Veteran to classic

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Out of the past

One of the earliest garages in the country was opened in an ugly corrugated-iron church behind the present St Hilda’s Church in Whitby, by Arnold Herbert Walker. Aged about 18, he had been trained at Argyll Motors in Glasgow and owned what was probably the first car in Whitby, either a Benz or a Belsize. He was the son of a well-known architect, sculptor and violin-maker, and his mother was thought to have been Yorkshire’s first woman motorist, in a c1902 12hp two-cylinder Darracq which was not apparently issued with a registration number (AJ 173) until 1904.

Early car owners for whom the garage catered included local doctors. Dr Burton had a De Dion Bouton coupe, and Dr English a chauffeur-driven Wolseley, a make also favoured by Dr Baines. Lord Normanby owned a Knight-engined Minerva.

By 1913 the garage was moved to a fine building in Crescent Avenue, where the Post Office depot is now. It was the work of Walker’s architect brother, Harold. Starting as The Whitby Garage, it later became Walker’s Garage, and by the 1920s Walker’s Garage (Whitby) Ltd. The directors were Walker, his wife and Harry Firth, who was later replaced by Walker’s son Arnold.

The new garage had a showroom, paintshop, in the charge of Billy Upton, a workshop and offices, and lock-ups to rent. At one end was a house for one of the staff, opposite the driver’s waiting room and staff rooms. Later in the 1920s another building and a car-park were built on the other side of Crescent Avenue. A photograph shows cars outside the garage, including Firth’s Crossley tourer, the inevitable all-black Ford tourer and an open Wolseley with rear windscreen.

Before WW1,Walker had a fast teak and mahogany motor launch, Salome, with a 40hp Fiat engine, which was highly successful in racing at Whitby Regatta. When war broke out he was appointed by the Admiralty as engineer in charge of the submarine chasers in the harbour; he afterwards supplied Kelvin and other power units for boats.

When he was 14, Mr Walker’s son Arnold had a brand-new Raleigh motorcycle. He then began to develop an interest in cars, and recalls a mint 1910-12 Straker Squire two-seater standing in a comer of the garage until scrapped in the 1920s.

The garage was issued with its first trade plates (AJ-B-1) and Mrs Walker’s old Renault was converted into a breakdown truck in spite of an awkward gear-change and weak brakes. Customers’ cars of the time included Tertius Turnbull’s sporting Chenard-Walcker, with brakes on the front wheels and transmission only, Mr Roland’s blue-label 3-litre Bentley, Dr English’s aforementioned Wolseley which had to be pulled from a pond one snowy morning, and the Bugatti which John Pyman part-exchanged for a Bentley. This was a Green-label Speed Model, which Walker had first to take to Brooklands to obtain a 100 mph certificate for it. Its two-seater body was made by Maules of Stockton. Walker kept the 16-valve Bugatti he took in part-exchange for a time; and found it very lively, but its brakes were so inefficient that he disposed of it before the anticipated prang.

After 1918 a Ford dealership was secured. Model Ts were collected from Manchester, sometimes as bare chassis, and taken to the newly-opened Ford depot, where the Women’s Conservative Club now stands, behind the fire station. The agency was ended when the Model A arrived, as Walker’s independent nature clashed with the control Ford wanted in his business, which now became a Standard agency.

The business was sold in 1967 and Walker died in 1969. The Post Office then took over the premises and demolished them to build its new depot. I am greatly indebted to The Yorkshire Dalesman for permission to summarise the article by Arnold Walker. WB