One of Britain’s oldest petrol stations is to close after 126 YEARS – over health and safety fears.
Central Garage first opened in 1890 to repair faulty horse and carts – only a few years after the invention of the modern car engine. The concept of gasoline pumps was only established in the late 19th century and the garage became one of the first in the UK to offer the service to its customers.
Located in Bishopsteignton, Devon, it is one of the oldest garages in Britain and has had around five different owners during its long history. But it is now to shut down – amid competition from local supermarkets, and health and safety concerns. It is so close to the road current owner Graham Nicholson had to recently remove the fuel pumps as it was now too dangerous for staff to do their job; he said a customer was nearly knocked over by a passing car and a new doctor’s surgery being built nearby will make the traffic too dangerous.
The decision to shut one of the first filling stations in the UK has been described by staff as a sad but inevitable one. Graham, who took over in 1987, said they have had to adapt to many changes over the years. But since the rise of supermarket petrol stations the business has struggled to make any money out of selling fuel. Graham, 63, who is married to Suzanne, 60, and has two children, Christopher, 35, and Jayme, 31, said:
“I have three people who work for me so standing in the road to serve customers is too much of an increased risk.
“For 29 years since I bought the company, I have not made a penny from fuel. In fact I have been buying it for three or four pence a litre more than the supermarkets sell it for. I have been doing it purely as a service to my loyal customers. There are not many village garages selling fuel any more. The fuel was never a profit making thing, it was just a service.”
Staff said the recent decommissioning of the pumps felt like the end of an era but the venue will stay open as a repair garage. Graham, who still has the original 1920 American Wayne hand cranked fuel pump in his sitting room as an ornament, said:
“Village garages struggle as they are. We never made money on fuel because you just don’t. There is a Tesco’s and Morrison’s nearby but we do have loyal customers.
“We didn’t have an option to close because of the doctor’s surgery. The only sensible thing to do was close it.
“I could not ask my staff to stand in the road. It was my decision after I attended a public meeting last April with the parish council.
“We have quite a busy repair workshop – it’s not going to affect us. We won’t see as many people and the social part of it is now gone. It’s a shame but that’s the way it goes.
“We are still a village garage but without the fuel. In 1968 I started working at another garage but I bought this one in 1987 – we loved it. When you got something that works you don’t want to change it. The concept has not changed over the years – we are a friendly garage.”
Jacky Forte, 53, of Newton Abbot, Devon, has been serving petrol at the site for 20 years, said:
“Originally it was a stables for carriages. It’s always been for transport. Underneath all the flooring are cobbles.
“Yeah it’s quite odd here. Looking out the window and there are no pumps. It’s quite sad. We have a lot of elderly customers who have never put petrol in their cars in their life. Now they are finding it hard to put fuel in themselves. It’s always been a nice atmosphere here.
“When I first started we had four star and leaded – four different pumps. It’s getting more and more difficult because they are doing stuff over the road. People drive so fast – it can be quite scary.”