing was introduced this price held fairly steady. In the post war era the price was controlled by the government but the various companies were working on a standard price to prevent ruinous competition.
The final agreement stipulated that the price of standard and premium grade petrol would be Is. 5d. and Is. 7d. per gallon respectively (including duty at 9d. in each case). The normal retailer's margin was two and a quarter pence on standard grade and two and three quarter pence on premium grade of which one penny per gallon to one and a quarter and one and three quarters pence respectively was allowed only on condition that the retailer bought all his requirements of petrol from the national companies and their associates (including the independents who had signed up to the deal). Inflation at the time was low so you will often see printed metal advertising signs quoting the price per gallon.

Fig ___Post war enamel sign stating petrol price
Sketch of a Post war enamel sign stating petrol price

By 1953 the cost of standard grade petrol went up to 4s. 2d. per gallon, of which 2s. 6d. represented the duty and 4d. the retailer's margin. It dropped back a bit in the later 1950s then began a steady increase, reaching about 5/- in the later 1950s.

During the later 1950s and 1960s it was common to have the price marked on the pump itself in numbers about a foot high.

As the Russian oil fields came back on stream after the Second World War the Soviet government (desperate for hard currency) started selling the oil at below cost price. This pushed down the market price for oil and this had a devastating effect on the economies of other less affluent oil producing countries. Nine of these countries responded by forming the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to set the price each would charge for their oil. This organisation had little effect at first and the price of petrol at the pumps remained at about the five shilling mark until the early 1970s. By the end of the 1960s the star octane rating system was in operation and garages were showing the price on signs near the entrance to attract customers. Often these signs only quoted the cost per gallon for one grade, usually four star. In 1970 the UK switched to decimal currency and typical prices in the early 1970s were about 35p a gallon (equivalent to 7/- in real money).

In 1973 there was a war in the Middle East and this precipitated a crisis in which OPEC reduced their supplies of oil to countries supporting Israel and panic buying quadrupled the cost of crude oil. This 'oil crisis fuelled inflation in oil consuming countries, which pushed up the cost of petrol dramatically. By 1974 a typical pump price would be about 50p, rising into the 70p and above range over the following few years. In late 1979 the price jumped to about a pound a gallon, a year later it was about one pound twenty pence, by 1981 it was one pound sixty pence and by 1983 one pound eighty pence, where it remained more or less for a few years. In 1989 the price began to rise steadily, passing two pounds in 1990, by 1995 it was two pounds seventy pence or so.

In 1995 the UK changed from selling petrol in Imperial Gallons to Litres although several filling stations had been advertising prices in both units for about a year. A lot of the smaller independent garages closed at this time due to the cost of changing over their pumps to the new units. Following the change to litres the prices displayed dropped by about 60% (there are just over three litres in a gallon). The price reached about a pound a litre in 1997 and has continued to rise a few pence a year ever since. By 2004 it was about one pound fifty pence a litre (close to four pounds a gallon).

Globes (pump top signs)

The petrol pump became common in the later 1920s, the pumps were generally supplied by the oil company, who usually offered a low cost maintenance agreement as well. Initially the pumps had simple enamelled signs on the top to identify the brand being offered but quite early on people added a lighted glass shape to the top of the pump (intended to attract business at night).

Prior to the 1950s most filling stations offered a selection of petrol types (the AA operated a chain of filling stations in the 1930s, they were unusual in having an exclusive contract with National Benzole). Hence in a typical petrol station you might see the gloves of two or three suppliers. The oil companies often had the pumps painted in their own colours although red yellow and green were all used (possibly a quick paint job by the retailer). Early BP pumps were red but then changed to green, Pratts had both red and green pumps, Shell were often red, sometimes yellow, sometimes a combination of the two. National Benzole were the same gold-yellow as their logo and Redline were red. Texaco tended to be red, and Dominion favoured blue.

Some of the illuminated shapes were associated with a particular brands, such as the 'shell' of Shell oil and the 'hand' for Power petrol but a lot of pumps just has a plain white globe with or without the name of the oil company painted on. When Dominion petrol started out they used a distinctive rectangular petrol pump 'globe', when using ordinary globes these were marked with a picture of their original design.

Fig ___ Dominion branding

Dominion branding

Then in the early 1970s the 'modern' look did away with the pump-top signs altogether, this era was strongly influenced by the moon landings in 1969 and many designs for mechanical equipment had the 'back of a washing machine' styling of the lunar lander. There were still quite a few of the 1930s tall box type of pump in use at the time and on these (and on many of the short fat 1960s types) the pump top signs were simply removed (many were put back again toward the end of the decade).

By this time most petrol stations were operated by the oil companies, with the supermarkets starting to operate their own cut price outlets. This increased the pressure on the independent operators and by the mid 1980s the number of stations in the UK was reduced by about a third, mostly due to the closure of independent stations. By the first years of the twenty first century there were less than a thousand independent stations and just over a thousand supermarket stations out of a total of some 14,000 stations in operation, the bulk of the remainder being operated by the major oil companies. The supermarkets operated the largest stations, with more pumps, and were accounting for over 20% of the petrol sold.

Petrol Tins and Petrol Pumps

Prior to the 1920s most petrol was transported and sold in two gallon tins as shown below, mainly by chemists and hardware shops (and some roadside garage establishments). These tins were usually plain red but often had the oil company name or logo painted on in white. A proportion (I would estimate no more than 50 percent) were painted in the oil company livery, some of these had the company logo embossed onto the side of the tin as an aid to painting. The fuel used in spark ignition engines is correctly called 'motor spirit', the word Petrol was actually a brand name introduced by the firm of Carless, Capel and Leonard in 1893 which entered the language (in the same way as Hoover being a common term for any vacuum cleaner). This company sold most of their petrol under the brand name of Carless and also as 'Petrol' (a name they were not allowed to trademark although they invented it) in blue two gallon tins but where pumps were used they had the name Petrol on the illuminated 'globe'.

Fig ___ Carless 'Petrol' branding

Carless 'Petrol' branding

Other firms included Glico, who had yellow tins, Pratts Motor Spirit (owned by Esso after 1896) in green tins and Shell in red tins with a white or yellow shell logo on them. It was common practice to carry a tin or two on the vehicle as suppliers were often hard to find, especially in country areas.

Fig ___ 2 Gallon Petrol Cans
petrol tins

In 1917 a chap called Legge installed a hand operated pump, fed from an underground tank, on the kerbside outside his garage in Shrewsbury, generally regarded as the first 'petrol pump' in Britain. In 1920 the oil companies began installing hand operated pumps with underground storage and these became the most common method of selling petrol by the early 1930s.

The photo below was taken in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry in the late 1980s, it shows a van, typical of the types seen in the 1920s, and a hand operated petrol pump of early design.

Fig ___ Typical 1920s van and petrol pump
Photo showing Typical 1920s van and petrol pump

The example shown on the extreme left in the sketch below is a simple hand operated pump, these were known as 'iron maiden' pumps as the working parts were enclosed in a lockable cabinet. Pumps of this type were used to supply petrol to the public up to about 1940 but many remained in use at bus depots and hauliers yards into the 1960s.

The first true 'petrol pumps' able to delivered a measured amount of fuel were hand operated pumps developed in America in 1885 and originally intended for dispensing paraffin in hardware stores. This pump had a graduated glass container at the top, the fluid was pumped into the container until the required amount was reached and it was then drained into a can down a flexible pipe. This was altered slightly for delivering petrol, to speed things up the markings were reversed (zero at the top and increasing down the vessel), the vessel was filled and ready when the customer arrived and was drained until the required amount was shown on the gauge. The first use of this design (known as a 'visible pump') as a petrol pump was at an American garage in 1905. The first British petrol pump of this simple hand-operated type was installed at a London garage in about 1920. These older style pumps with the glass containers at the top remained in widespread use into the early 1930's (at least one survived into the 1980s in Scotland). On the continent a double-vessel type was developed, so one could be draining into the vehicle whilst the second was being filled, this speeded up delivery but I have not found any British examples.

A development of this type of pump, known as a 'cabinet pump' was a tall (7 feet high) cylinder roughly a foot in diameter. This had a set of hinged doors occupying the upper half, inside which was the pump, glass bottle and hose. These were better suited to kerbside mounting as they were less susceptible to vandals. These pumps often had an illuminated white glass sign on the top (introduced in America in about 1910, reaching the UK by about 1915). These are easy to model (with the doors closed) but lack character.

The first self-priming petrol pump was installed at a garage in south Manchester in 1921, by which time there were quite a few garages along the countries roads. These garages, mostly owned and staffed by men who had learned about motors in the army, specialised in repairs and modifications but they also sold petrol. It would be quite usual to see a high street shop converted into a garage (the large window replaced by a set of doors) with a pump or two mounted close by the wall outside.

Old petrol pump Also in the 1920s there was another common type of pump, a tall slender affair, still hand operated but self priming and with a meter and dial in place of the glass reservoir. These had a rectangular base supporting a cabinet of oval section with doors to either side which could be locked (the sketch below shows the pump both closed and open for business). The photo is of a pump installed in a taxi depot in the 1920s and which remained in use when the building became a funeral parlour. It is no longer used by the back-street garage which took over the building in the 1960s. The doors on the meter and pump section were sometimes painted white as shown in the photograph, when operated by an oil company owned filling station they usually had the company logo applied. There was sometimes a circular metal plate mounted high up on the pump on which the oil company logo was applied. These pumps usually had the white glass illuminated sign on the top, although some had a plain white version with no logo.

These hand operated pumps were sometimes seen outside other establishments as well, several pubs added a petrol service to attract the wealthier 'motor car people' of the day. The sketch shows the early glass container type (left), the later glass container 'cabinet' type (centre) and the tall thin type. Heights of all of these could vary and it was quite usual to have two pumps of the same type but different heights beside each other.

Fig ___ Hand Operated Petrol Pumps
hand operated petrol pumps

The early 1930s saw the introduction of the electric pump, mounted in a tall rectangular cabinet with a metered 'clock face' dial on the front (technically these are called volumetric pumps). The 'hour hand' on the dial indicated whole gallons, the 'minute hand' showed parts of a gallon, so there were two concentric sets of numbers on the dial. To reassure the customer that fuel was flowing a small rotating indicator was fitted in a glass tube at the top of the hose. Early types had a vertical cylinder, by the 1940s these was increasingly being replaced by a smaller circular fitting with a rotating disk visible on the side.

The electric pumps varied in height, some (retaining the tall styling of the old glass jar pumps) were up to seven feet high, others were about five feet high to the top of the cabinet and it was quite usual to have two different heights standing next to each other.

From the later 1930's a common addition to this kind of pump was a swinging arm gallows arrangement with the free end of the hose suspended from the end, presumably to avoid dragging the hose against the car body work. By the 1950s, although the pumps remained in use, the long arm gallows had been dispensed with but a lot of the new shorter pumps had a rotating arm mounted on the top from which the hose was suspended. This allowed the hose to be pulled an extra couple of feet without having a lot of hose lying on the ground (where it might be run over and damaged).

Electric pumps can fail, as can the electricity supply, so it was standard practice to fit these pumps with a hand-pumping option. On some pumps there was a small circular plate near the bottom with a pivot on one side and a small securing screw on the other, covering a hole. If the power failed the plate was moved aside and a long handle fitted, reaching up to just under the dial. This handle was pumped back and fore to operate the pump, the measuring mechanism was mechanical so continued to register correctly. The BP Ethyl pump in the sketch below shows this handle in place. An alternative was a similar plate mounted on the side of the pump opposite to the gun holster into which a crank could be inserted, usually a round and round type. This is shown on the Cleveland pump in the sketch below.

The Second World War slowed the changes down but immediately after the war the standard pumps were the traditional tall boxes with the hose mounted on the side and these remained the norm through the 1950's. In the 1960's the pumps became shorter and fatter and instead of a dial they had rows of 'fruit machine' style rows rolling numbers to indicate both the quantity delivered and the charge to be made. This numerical indicator, technically called a contometric display gauge, had been developed in the USA in the mid 1930s but because of the licensing costs it took time to reach the UK. Once here it replaced the older clock dial types on all new pumps as it allowed the motorist to specify how much money they wanted to spend rather than how much petrol they wanted.

Diesel fuel pumps have had the word DERV on them since at least the late 1930's (DERV stands for Diesel Engined Road Vehicle). Diesel oil pumps were often fitted with a large white sphere about eighteen inches (45 cm) in diameter (petrol pump globes were usually no more than about a foot across) with the word DERV in black. In the example shown in the sketch the globe marked DERV would have been removed in the early 1970s (DERV then being painted on the front of the cabinet). Diesel was pretty much only used by lorries prior to the 1980s, so the diesel pumps were usually located away from the rest of the pumps as lorries tend to be large and filling them takes a while. Derv pumps were often white but were usually rather dirty (petrol pumps were generally kept clean).

Fig ___ Electric Petrol Pumps
electric petrol pumps

By the later 1960s new pumps being installed were rather squat, they were usually white with a black rectangular panel containing the display. They were originally fitted with quite large illuminated signs on the top, hollow, made of plastic and often rectangular in shape. These illuminated globes and shapes were removed from the top of most petrol pumps in the early 1970s, the company logo being transferred to the lower part of the pump body, either painted on or (later) applied as a vinyl patch. By the later 1970s the older type of pump was becoming quite rare (although still seen at smaller garages in the country). With the new 'star' system of grading petrol a lot of pumps were built that could dispense different grades, in the sketch below the 'Jet' pump has a yellow knob on the right side beside the hose which can select one of five possible grades, the selected grade being indicated by a red tag in the window at the bottom of the display area where the price per gallon was displayed.

In the 1970s the large globe marked DERV was gradually phased out (these did last longer than the petrol pump tops however and lasted into the later part of the decade. The word DERV was then painted onto the lower pump body, the pumps were normally white with either black lettering or (more commonly) white lettering on a dark coloured stripe (usually dark blue). By the early 1980s the DERV marking was disappearing and a glass panel with the word DIESEL had become the norm.

Fig ___ Post 1970 petrol pumps
Sketch of post 1970 electric petrol pumps

One problem with the 'low slung' design of pump was that the hose had to remain the same length and hence tended to trail on the floor where it was damaged by cars running over it. The first method of addressing this problem was to add a wire, attached to the hose, which fed in through a small wedge shaped housing below the pump handle. This can be seen on the 1980s diesel pump in the sketch above. Inside the pump was a spring loaded wheel onto which the wire was wound. The visual difference was small, the hose was doubled back where it was tethered and drawn in by the wire, and if using fuse wire for the hose a simple twist is all that is required. These tethered hose pumps appeared in the early 1980s but were never a great success, people tended to struggle a bit to pull the wire out and the wire might break or the mechanism jam. The modern 'self service' pumps have the fixed end of the hose attached to a raised support to eliminate the trailing hose problem.

Pumps produced since about the mid 1970s do not appear to have any hand-pumping mechanism, as they are intended for self-service stations there is some logic in this, however in the event of a power failure the pumps would not be useable (there may be a hand-pumping option built into the base, but as the metering is electronic it is difficult to see how this could be used to supply the general public in an emergency).

Petrol Tankers

As late as the early 1930s some people still preferred to buy the fuel in tins (sealed at the refinery) as they had doubts about the quality of petrol from road-side pumps (some traders purchased low grade fuels and sold then as premium brands). By the later 1920s the underground tank feeding a pump of some sort was increasingly the norm, the distribution networks were established and garages with pumps received petrol in bulk, delivered by a road tanker. The illustration below is based on a tracing from a picture on the Science and Society website ( ), which is a treasure trove of useful pictures. The colours were taken from the photograph (which was of a model).

Fig ___ 1922 Dennis road tanker in BP livery
1922 Dennis road tanker lorry in BP livery

The average delivery or 'drop' remained small, in 1930 a typical retailer would take delivery of at most 200 gallons. By the end of the 1930s the capacity of road tank wagons used for effecting delivery to the retail trade was between 600 and 1,200 gallons. Most road tankers were of 600 gallon capacity and also carried drums, bottles and other containers of lubricating oils. To give some idea of the size the lorry below has a 600 gallon (2,728 litres) tank, this is a mid 1920s Thornycroft, Shell bought six of these in the mid 1920s, the livery shown is early 1930s to mid 1950s Shell-BP.

Fig ___ Shell-BP lorry in early 1932 livery

Shell-BP lorry in early 1930s

In the 1930s there was a fondness for 'streamlining (they even built streamlined buildings) and the large (for the time) American petrol tankers were wrapped in an air smoothed casing, often with the rear wheels covered by 'spats'. In the UK this only seems to have applied to airfield tankers, such as the example below from 1938 which again has a 600 gallon capacity (divided between four tanks). There may have been British delivery tankers with this kind of styling in the pre-war era, but I haven't found a picture of one and it would preclude carrying drums of lube oil (which the petrol companies said they did).

Fig ___ 1938 Zwicky airport tanker lorry
1938 Zwicky airport tanker lorry

The example shown below dates from 1950, at which time this style was still the norm for all 'up market' vehicles.

Fig ___ 1950 road tanker lorry
1950 road tanker lorry in National Benzole livery

The Leland Octopus was a popular rigid 8-wheeler chassis which was used for some large petrol tankers from the 1950s, the example shown shows the livery used by Esso in about 1960.

Fig ___ 1960 Leland Octopus tanker
1960 Leland Octopus tanker in Esso livery

Scammell built the first British articulated 6 wheeler (for on the tractor, two on the trailer) in 1920. Shell commissioned a rectangular tank version in the early 1920s and in 1926 Scammel patented their 'frameless' articulated tank trailer, selling one to Shell. It was really only after the Second World War however that petrol deliveries to garages began to make regular use of articulated lorries, only the larger garages required them. By the early 1970s the artic tanker was the most common type, initially using a four wheel tractor and four wheels under the trailer. By the later 1980s there were six wheels under the trailer and often six wheels on the tractor as well, typical capacity for these tankers is 9000 gallons (34,000 liters), the equivalent of 15 lorry loads in 1939 size tankers. See also 'Lineside Industries - Petroleum and LPG' for more illustrations of various oil company road tankers showing their liveries.

Free Air

One feature that was introduced in some garages from the 1920s and became common in the later 1930s was 'free air', a hose being supplied to top up the tyres with a meter to indicate the pressure. By offering the air for free the garage owners avoided any responsibility if something were to go wrong (an incorrect gauge measurement could cause an accident or even cause a tyre to explode as it heated up on a long run).

The air hose would be located off to one side, away from the petrol pumps, so that the person crouching down and doing the checks would not be run over by an enthusiastic customer heading for the pumps. The air was supplied from a small bottle, topped up by a small petrol powered compressor, the bottle and compressor were usually mounted at the rear of the garage out of the way and the hose supplied by a buried pipe.

The oil companies sometimes supplied a client garage with a purpose built air-hose stand, incorporating the hose and a large dial and sometimes fitted with a smaller version of their petrol pump top globe. These were usually associated with the more up market establishments in towns. Smaller garages would have the hose coiled upon a wall-mounted hook with a large sign above, often just saying AIR. By the 1960s small garages often had a tubular post about three inches in diameter and perhaps five feet high on which was mounted a car wheel(without the tyre)using U shaped bolts and wheel-nuts and the hose would be wound onto this. Most of the examples I remember from the 1970s had the pressure gauge built into the end of the hose (with a short length of flexible connecting hose on the end) but some installations had a large circular dial showing the air pressure mounted on the post itself. I asked on the uk.rec.sheds news group and several people remembered these, apparently the posh version had a pointer you set to the required pressure, when the tire reached the set pressure the machine made a pinging noise. Several people remember the non pinging type and the contortions they had to go through to see the dial. I gather this type of gauge fell from favour in the 1980s, no one can remember seeing one since.

Fig ___ Free Air
Sketch of air hoses

It is perhaps worth noting that a study in 2005 showed that the gauges at nearly half the free air supplies on forecourts were reading incorrectly, so it remains advisable for motorists to carry a small pressure gauge to check their tyre pressures.

Forecourt clutter

Car radiators need regular top ups with water, the most common method being a large watering can with a plain tubular spout. Up to about 1970 this would usually be a metal can but after that date a green plastic type was more common. It was not unusual to have a water tap with hose permanently attached on an outside wall, by the 1960s it was common to have a motor car wheel, without the tyre, bolted to the wall with the hose wound round it.

Garages and petrol stations had also to sell a range of lubricating oils and by the 1920s the standard way of dispensing these was to mount a hand pump on the steel drum containing the oil, using a hand held measuring can to gauge the quantity dispensed. The drum and pump remained a common sight at smaller garages, and those providing on-site mechanical servicing, well into the 1970s. The lubricating oil business exists separately from the petrol and brands such as Castrol, Duckhams, Valvoline, Millers Pistoneeze, Silkolene and Filtrate Oil were all sold at stations otherwise 'branded' as associated with a particular oil company. The oil companies themselves offered lube oils but many people preferred the independent brands. Oil company lube oils include Mobiloil (Mobil only started selling petrol in the 1950s, prior to that the only branded product they sold in the UK was their lube oil), Shell (covered both BP and shell stations), Essolube (introduced as a brand in the mid 1930s) and Havoline (owned by Texaco).

A garage offering servicing facilities would change the oil in the engine as part of the routine, they received oil if 5 gallon small drums and 45 gallon large drums, the former being much more common. This is a garage on a side street, they have a petrol pump (just one), a cabinet type mounted on the curb (the top is just visible near the railway drivers head), and they are selling National Benzole petrol. Update the lorry and the signs and the scene below would serve from the 1920s through to the 1980s. Note that we see a lot of old black and white photographs but in reality the pre-war world was a more colourful place than we often imagine.

Fig ___ Lube oil delivery in the 1930s
Sketch Lube oil delivery in the 1930s

The drum and pump shown in the sketch below is from a post war photograph, pre-war a plain black drum would be more common, some having the oil company logo but not all. In 1923 Shell introduced the 'oil cabinet', a unit consisting of a 50-gallon tank with small pump, all enclosed in a cabinet which could be placed outside the garage. By the later 1920s these purpose built metal cabinets were being supplied by the lubricating oil companies to larger filing stations and garages, the oil was delivered in steel drums and these were either decanted or placed inside the cabinet depending on the design. A set of hand pumps (usually two or three) in the upper part of the cabinet were then used to fill spouted oil cans. The cabinets had to be locked when the station was closed, some were substantial fixed cabinets, made of timber or sheet metal and fitted with a hefty padlock, others were lightweight sheet metal affairs mounted on wheels at one end so they could be locked away at night.

The Castrol example shown below is a fixed type, about five feet high, four feet wide and eighteen inches front to back. This would be seen bolted to the floor, usually against the side of the main building of the garage. The logo shown is the early Castrol logo, shortly after the war this was simplified to the more modern lettering as shown on the wall mounted sign shown below. At purpose-built filling stations it was common to have the oil cabinets mounted between the pumps on the service island itself. By the 1950s the oil drum and pump was seldom seen (although they were used for car servicing) and the rather elaborate timber cabinets had gone, leaving the sheet metal cabinets as the norm. Mike Pitt, a regular on the uk.rec.sheds newsgroup remembered a similar type of oil cabinet, with a convenient rectangular shape, on a local forecourt in the post war era -
Also found on the forecourt of our local garage was an engine oil storage tank. This was a tank some six feet by three feet in plan and about six foot high. The tank was divided into an upper and lower section. On the front of the tank was a lift up door that was hinged along its top edge and could be folded up onto the top of the tank and gave access to the top section. The lower section was divided into three oil storage compartments. A solid steel plate divide the upper and lower compartment and provided a mount for the dispensing pump on top of each oil compartment. A lockable capped port was provided for the refilling of each of the tanks. There were 3 different grades of motor oil in the tank. At one time there were only single grades of oil but when I was at the garage there was a multigrade and two other single grades.
Oil was pumped out through a pump with a wooden handled rotary pump into plain metal measuring jugs with an enclosed spout. I used to get to pump oil out into the two pint jug and taking it to the mechanic in the garage. A great job for an eight year old.
I also remember some customers changing oil with the seasons.
After Word War Two the oil companies took a greater interest in lube oils and a great many smaller firms faded away. The main suppliers of lubricants in the retail market in the twenty years following World War Two were Wakefield (now Castrol Ltd.), S.M. & B.P., Esso, Mobil and Regent. Petrofina entered the market in 1953 and there were a dwindling number of smaller specialist companies.

By the 1960s garages were selling a lot of oil in one gallon cans and smaller one pint tins, by the 1970s the attendant would be much more likely to sell you a pint tin of oil from a rack mounted between the pumps than use the bulk oil dispenser. These tins had been around since at least the 1940s, they were stacked in racks on the forecourt, usually located close by the attendant's cabin where he could keep an eye on them.

Two-stroke engines require oil to be added to the petrol, usually this was done using a floor-standing portable pump that could be carried to the vehicle requiring the oil. The pump I remember from the 1970s was tubular and about three feet high by eight inches in diameter. Mike Pitt, a regular on the uk.rec.sheds newsgroup remembered a similar type-
I also used a floor standing pump. This was out 3 feet tall to the top of the pump. It had a reservoir base that was like a cone. The top was wider than the bottom and had a pump like a stirrup pump mounted in the top, This dispensed oil through a hose. Where the stirrup pump entered through the top of the reservoir there was a dial. The pump could be rotated to select the oil fuel ratio. Then a single pump of the stirrup pump would dispense enough oil for one gallon of fuel. This pump was a Redex 2 stroke oil dispenser, two stroke oil was commonly dispensed this way to make a fuel/oil premix in the tank in the age before Japanese bikes made on bike oil metering the way forward.
A smaller hand pump was provided to supply 'upper cylinder lubricant', the most common make (certainly from the 1950s to the 1970s) was Redex (about ten inches high). Upper cylinder lubricants were common years ago and were said to reduce engine wear and reduce carbon build up and hence the need for decoking. More recently they have been produced with magnesium additives to allow older car engines to run on unleaded petrol. The picture shows a Redex dispenser like the one I used years ago. Mine was red and had a flexible spout. I cannot remember the volume each shot was but we used one shot per gallon.
The sketch below shows Mike's Redex dispenser (in the lower right) along with an Esso UCL pump (also about ten inches high) and a sketch of the floor standing two stroke oil dispenser. The UCL dispensers usually lived on top of one of the petrol pumps, on the island close by the pump base. The two stroke oil pump was also usually found on the island close by the pumps with its delivery hose coiled loosely around it. Since the introduction of self service in the 1960s (it didn't catch on until the late 1970s) the forecourt oil dispensing pumps have been replaced by small bottles of these oils which can be sold to the customer.

Fig ___ Forecourt clutter
Sketch of oil cabinets, oil drum and oil dispensers

For more information on lubricating oils and their logos see also Lineside Industries - Lubricating Oils & Associated Works.

Tyres were usually sold at garages, motorists have traditionally gone through quite a few of these. Early tyres were thin, typically three inches thick and rather tubular in appearance, they might be seen piled up inside the entrance to a workshop. They were a light grey colour, made from rubberized canvass and punctured easily (one of the main problems being horseshoe nails left lying in the roads). Up to the 1930s motor car wheels were often not removable, so motorists carried a 'stepney wheel', usually mounted on the side of the car. The 'spare' had no centre, just a rim and tyre, and was bolted onto the outside of the punctured wheel to 'get you home' (or to a garage) where the puncture could be repaired. By the later 1930s tyres were still rather thin but had a much flatter tread area. By the later 1930s a few replacement tyres would be a likely sight even at quite a small garage, and a complete wheel or two lying on the ground in the vicinity of the workshop was a very common sight indeed (this remained so into the 1970s). By the 1950s new tyres were often put on display at the garage, stacked side by side in tubular metal racks, either one or two tiers high. In the post war era (1940s and 50s) the 're-moulded' tyre or 're-tread' was popular, this was an old tyre that had been 're moulded' to re-cut the tread pattern. These were much cheaper than new tyres but tended to fail, they became increasingly rare in the 1960s and had (as I remember it) disappeared by the mid 1970s.
The pure 'filling station' with no repair facilities became increasingly common in the 1980s (although examples had existed as far back as the 1900's) and tyre replacement was increasingly the preserve of the specialist tyre outlets.

Fig ___ Tyres
Sketch of tyre rack

Enamelled metal signs were widely used for advertising and petrol stations were no exception. The sketch below shows a selection of signs from various periods. As these were replaced by new signs the old ones were used to patch roofs and walls at the garage. In the later 1920s there was a bit of a fuss about the proliferation of sinage around garages and the number of signs was reduced although you might see four or five pinned up on the buildings of the garage itself.

Fig ___ Metal signs seen at petrol stations
Sketch of enamelled metal signs used in petrol stations

One curiosity in the period between 1906 and the First World War was the AA Road Agency scheme. This equipped appointed garages with a black pole fitted with a yellow sphere, if the sphere was down at the foot of the pole all was well, if it was at the top it meant 'Stop I have a message for you', the message would usually be a warning that a police speed trap (a bobby equipped with a stop-watch) was in operation up the road. The AA, never an organisation afraid of publicity, set up an approval scheme for garages in the 1930s (possibly earlier). These establishments were allowed to display a metal sign, suggesting they had been checked and found technically proficient, and these signs were still in place into the 1970s.

Many establishments selling petrol also sold paraffin or kerosene for use in lanterns and portable home heaters (prior to the 1950s a lot of paraffin was also sold from horse drawn carts roaming the streets or from hardware shops on street corners). Standard practice was to have a small bulk tank of the stuff which was decanted into metal tins either brought in by the customer or supplied by the garage, usually either one or five gallon tins were used. The Anglo American Oil Co traded as Daylight Oil in the pre-war era, prior to the later 1930s one of their most important products was paraffin. In Britain two common types from the post war era were pre-WW2 'Aladdin Pink' Paraffin (a joint BP-Shell venture) and Esso Royal Daylight Paraffin brand.

Fig ___ Pre war paraffin tin and enamelled signs
Sketch of pre-war Paraffin can and enamelled signs
Post war these names changed to Pink Paraffin and Esso Blue. These are both technically 'premium paraffin', this has been refined to remove most of the noxious elements so it can be burned in a home appliance (for example a room heater) without making people ill. The cheaper grades of paraffin are used for domestic central heating systems and for jet engines (applications where people do not breath the fumes) but these are normally supplied in bulk direct from a tank farm. The problem with paraffin in a domestic context is the amount of water it deposits in the atmosphere, as I remember it for each gallon burned you get about one gallon of condensation in the room (there is a similar problem with portable bottled gas heaters, which is why canal boats and caravan owners prefer solid fuel stoves for heating). The paraffin pump would smaller than a petrol pump and would be located away from the petrol pumps (cars will run on it but as it has no fuel duty it is illegal to use it in this way). At my local garage in the 1950s and 60s the paraffin pump was inside the office (which served both for the petrol attendants and as a booking office for the workshop. The signs below are for paraffin from Esso (formerly Royal Daylight) and Regent (jointly owned by Texaco and Chevron)

Fig ___ Post war paraffin enamelled sign
Sketch of post-war Paraffin enamelled sign

In the 1960s 'savings stamps' appeared, they were thought up in 1958 by one Richard Tompkins's who started the Green Shield company and who also made a second fortune from the Argos chain of catalogue shops. The customer received a small number of stamps for each purchase and these could then be exchanged for goods from a catalogue or from a high street outlet. In the later 1960s most petrol stations offered Green Shield (the market leader) or Pink stamps to their clients. To place a layout in that time frame large advertisements for Green Shield (or one of the other such companies) stamps would be a common sight at filling stations.

Fig ___ Green Shield poster seen at petrol stations
Sketch of Green Shield poster seen at petrol stations

In the event, as every station offered them, there was no real advantage to the retailer and the cost of maintaining the system was a burden. In the later 1970s the idea fell from favour and the adverts disappeared fairly quickly.

Motor Car Sales

In the early years the local garage was mainly involved in bicycle sales and repairs, with odd light engineering jobs when they came up. In farming areas the local blacksmith was often involved and the garage would also handle the repairs to agricultural equipment. Following the First World War men with training in handling motor vehicles were released from military service and many of these set up as garage proprietors. As motoring became more popular these establishments would sell motor cycles and cars as well as provide service facilities. Very few establishments were tied to a particular company and signs offering motorbikes and cars from several firms would often be displayed.

Up to the Second Word War 'show rooms' were not common, in country towns and rural areas the owner would usually have a barn like building, or a fenced in compound for storing new cars which would be parked outside the garage on display during the day.

Rob Batten was able to advise . . .
I don't know when car companies first started to allow multi-franchising but certainly when I began selling for Lookers of Manchester in 1970 all garages were single franchise and dependant on wealth of the owners, or lack thereof. Some had no showroom at all and sold from open sites, some had small showrooms and kept a storage compound, depending on their financial stocking plan with the manufacturer (which was a can of worms I won't open here! ) and some of the well-to-do's had giant showrooms, big compounds stuffed with cars and even bigger headaches. This is a really complicated area because some were distributors, linked directly to the manufacturer whereas others were dealers only and so on.

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