The Central Garage stood on the site that is the Merton House Hotel car park at the top of New Street.
In 1937, Guy Bennett (known to everyone in Ross as Laddie Bennett) bought the site and built the Central Garage. This was essentially a structure of brick and concrete, that was covered with a huge curved corrugated roof that resembled an aircraft hangar. In the front, on the left of the entrance, was a modern showroom for new cars. On the right were the offices. The workshop covered the rest of the area behind. In the front of was a forecourt with petrol pumps.
No sooner had Laddie got the business underway then war broke out. As a result of this Multicore Solders were involved in essential and secret war work as they produced a special kind of high grade industrial solder. They were looking for premises in Ross and discovered that the garage was the only place in Ross equipped with the industrial grade electricity supply that they required. They therefore requisitioned the showroom, blacked out the floor to ceiling display windows and moved in.
Although the rest of the garage was not affected, Laddie had to move out completely because Multicore Solders was involved in work classified as secret so he became a wartime reserve policeman for the duration.
After the war, the work of Multicore Solders was de-classified and so Laddie was able to re-start his garage business, although he continued to allow Multicore Solders to occupy the showroom and they paid him rent for several years after the war.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Laddie continued to run the garage with the help of Sandy Lane, who was his chief mechanic, Dick Adams, another mechanic, Dick's wife Zeta in the office, and my grandfather's youngest daughter Toni Bennett (who later became Mrs Ted Sainsbury) on the pumps. At this time the garage was a Vauxhall dealership.
The great curved fascia sign (curved to fit under the corrugated roof) read: G R Bennett / Central Garage.
Laddie retired in the 1970s and he left the business in the hands of Sandy Lane. This was because neither of Laddie Bennett's daughters or their children were interested in running a garage business and so when Sandy Lane retired in the mid-1980s Laddie then sold the property.
The premises was sold to Alan Porter sometime before Laddie passed away in 1988. Alan Porter eventually sold it to a tyre company who owned it when it burnt down and it was after this that the Merton House Hotel bought it for use as a car park.
The Preece and Bennett Families
Laddie married Hilda Preece, who was the eldest daughter of Harry Preece, of Cooper & Preece who were auctioneers and valuers.
Harry Preece was one of the sons of George Preece, who for the second half of the 19th century ran the butcher's shop at No 1 Broad Street. The alleyway on the left side of the building was where all the live animals were driven to be slaughtered at the back. George Preece was one of the old Ross Guardians and one of those responsible for seeing that that Underhill near the market house was pulled down.
The Bennett forebears were Ross merchants in Queen Elizabeth's reign, but before her death they had become yeoman farmers and leased Over Ross Farm until the end of the 17th century. For 100 years from 1817 to 1917 they leased Ingestone in Foy, which was where Laddie was born. In 1917 the shortage of horses, which were requisitioned, forced Laddie's parents, who's father was Philip Charles Bennett, to move to a smaller farm at Netherton in Brampton Abbots. At around the same time, Laddie's eldest brother was killed at Passchendale in October of that year.
Eventually Philip Charles Bennett gave up farming and became a partner in Footit & Bennett.
Guy 'Laddie' Bennett taken in the 1930s [Photo: Nigel Edwards](Click for a larger image)
Laddie was born at Ingestone, Foy, in 1905 and grew up there and at Brampton Abbots. He came from a long line of Bennetts known to have been in and around the Ross area for 500 years. He worked for Dampier & Wigmore (auctioneers) before learning the motor trade with Longford & Hicks and starting up his own business around 1938 in Edde Cross Street. When the garage was requisitioned by Multicore Solders in 1939 he became a wartime reserve constable. After the war, he re-started his garage business and continued until he retired in the late 1970s, giving the business to his chief mechanic, Sandy Lane. After Sandy retired in the mid-1980s the premises was sold to Alan Porter.
In his youth, Laddie was highly active among the sporting and charitable bodies in the town, being at various stages captain of Ross Hockey, Ross Cricket, the Larruperz, and a member of the Vitruvian Lodge of Freemasons. Following a long family tradition, he was an active shareholder and director of the Alton Court Brewery (like his father and grandfather before him) and became its last chairman in the 1950s, a position which unfortunately led to him heading its inevitable sale to the Stroud Brewery, which closed it down with the loss of all jobs. It was a decision which weighed heavily on him for the rest of his life and cost him many friends in the town and many people in the town refused to speak to him. It was made worse as it was a time of high local unemployment but it was an unavoidable decision.
The Vitruvian Lodge was the first Freemason's Lodge set up in Ross and most of the Ross worthies of the late 19th and early 20th century belonged to it. It was highly influential in the "politics" of the town and Laddie's father, Philip Charles Bennett, was a Worshipful Grand Master at one stage but he seemed to loose interest as time progressed.
Another member of the family, James Lewis who died in 1897, had a big Freemason's funeral in Ross, according to the Ross Gazette. The Lodge paraded with the coffin through the town carrying acacia branches which they afterwards threw into the grave. The villa where he lived in Over Ross Street was called Acacia Villa too. He was also a member of the town council and a local builder.
Passey's Central Garage
In around 1900, Ernest Passey and Son opened a garage that was called the Ryefield Garage (presumably it was somewhere towards Ryefield Road but this is not clear). This was one of Ross' first Motor Garages and references to it continue until around 1938.
Ross had two Motor Car manufacturers at this time both setup in the late 19th Century, called Cassons and Butchers. Cassons were on Henry Street in the shop that is now Wye Electrics Shop and Butchers were on Brookend Street where the Gardner Butcher "Motor House" (garage) is today (as you can guess the 'Butcher' is the same family). Mr. Butcher then needed more room so he built a manufacturing workshop on Cantilupe Road opposite Cassons (the shop is now Ross Hydroponics and Clarke Roxburgh Insurance Brokers.
The competition was great and eventually they joined forces, due to different areas of expertise, to become Butcher & Casson Ltd. They produced a wide range of hand-built motor vehicles, from cars to various vans to small lorries all built to order by a ten man team.
At a similar time, and by 1914, Mr. Passey had joined forces with Mr. Hall and opened the Central Garage on Gloucester Road. This was next to the Post Office (hence a prominent position), which has since become 'The Mailrooms' pub. The Central Garage was a motor engineers and body builders (hence they too were building cars or parts of) and this later it became a motor & cycle engineers.
The name "Central" was very important back then as there was the Central Bakery, the Central Cycle Works, Central Drapers and Central Chemists as a few examples and so was held in great esteem.
In 1937 Laddie built the garage in Edde Cross Street on the site of what looks like two sheds or houses on old maps.
It must be remembered that Edde Cross Street had the Valley and the Swan Hotels, both of which were very large Hotels, and the Merton House Hotel opposite. Hence the garage being near there was a prime location to pick up trade from any of them.
Passey and Hall must have let Laddie have the Central Garage name, or maybe sold him the name with its existing prestige, so that he could build on it and run his own successful Garage. Passey's continued to trade in Gloucester Road, however they were no longer doing mechanical work and they were only selling fuel. Apparently, Mr. Passey was winding down operations because his son, Tom, was not interested in the business. Tom Passey went into local government as a council official and also a Justice of the Peace (as in a Magistrate).