V-to-C: Out of the Past, September 1986

Some interesting information about another pioneer garage has come in hand, in the form of a booklet about the Peebles Motor Co Ltd, of Edinburgh, kindly donated by a keen reader, Mr R. V Batting, who was apprenticed to the Motor Trade in 1932, at Sundridge Park Garage.

The Company was started by a Mr Laurence Bell, who was formerly engineer and manager of the Gas-Light Company at Innerleithen, on the Tweed, seven miles from Peebles. In those days, before the turn of the century, gas engineers were respected people. Mr Bell became interested in the new-fangled horseless-carriages and made one, producing his own patterns and bodywork. This car, of Benz-like appearance, was completed by 1901, said to be the first ever made on the Scottish Borders. Its fame spread and soon all manner of cars were being sent to the gas works for repair, some from as far away as Edinburgh.

This caused Bell to rent a small shed in Peebles as a workshop in 1903, and start up as a cycle and motor engineer. Finance came from local gentlemen and after a year a move was made to a disused church, but by 1906 that was too small and a hall in Peebles’ main street was obtained, and the Company formed with a capital of £10,000, of which £5,000 was called up. As much of the business was coming from Edinburgh a depot was opened there in the Haymarket, which was expanded in 1907 and again in 1909.  It was decided that running two depots was impractical and that year the Peebles one was closed and everything was concentrated in Edinburgh, where, in the summer of 1911, the Murrayfield skating rink, half a mile from the Haymarket premises, was taken over, the former depot being converted into a showroom. The Company had paid a 5% dividend since its formation and in six years had reduced goodwill to £100, with a reserve fund. 

The booklet was issued to celebrate this and starts with views of Peebles and of the Company’s early premises. The works and garage were in Russell Road, Edinburgh and the telegraphic address was “Aviation”.  The sales manager at the Haymarket Terrace showroom was A. J. Baxter, John Black was Secretary and Bell remained MD, some 55 employees being in the repair works, including the grease boys. The first four motors in Peebleshire are shown as the Bell, what looks like a Locomobile steamer, and two motor-tricycles, one pulling a passenger-trailer. The early agency was for Albion cars and Century bicycles and a De Dion in the 1907 workshop carries Reg. No SV 11. The 1911 premises were impressively large, triple those of 1907, and had a washing floor, general stores, smith’s shop, machine shop and paint and body shops, even a chauffeurs’ waiting room with table and anthracite stove. The showroom contained two Crossley chassis, and advertisements for Wood Milne tyres and Waterfield patent Detachable Endless linings, which perhaps someone can explain!

The Peebles Motor Co dealt largely in Sunbeam cars up to 1911 and had testimonials relating to no fewer than 41 Sunbeams, of which 14 were 16/20s, eight were 12/16s, one a 12/14, one a 20/25 and one a 35 hp model, dating back to 1906, other testimonials covering a 15.9 hp Valveless Dobson, a 15.9 hp Singer, a 25 hp Lucas-Valveless, two Vulcans, a Swift, and a 10 hp Cadillac, while agencies were also held for Crossley, Flanders and EMF cars.

Our informant was given the booklet by a Miss Chisholm, aged 90, who was John Black’s typist; Mr Black later founded the Eastern Motor Co in Edinburgh, that City’s first Austin agents.  In 1953 the company was taken over by John Brown, who died this year, by which time it had become agent for Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Peugeot, Opel and TVR, in conjunction with its associate, Western Automobiles. Mr Batting worked there from 1947 to 1955 and when space permits I hope to include some of his reminiscences. — W B.