I’ve always liked Upton on Severn, an inland town with a marine feel to it, thanks to a riverside location that has brought trade and pleasure traffic to the place for centuries. The town is full of old inns, 19th- and early-20th-century shop fronts, and other points of interest, but what caught my attention on my most recent visit were two early garages.
The architectural history of the garage is hardly a tale of glory. Apart from the occasional Art Deco eyecatcher, it’s a story that began with converted farm buildings, makeshift huts, and former stables, and ended with corporate dreariness. Yet early survivors often rise above the total blandness and minimalist shells we’re used to when we fill up now.
Take Shipp’s Garage, up a side street in Upton. This building began life in the 1890s as a nonconformist chapel, but the garage proprietor found the building’s height and location conducive to conversion, A plaque on the wall says ‘Established 1926’, though I don’t know whether they’ve been in the old chapel that long. Of course, part of me thinks that converting a building like this is a travesty. Violence has been done to the front to knock through the big doorways, the one remaining window is a sorry version of its former self – and one could go on. But the rest of me likes what’s happened, for the building’s knockabout visual charm and for the fact that it wears its troubled history on its sleeve, for us all to see and read.
A few streets away, on the road out of Upton towards Malvern, is Pane’s Regal Garage, a place to make you swerve.
It has a big moderne frontage with the name Regal Garage spelled out in huge tall cut letters. But a building’s surroundings are often as important as the building itself, and what marks out this place is the remarkable collection of very large and very red trucks, breakdown wagons, and cranes parked on either side. This one, probably American and probably as old as the garage itself, caught the sun, and my eye.