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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Buying petrol in 1940s
and 1950s Britain

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Petrol stations - known as garages

Typical old style petrol station, known as a garage, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s Britain

A typical urban old petrol station (then known as a 'garage'). Photo courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society.

When I was a child in the 1940s and 1950s the petrol stations that I saw were not normally custom built. They were in buildings built for other purposes and adapted, as shown in the photo. They were always known as 'garages'.

In rural areas, though, where space was not at a premium, there were garages that might be called custom-built, although they were more like elaborate sheds.

Old rural petrol station and car mechanic's workshop

A rural garage which doubled as a car mechanic's workshop. Photographed in Tylford Rural Life Centre

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Why petrol stations were called garages

Garages did more than just sell petrol. They invariable employed mechanics who could make repairs to cars. In those days, car engines were not as complex as they are today, so it was not unreasonable for mechanics to be adequately familiar with the engine of any make of car.

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Filling up with petrol - garage attendants

For much of my life and earlier, it was unheard of to fill one's car oneself.

All garages had one or more attendant who kept a look-out for customers and came out to them to fill their cars. The driver paid through the window; change was brought back to him; and he never had to get out of the car.

Garage attendant filling a car, as was the custom in 1940s-1960s Britain

Garage attendant filling a car with petrol. Screen shot from an old film.

Garage attendants always seemed to wear dirty overalls, so perhaps filling cars was dirtier in those days or perhaps the attendants also doubled as mechanics. Either way, customers kept their hands and clothes clean.

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Petrol pumps

The design of petrol pumps changed over the years. The following pictures are presented in what I believe is approximately date order. However, almost certainly designs were phased in and out.

Early petrol pumps 2 of 4

Petrol pumps photographed in the Black Country Museum

Early petrol pumps 1 of 4

Petrol pumps photographed in Amberley Museum


Early petrol pump 3 of 4
Early advertisement for Shell petrol

Petrol pumps and petrol advert, photographed in Brooklands Museum


Early petrol pumps 4 of 4

Petrol pumps photographed in Milestones Museum. These are the type that I remember from the 1940s and 50s.


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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.