Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 14

We were then transferred to Steels of Southampton who didn't even know a Renault, not as much as we knew, so again we went through a bad period.

Steels were also Rover agents and we were asked if we would like to sell Rovers. Yes we would. So now we were selling Ford, Renault, Singer and Rover.

Our Singer sales were very god. There was only one model, Singer Gazelle. In fact we sold more Singer cars on the IOW than they did from Seals of Portsmouth our suppliers.

Our first Renault was called the Dauphine, only one model. So in choosing the car it was only a question of which of the six colours do you want. As I remember, next came the Renault 4, which is still with us in 1986, then came the R8, R10, R12, R15, R17, R18, R20, R30, R25, R14, R9, RI 1, and in 1983 some 55 models.

When eventually we moved offices we wondered however we had managed.

When the first garage was built, we had four 500 gallon tanks. These were considered massive, 300 gallon petrol tanks being the norm.

We had five 2000 gallon tanks installed in the new garage and by today's standards are considered normal to small.

Another point was that in the early days no car was left out in the open always garaged. Now 75% of cars never see the inside of a garage.

The Singer car was made by the Rootes group. Lord Rootes had served his time in the Singer factory, so when he bought the Singer factory he made the Gazelle his baby. In fact it was a glorified Hillman Minx.

The time came when Rootes also wanted us to sell Humber and the Hillman Minx. In due course we gave up the Rootes group of cars altogether.

Steels of Southampton sold out and we were transferred again to Park motors of Southampton. Another upheaval. Renault was now becoming stronger and became our no 1 so eventually we gave up Ford and Rover.

We had a terracotta floor laid down in our old showroom and gained a little experience of its application. I had the idea that when the floor was laid I would like a map of the IOW inlaid. I mentioned the idea to Arthur Hudson and asked him if he would be interested in doing the job. I knew that something like this would be just up his street. I had seen two doors that he had made, a picture of a staircase in 3D, all in inlaid wood - a work of art.

The great day came when the terracotta was laid and the map of the Isle of Wight imbedded in the floor. All the main roads are inlaid, together with the names of the towns and villages.

I nearly drove Pearce signs mad. They were making the letters for the names and of course there was a deadline. There is one spelling mistake in the floor, but the cement having set we could not correct it. It is amazing that very few, and I mean few people notice the mistake.

The map is drawn to scale to the mile. It is facing the correct way. We now deal with Renault and this has proved to be very satisfactory.

I wanted a 3" tilt on the floor. The idea being that the floor would be flooded most days, and this would pick up dust and dirt. Also it would prevent any car from running into the plate glass windows.

The builder was not very keen on this idea, and the very time the floor was being laid, I was whisked off to London to have my tonsils out.

On my return my first request was to see the floor. Alas! Instead of putting tilt on the floor North to South, it was tilted from the middle, East to West and West to East The effect is that when the water is turned on it goes out of the eastern and southern doors as the builder intended.

However it works fairly well.

When our petrol tanks were installed I had the manhole covers raised about 3" tapering off to the level of the forecourt, so that when it rains no water enters the manhole covers.

Unlike the manhole covers which were level with the forecourt level, when it rained the manholes filled with water.

We always kept a bucket in each manhole and before the petrol was supplied we had to bale out.

In 1967 I had a life policy due, something like £4000. A huge sum of money.

It was always planned to build a new house, and a suitable site was planned in the gravel pit. I had several years to think about it and during holidays abroad had got some ideas. The house that did appeal to me was the German Embassy in Spain. It was on a hill, in a country setting. I drew an outline plan of the house and showed it to Ron Williams our builder, and he did his usual twitter and said do you know how much that would cost. Some £20,000. My £4000 would not go very far, so the drawing was torn up.

At this time all plans had to be in the Council's hand by a certain time because there was a new land tax being levied. So during the lunch hour on the front wing of a car Stephen and I, using some of the ideas of the previous drawing made a sketch. The sketch was taken to Ken Souter the architect, a plan was drawn up, submitted and duly passed. So "Tree Tops " was built. The last house the Williams built before their retirement.

The house was built for £9000. This year's insurance, including contents and a summerhouse (this a few year's later) costing £ 1600 was for £91000.

What rampant inflation.

I found myself interested in the garden and in wild natural surroundings. I installed a large fish pond and a cascade of water flowing into the main pool. Water being supplied by 1/2 hp electric water pump. The garden is at its best in the Spring and early Summer - hundreds if daffodils, bluebells, rhododendrons and azalea.

Our business is still expanding, Stephen taking more of the decisions. Most firms add extensions and alterations to their existing buildings, we had also done a little, but decided to build a complete new workshop at the rear of the showroom.

It took about two years to complete and we would consider it to be amongst the best on the Island.

It is equipped with the latest tools and equipment. It also has underground extraction for exhaust fumes.

Heating is provided by oil. One of the heaters uses engine oil drained in the Service Bay.

A modem canopy over the petrol pumps enables petrol to be served in the dry when the weather is bad.

In January 1984 our first computer was installed.

A man came striding into the showroom (Sept 1986) grinning all over his face. I had looked up from my desk, which was facing the showroom door. "Good morning" I said and thought I recognised him. "Do you know me?" he said. "I seem to recognise you." "Are you the retired AA Scout who used to call at the garage years ago?"

"No, my name is Ben Millroy. I worked in your garage as petrol boy some fifty years ago."

I now remember him so well. We already had one Ben working for us and having a second Ben would only confuse the issue. So we called him Tom -this was his father's name.

He was a very energetic, bit of a handful boy, up to all the mischief.

Opposite the garage was a field belonging to a Mr. Sibbick, a builder from East Cowes who like most builders bought the field for speculation.

In the field were two dilapidated broken down sheds and during the lunch break he would go over pulling down parts of the sheds.

"What are you doing over there?" I asked, "those sheds belong to Mr. Sibbick, you have no right to be over there." "I'm going to reconstruct the sheds and grow mushrooms."

His wife, who I had met for the first time, said he still talks about mushrooms.

He told me he was a fighter pilot but was now office bound and retiring next year 1987.

So maybe he will grow his mushrooms.

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.