Garage bids for place in record books
By Patrick Lowman and Richard GossA 103-year-old workshop and garage in a small East Anglian village is hoping for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for being the oldest establishment of its kind in Europe.
By Patrick Lowman and Richard Goss
A 103-year-old workshop and garage in a small East Anglian village is hoping for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for being the oldest establishment of its kind in Europe.
Queen Victoria was still on the throne when Riddelsdell's showroom and workshop in Boxford first opened for business in 1900.
With the business continually trading for more than a century, motor heritage experts believe it is the oldest garage in the UK and probably in Europe as well.
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Today, the garage specialises in the motor trade, but it began by servicing farm machinery, carts, bikes and traction engines – and it was not until 1902 that the small family business moved into the new age world of the motor industry, with the emergence of internal combustion engine-powered automobiles.
Howard Watts, the current garage owner, said: "I was thrilled to discover that we are apparently the oldest garage in the country.
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"When I took over the business I found all sorts of memorabilia and a box of fascinating old photographs which trace the history of the place back more than 100 years.
"It was set up here in the village in 1900, but the business didn't start selling petrol until around 1917 when it was dispensed in gallon cans because there were no pumps.
"We may only be a small village garage, but we like to think we still offer the same individual service to our customers that has kept the business going for more than a century."
Although the garage is still going strong, serving the community in Boxford, its past is what really catches the imagination.
The garage was originally opened by Percy Riddelsdell and one of his first car customers was the wealthy local clergyman, the Rev Witt Bonsey, who caused a stir in the community when he purchased a French Panhard-Levasseur in 1902.
Remarkably, the vicar's daughter, Jean Elliot, is still a regular customer with her equally-impressive Mercedes.
In the business' early days there were only 700 cars on Britain's roads and petrol was just one shilling per gallon. Even the cheapest cars cost about £300, compared with an average wage of just £3 a week.
By the 1950s Riddelsdell's was a thriving business and the list of cars it has sold and serviced over the years reads like a who's who of great British makes now consigned to the history books, including names like Alvis, Allard, Lea Francis, Lagonda, Sunbeam and Wolesley.
The company's fascinating history now looks certain to win its rightful place in the annals of the Guinness Book of Records.
A spokesman for the Guinness Book of Records said: "We have categories for old buildings such as pubs, so we would be interested to hear from the garage."