Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Much Wenlock, Shropshire

 

Not quite doomed

We know it’s all fleeting now, don’t we? In these times of pandemic and climate change we know that things we’ve taken for granted are no longer the certainties we thought. To mourn the demise of long-distance air travel or petrol cars might seem trivial when human life itself is so fragile or when swathes of houses and alas their occupants succumb to floods and mudslides in Germany or wildfires in Australia or North America. But briefly, and because I came across it the other day, here’s a building that seems to be symbolic of the loss of a kind of ‘motoring’ that’s already long gone. It’s a garage on one of the roads into Much Wenlock, a structure of wood and corrugated iron that cannot have cost much to build but must have serviced cars and small commercial vehicles for decades.

The main body of the building is a large workshop, with glazed sides to admit plenty of light – at the front it has a bright blue door to the right, behind the furthest petrol pump, big enough to admit a car or largish van. This side of the door is a lean-to containing a small shop full of old cans, oily rags and Ferodo fan belts, and next to the shop, also under the lean-to roof, is a trio of petrol pumps. These represent three generations of pump: an early slender-topped pump,* a later tall one with an analogue, clock-face style dial probably dating to the 1940s or 50s, and in the centre one (of the 1970s perhaps) with a mechanical digital display in which slowly turning numerals register the amount of petrol and the cost. None of these have their globes to show the brand of fuel on sale, and all have flaking paint but look restorable.

From the well painted but slowly vanishing lettered sign to the humblest rusting file inside, this garage is a bit of motoring history, testimony to thousands of fill-ups, oil changes, and repairs. Clearly, as the paint flakes and the corrugated iron on the roof acquires another layer of rich iron oxide patina,† its decline continues as it becomes another vanished thing people once took for granted. And yet. The day after I took this photograph I passed by again to discover that someone had come along and wrapped those three pumps in a protective tarpaulin. To what end? To help preserve them in situ ahead of a restoration job? Or in preparation for a move to a place where they’d be cared for? I don’t know. But perhaps it’s a lesson not to assume too much. Not quite everything that seems to be going is necessarily rotting away. Let’s cling on to that.§

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* I’m not sure of the exact dates of these pumps; I’ve seen ones similar to this early one dated to the 1920s.

† Iron oxide patina. Yes, that’s rust to most of us.

§ The best book on the architecture of motor vehicles is Kathryn A Morrison and John Minnis, Carscapes, (Yale UP, 2012); for a brief treatment of the small out-of-town garage see also Llyn E Morris, The Country Garage (Shire, 1985)

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