Friday, May 4, 2018

Withington, Gloucestershire

One pump or two?

Pump Cottage: what image does it conjure up in the mind’s eye? A small house next to the village pump, perhaps, to which the locals used to come for their water supply – as my mother did in rural Lincolnshire in the mid-1950s, when I was just old enough to toddle along to the pump with her. In Withington, Gloucestershire, it’s a rather different story. The pump next to Pump Cottage here is a petrol pump, now rusted, but hanging on just enough to be recognisable. As regular readers will know, when I see an old petrol pump, I can rarely resist stopping and looking and taking a photograph of it. Sometimes I’m attracted by a beautiful piece of design; sometimes I’m just interested in how times have changed, and how the roadside pump ironically became a rarity as the roads got busier.§

At Withington, what stopped me in my tracks was simply admiration of a bit of what John Piper called ‘pleasing decay’. I’m pleased that Jonathan Meades is also attracted by this sort of thing, by the sight, as he put it once, of an old petrol pump, ‘pitted and crisp as an overcooked biscuit’. Each time I passed, I meant to stop, but – it’s so often the way – because the village is on a regular route of mine I put off pulling in and getting the camera out. The other day, realising that the thing was rusting away and soon might not be there at all, I stopped at last, in spite of the Resident Wise Woman’s doubts about the contrasty light.*

And that was almost that. Except that I wondered about the history of this pump and did a little research. Apparently Mr E J Cripps, the proprietor of Withington’s garage, had to close his business 60 years ago because of ‘a rate reassessment’.† There’s a photograph of him at the Getty Images site, standing proudly by not one but two pumps. Both pumps were still there about 12 years ago, when another photograph, to be found on Geograph, shows one still with its ‘BP’ logo.¶ So today I post my picture of the single survivor, crisp and well cooked now, as a reminder of the time the garage closed – at around about the same time as your infant author was toddling to the water pump with his mother.

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§ Many small rural garages closed, from the 1950s onwards, often as a result of competition from larger businesses in towns and on main roads.

* But I like contrasty lighting.

† For my non-British readers, this means an increase in local taxation.

¶ Those who want to see the pump handle mechanism more clearly should look at this Geograph image, which was taken in different lighting conditions. The ‘BP’ shield is just about visible beneath the rust in my own picture, but only at high resolution.

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