Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 13

My Hillman Hawk taxi ADL 865 had now done some 90,000 miles. I had the opportunity to sell it for £500. I had only paid £120 in 1939 and to my way of thinking an excellent deal. So I spent the £500 towards a new Austin London type taxi - 7 seater, costing £1,100 a formidable sum.

It was at this stage that I started to learn about income tax problems. I did not know about balancing charges and written down values. As I had sold the car at a profit I had to pay back to the Revenue. As I had of course, spent the money on a new car, so again we struggle. Because of the new car the taxi business improved and because other firms wanted to hire the car for funerals and weddings, the car was in great demand. It really meant that we attended every funeral in Newport and East Cowes. The hearses in all the towns had become old and worn out and in most cases they had been converted from big vehicles. The funeral directors could not afford new ones and the position became so bad that one day I had to decide to buy a new hearse and take over the business. After great thought I plunged into this project. I duly got the new hearse. Harry (Truely) Davis was now working at the garage taxi driving and it seemed obvious he was suited to run the hearse and its hire car. So Newport Hire Ltd was formed. Harry with a third share, Ray Hamilton a third share ( he was the son of another funeral director who was not very willing to progress) and myself.

I must have driven the car on these occasions hundreds of times. I did not really like the job but the garage needed all the help possible. One has to be of a certain type to do this job and I gently stopped going. None better than Harry Davis, he was full of fun and wit. I can remember a few of his remarks. I asked him once "How are you getting on with the new hearse?" He replied "They're dying to have a ride in it." There was another occasion a wife had got a hot meal ready and took it into her husband. Whilst she was out of the room he had died in his chair and on the wife's return she exclaimed "What a waste of time, he didn't even eat it."

Unfortunately Harry became ill and knew his illness was terminal. And even at the end he remarked that if we bought him a record for Christmas he did not want a long playing one.

What to build in the Gravel Pit? I had been reading in our Trade papers that Shell was having a competition and the prize was £1000 to the architect who designed the best garage. Eventually the prize was won and the garage was built in Harlow Essex So I motored there one day to see what it really looked like. I must say it looked very impressive and attractive. I went in and introduced myself. The Manager/owner was a retired Major from the Army, who gave me permission to help myself to a good look round.

There was a canteen-cum-rest room on the second floor over the workshop. I had a chat with some people having a snack. "A nice canteen you have here" I said. "I don't know about that, we get all the fumes from the workshop", was the reply. I then wandered round the showroom and noticed that it held seven cars for display, but if you needed any but the first, all had to be removed to get out the required car. I noticed the diesel pump was well away from the petrol pump.

"The lorries don't get mixed up with the cars" said the owner. I went over to the attendant fora chat. "Not a bad idea to keep the diesel pump away from the petrol". "I don't know about that," he said, "If the tank is on the opposite side of the lorry no way can you fill it up".

There was a large oil store at the rear of the service bays, but the lorry which brought the oil could not deliver to the store, the entrance being too narrow, so all the oil had to be carried by hand.

I had a chat with the Service Bay chap. "A nice Service Bay you have", I said. "Not bad was the reply. You have to be very careful when you have a van on the lift, it will hit the roof of the building if you go to the correct height." So much for the best design.

A good sensible rectangular building was built - 70'x35'. It seemed a massive building and when the builder kept saying it was a bit ambitious I became concerned and thought I would cut the size down to 60'x30'. It would also save £1000. In those days we did not borrow money and only had that which you could pay for. I then discovered the plans would have to be resubmitted and I could not go through that again So thank goodness 70'x35' still remained. Because the Council was putting a sewer down Gravel Pit Road I changed over to the new arrangement so avoiding picking up the forecourt. Again I had to resubmit the plans.

We were selling Fords in those days so I wrote to them explaining the new building and that I needed new cars to sustain it. The reply was that things would get better and in due course we would get more cars.

Ivan, like Stephen, went to Ryde School. There is seven years between their ages, most of which were the war years.

Ivan became Head Boy for his last year at school.

Had it not been for the fact that the Head Boy, Keith Please, stayed on an extra year, Stephen would also have become Head Boy. During this year Stephen left school and started his apprenticeship at Saunders Roe, East Cowes.

Ivan went to Cheltenham College for teacher training, during which time regular trips were made by car to collect and deliver him.

My wife enjoyed those trips very much. During those college days Ivan met Linda who years later he married.

Having finished his training he got a teaching job at Bembridge Boys School. My wife took him to and fro, morning and afternoon, during which time she taught him to drive passing his test first time.

When Stephen applied to take his test immediately he became the right age, I was very cross saying how could he pass his test without any lessons, he could only fail.

Ben who was our workshop foreman laughed and said "what do you think he was doing when you went to the flicks every Monday evening". He also passed his test first time.

The new cars would only trickle through and in 1953 we never had one new car. Cars were on a two year covenant and when sold two years later would sell for more than they cost now.

Mr. Burdon from Sunderland a brother of my taxi customer, came to the Island fora holiday. He called at the garage for petrol and in his conversation with me said "yes if you can supply me with a 5 ton tipper truck I will buy it from you. Bring it to Sunderland and I will give you a cheque". I could hardly believe my ears. Supplying a 5 ton tipper was really something. When I phoned to find the availability of one I discovered there was a nil supply. However, I worried the daylights out of several firms and eventually got a 5 ton tipper form Sparshot of Portsmouth. I drove it to Ryhope near Sunderland and collected my cheque. I was able over time to supply some fifteen trucks all Bedfords.

Having delivered a truck on one occasion Mr. Burdon put me up at Richmond, Yorks. During the evening I wandered around town and saw a rather nice Flying Standard 12. I bought the car. Whilst having breakfast at the hotel next morning a young lad who waited at table asked me which part of the country I was going. I told him the IOW and he asked if I would take him as he wanted another job. I was not very happy about the circumstances but brought him home. I phoned Little Canada Holiday Camp at Wootton and got him a job. I never knew the outcome of this.

I sold the Standard to a Mr. Hackshaw a hairdresser in Ryde.

Stephen who had served his time at Saunders Roe was now in the business. He said "Look dad we are going into the Common Market so let's get a Continental car." Therefore Renault was approached and in 1960 we became Renault dealers.

We had also approached Singer motors and again we were successful. So Renault and Singer we were.

Our first six Renaults arrived. Yes, six in one go. We had been used to getting one Ford a month.

We were used to getting our spares for Fords from a local main dealer, and apart from the daily collection kept few or no spares in stock, but now we had to start stocking. We were on our own.

We were dealing with Hayters of Portsmouth for cars and spares. It went along quite well until Hayters went bust and we were then transferred to Cox of Redbridge, Southampton. These people knew their cars and so again all was well. Alas Mr. Cox grew older, and although he had a grown up son, couldn't even drive a car. He had to give up and retire, again leaving us exposed. All this was a great strain and I sometimes wished we had never started.

Picture of Harwoods fruit shop  c1900
Percy Harwood's grandfather outside his shop probably 1897 (Diamond Jubilee year) as the shop appears to be decorated.