The Baker's Tale

Mr J N Scanlon of Reigate has kindly sent us some evocative photographs and related the driving experiences of his maternal grandmother, who is still alert and healthy at the age of 91.

Her father bought a bakery business, Barber’s Bread of Redhill, before World War One, which quickly expanded. On the outbreak of war the roundsmen were soon away to join up, so his daughter volunteered to drive the delivery rounds. After only a few days driving tuition, she drove first a horse-drawn van and, after the winter, the Alldays & Onions light van (Reg PA7281) they bought in 1915, from the Parson’s Cycle Co in Monson Road, Redhill. Later this was passed on to another girl driver, and Mr Scanlon’s grandmother drove the brass-radiator Model T Ford van they had by now acquired (Reg BY 3038).

This was so successful they got another brass-radiator Model T tourer for family use, and as she was the only one who could drive she was put in charge of it, taking her parents on outings. This tourer was also used on the bread round when a van was in for servicing.

Petrol becoming unavailable by 1916, a gasbag was fitted by Milne & Russell of South Croydon (made by the Spencer Balloon Co), which the young girl used to get filled each day at the local gasworks, for 10d (4p) per charge. She remembers that there was a special carburettor and a tap under the bonnet, for changing over to petrol should the gas supply be exhausted. After about a year she hit a low tree-branch and split the gas-bag, but by then petrol was becoming easier to obtain, so it was not refitted.

The lady changed wheels herself, and once broke her wrist swinging the T. So a new Arrol-Johnston van was purchased from a firm in Hurley. This was quickly disposed of, as she found it too heavy to swing and change gear on.

These vehicles were serviced by a local company which became Chalmers Garage. The mechanic went to America in 1920 as a lumberjack, worked for a Ford agent in Pennsylvania, and on his return home joined the Highbury Corner Garage and finished his career with Dee’s of Croydon, the Ford Main Dealers. He also married the girl who had driven the baker’s vans! He had claimed that before the war he was the highest-paid mechanic in London, earning £5 a week.

The van girls had different uniforms for winter and summer and grandma remembers how she and other female wartime drivers used to mount teddy-bear mascots on their cars, changing them every few weeks. WB