Worboys Garage – 60 Years in Gamlingay.

From Gamlingay Gazelle October 1996

Incredible as it may seem now, the garage owes its birth to the great Wall Street Crash which occurred in 1929. The crash caused a great business depression which swept all over the world, including Great Britain.
In the early 1930s it struck the garage trade in Gamlingay and my employer was forced to make his workshop staff redundant, owing to lack of work.
I was well known amongst many car and motorcycle owners, having worked on their vehicles over a period of nine years. Several people approached me to see if I would work on their premises. Rather than go “on the dole” I readily agreed. I also repaired cycles and motorcycles in my father’s garden shed.

At the end of 1932 I was able to rent the shop in Mill Street, next to what eventually became Lindsay’s Bakery. In the following year I was able to rent the whole of the premises and I had a large shed erected in the garden, complete with inspection pit. There I had a shop in which parts and accessories were sold, cycles and motorcycles repaired and a workshop suitable for the repair of cars and small commercial vehicles.
I remember my first sale from the shop: someone came in and bought a torch bulb, price 2% d (old pence)!

In 1934 I bought a derelict site in Mill Street, next door to the Zoar Chapel. Four cottages, known as Widows’ Row, once stood there, occupied by four World War One widows and their families.
The cottages burnt down in 1928. At the beginning of 1936 commissioned R & H Wale to build the first half of the garage and within six weeks they had cleared the site, put up the building, installed the petrol tanks and completed the forecourt.
I moved in and started business there just as the economy was starting to recover from the great 1929 depression, which carried on well into the 1930s. All went well until September 1939, when war was declared and petrol rationing started, which of course brought about a down-turn in forecourt revenue. However, there was plenty of work from the workshop and I had started a private hire business. which proved quite successful. When the blitz on London started I fetched many people from London who came to stay with relatives in and around Gamlingay as there was a special petrol allowance for private hire cars.

I had joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in December 1939. and after a medical test in Cambridge I was sent to RAF Cardington for a trade test to see if was suitable to become a Fitter IIE. Then I was sent home and told to wait until I was called up.
One day in 1940 an Army officer came in and said: “I am commandeering these premises for military use, together with all your tools and equipment. I have two men with me who will now make an inventory of your stock. You have three days to settle your affairs”.
This was a very severe blow. I had three customers’ cars undergoing major repairs. However, help was at hand.
My friend, the late Owen Godfrey of Biggleswade, kindly had the cars taken to his workshop and they were eventually repaired. I cleared out our stores and office and the army took over. I carried on with the private hire business until I was called up in 1941.

After discipline courses and two technical courses, I emerged as a Fitter II Engines and was posted to XIII Squadron, stationed at Odiham This was an Army Co-op bomber squadron and it was rumoured that we were to be sent overseas.
During this time I received a message informing me that the Army had set my garage on fire. I was given a 36 hour pass to go home and inspect the damage, which was pretty severe. The shop, stores and office and a third of the roof were all burnt out. The officer in charge told me that the Army would make temporary repairs so that they could continue to use the premises and they did this in a rough-and-ready manner.
Luckily I had kept the building insured and it was properly repaired when the war was over.

After serving in Algeria, Tunis, Libya, Egypt, Italy and Greece, I was posted back to the UK & was eventually demobbed in time to be home for Christmas 1945.
My first task was to gain re-possession of my garage, which was now deserted and looking very forlorn.
After some difficulty I obtained an interview with the officer in charge of commandeered buildings. He was an Army Colonel and he regarded me with some disfavour as he informed that the Ministry of Supply wanted to take the garage over as a potato store, adding for good measure: “I suppose that you had a comfortable war working in an aircraft factory?”
I informed him that I had spent three rather uncomfortable years following the Army with my Squadron in the Mediterranean area.

On hearing this his whole attitude changed and he told me to tell him about my travels – Operation Torch, the landing in Algeria, Tunis, Egypt, Italy and Greece. After listening to me he said: “I was there too”, and he promised that he would see that the garage would be released to me within six weeks.

In the meantime l set about renewing pre-war business connections in an endeavour to purchase new tools and equipment in a time when it was very difficult to obtain supplies of any sort.
However, after various set-backs and disappointments the business restarted on 1st March 1946 and gradually the tide turned in my favour.

About this time Sir John Astor purchased the Hatley Park estate. One of his vehicles broke down almost opposite the garage. I had a look at it and was able to get the spares needed to repair it. I think that Sir John was impressed by the service he got and he opened an account with us.

In the mid-1950s the second half of the garage was built. In 1962 we became a limited company and the garage is now run by my family – three generations of Worboys – my son Keith, grandson David
and myself, and of course daughter-in-law Christine, who is our Managing Director.

In the early days my dear wife Emily was a tower of strength, working in the garage and often helping me with the assembly of engines which were being overhauled.
Our grateful thanks to all our loyal customers, past and present, who
have supported us over the last sixty years.

Ken Worboys