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P. S. F. Harwood 1911 - 1994

Memories Of A Successful Man

Percy as he was known to everyone in Wootton was born in Castle Street, East Cowes, where his father and mother ran a cycle shop. During the First World War [1914-18] his father was called up for war service and his mother kept the shop open, repairing and improvising, in order to keep peoples cycles and prams on the road. At this stage is has to be said that the state of the roads played havoc with any form of tyre.

Picture of Percy Harwood
Percy Harwood

On his 14th birthday in 1925 he obtained his first driving licence from Newport and was given a Mckenzie motor cycle [belt drive, no clutch] by his father. This was the start of his life long love affair with the internal combustion engine and by the time he reached 21 years Percy had bought and sold 17 motorcycles. On leaving school he joined J.S.Whites the shipbuilders at East Cowes as a junior office boy working in the drawing office and later transferred into the works to become an apprentice turner. During this period he became friendly with another teenager who played the violin and together they spent many hours playing and singing, this lead to the formation of a dance band called the Sylvian Juniors with Percy on the piano. The band played at many functions in East Cowes including the open-air dances, which in those days were held on the sea front, and they were the first dance band to play at the Brightstone Holiday Camp on the Military Road, which is on the far side of the island.

The start of Lushington Garage [now known as Harwoods] was the result of a decision by a friend of the family to buy a large plot in Lushington Shute, Wootton and build a house called Marchwood. The name of this road has changed and it is now known as Lushington Hill, on the island the word Shute is believe to mean a road cut through the top of a hill.

In order not to be outdone by his friend, Percy’s father bought the plot of land adjacent, which the family cultivated as a vegetable garden. One Sunday during a visit to collect the vegetables Percy and his father walked up to the top of the hill to a place we know today as Gravel Pit Road and they agreed it was an ideal place to build a garage. A visit to George Moody the farmer who owned the land was made [it is believed the he lived in Park Road, Wootton at the time]. Agreement was reached and two plots of land were purchased, one of them measuring 60 feet by 200 feet was later used to build a house and shop.

In 1932 the family had moved to Wootton and the garage 50 feet by 30 feet together with a general store was built by L.Gray of Lake and opened in July 1933. Opening hours were 7.30am- 10.00pm, Monday to Saturday and 10.0am- 10.0pm on Sunday. At that time it was the only petrol station between Newport and Ryde. The first customer every morning was the Manchester delivery lorry use by L.J.Souter of Wootton Mill, which at the time was located at the bottom of the High Street in Mill Square. The standing daily order was 4 gallons of petrol and a pint of oil, with a check on the gearbox oil every Monday morning. Due to members of the family working in East Cowes and the difficulty commuting daily, a decision was taken in 1934 that the family should move back to East Cowes, this meant that Percy had to commute daily using a 5 HP Ariel motorcycle.

As part of the expanding services offered by the garage a Buick MT 2037 motorcar was purchased and operated as a taxi; note, this car was used as a fire tender during the Second World. Around 1937 plans were submitted for an extension to the garage with a flat above, when complete this allowed Percy and his wife to take up residence, from this point on the garage, taxi service and shop took off. As part of the service to customers was if their car was in for service/repair they expected the garage to work until it was repaired, whatever the finishing time was.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the garage was taken over by the army for the maintenance of vehicles and several regiments were involved including the Black Watch and the Jersey Militia {5th Hampshire Regiment] whose headquarter were across the road at Meadowcroft? By this time there were three taxis operating from the garage with the licence numbers A. Ford 8, DDL.154, B. Austin 12, DL 9472 & C. Hillman Hawk ADL 865. Staff at the garage were drafted into various essential occupation and Percy rejoined J.S.Whites in his original position as a turner on the night shift. As part of the war effort all men who were not in the armed services had to join some organisation such the Home Guard, Fire Service or ARP [air raid precaution], Percy joined the later as an ambulance driver of a converted single decker bus. It was fitted out as a mobile hospital and carried all the necessary equipment and was stationed in the garage. Going to work at East Cowes involved passing the 4.2 ant- aircraft gun battery located at Whippingham, if the air sirens sounded and the guns started firing it could be deafening and could mean two or three hours in an air raid shelter. The rest period on the night shift at Whites was from 2-3 am. and we would all try to get a little sleep; often we did not hear the air raid siren. Heating in the factory was primitive by modern standards it consisted of three upright cylinders type stoves some 2’6” inch diameter and 6 feet high, spaced about 30 feet apart. They were too hot to stand close to and it quickly became cold the farther you moved away.

Within the factory a running count of the number of German planes shot down in the previous 24 hours was chalked up, the highest ever recorded in one-day was 185 in the battle of Britain. The worse night of the war was 4/5th May 1942 when Cowes was attacked; the Polish destroyer, Blickawiska was moored alongside undergoing repairs and was the main target. We were in the shelter when the first bomb landed about 100 metres away and all the lights went out. All the guns on the destroyer were firing and the noise was unbelievable, the Polish sailors were stripped to the waist manning the guns. It must be added at this stage that the ship had no power of its own and was being supplied by power from the factory, and credit must go to unknown people who kept the works generators working during the raid. Emerging from the shelters after the raid ended everyone was greeted by an amazing sight, both sides of the river were on fire, but the destroyer was still afloat. The Germans planes came back about one hour later using the fires as targets.

In the raid, Percy wife’s lost members of her family who lived in one of the pair of houses which were built in the area that is now the roundabout at the bottom of Lushington Hill [a total of eight people were killed when the bomb hit] and over 140 people were killed in total. The island was considered a prime target for invasion by the Germans and became known as a ‘pink area’, petrol was rationed and availability of supplies restricted to six garages, those pumps not in use were immobilised.

Public transport was limited and taxis were at a premium due to rationing so the taxi side of the garage was still thriving, if a person requested a taxi quite often he/she would have to share with others, During the war the three taxis had considerable use A. Ford 8, 120,000miles [two engines], B. Austin 12, 90,000 miles and the Hillman Hawk, 85,000 miles.

The war was over and Percy assumed he could leave J.S.Whites and return to the garage, however he had to go before an appeals tribunal to get his release. The garage became very busy with people getting cars out that had been stored during the war, which now required serviced and repairing. One such vehicle was a Ford 8, which had been used as a chicken house; it was reconditioned and put back into service. However availability of spares was a problem after the war, and much improvising had to be done. In order to boast trade, surplus army sales were visited and vehicle purchase and brought back to the island, serviced and sold.

First new car arrived a Ford Anglia number EDL 102, at the same time two mainland dealers arrived at the garage and offered to buy our old Ford 8 taxi, it was sold and disappeared to Guildford. A customer of ours who lived came in East Cowes came in to shows us a car he had bought in Guildford with our name in the log book; our old car still going strong. The Hillman Hawk with 90,000 miles on the clock was sold and replaced with a new Austin 7 seater London type taxi.

In 1957 the garage was given a face lift to improve appearance, two large window were cut into the eastern wall, side and front walls were extended concealing the old roof and the front sliding doors replaced.

During the mid 1950s an opportunity arose for the purchase of the adjacent old gravel pit which separated the garage from the houses from a local resident aged 90 years, called Sam Phillips. New showrooms size 70 feet by 35 feet were proposed and designs submitted for approval. Prior to the new showrooms opening in 1958, Sam helped the local village builders [William’s] dig out the foundations.

The new Austin 7 seater taxi was proving very popular and the business was expanding. Other organisation wanted to hire the vehicle for funerals and weddings and it became a regular feature at most funeral in Newport and East Cowes. The existing hearses used by funeral directors were in poor state and they could not afford to buy new vehicles, a decision was taken to buy new hearses and form a new company Newport Hire Ltd of which the garage had one-third share.

The garage already had a Ford franchise but supplies were difficult to obtain, however things did improve, other franchise for Rover, Singer and Renault were offered and taken on. Problems with our distributors eventually lead to the garage becoming a Renault dealer and that proved to be a wise decision.

With the trade expanding the next question was what to do about the Gravel Pit area, various magazines were studied and visits to several new garages made to look at their designs and any operation problems they had found, they were many. To handle the increasing servicing requirements a modern workshop 100 fee by 85 feet was designed and built, his opened in 1974.

With the success and expansion of the garage Percy’s son Stephen took over the running of the business on a day-to-day basis and Percy was able to build the house of his dreams and enjoy his garden.

A self made, and successful businessman.

The complete story can be read in Percy Harwood's book Just 3½ Miles on this website.

Source: Just 3½ Miles by Percy Harwood

This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:16:36

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