Grandad's Watton

Another Garage

The other garage was opened by John Ridout in a new building which is now John's Discount Store. The establishment of a public garage with lofty petrol pumps on the junction of Thetford Road and Norwich Road with double door vehicle access only a few feet from the highway, and over the footpath was a project which would send present day planners rushing for their tranquilisers, but, at the time John's garage represented no inconvenience to anyone, and as most of the vehicles needing petrol and service belonged to the nearby High Street shop keepers it was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time.

I first met John Ridout in my early school days about 1923. My father had acquired a small coal business, and included in the assets if that is the right word was a flat cart and a large, elderly horse. Over many years this animal had perfected the technique of moving one foot in front of the other so slowly that it was not always possible to tell if it was moving at all. and it had no intention of changing its ways. My father, an impatient man, had little liking for this form of transport so he went to see John, and bought a 1-ton *T type Ford, the first motor lorry to operate regularly from Watton station yard. In those days (there were no driving tests or similar inconveniences, and after about ten minutes instructions my father proudly drove his now acquisition home to Saham, and never had another driving lesson in his life.

It can be said, of course, that the T' type was an easy vehicle to drive. Over recent decades we have heard claims and clamour from car manufacturers about the option of automatic transmission, but something similar was built into those Fords of over 60 years ago. There was no gear lever, and movement was controlled by pushing down three metal foot pedals which came up through the floor boards. The holes were about three times as big as the pedal shafts so, in winter an arctic type draught came up through the floorboards as well. To go forward you pushed down the pedal on the left. The pedal on the right was called a foot brake and. if pushed, might slow you down, or, even, on a good day help you to stop. Pressure on the smaller, central pedal, when stationary would send the whole contraption into reverse. Speed was controlled by using a long lever, looking a bit like the handle of a table spoon which stuck out from the steering column, and a steering wheel and little handbrake just about completed the equipment. A later model, the Baico Ford and others did have gear levers and the years that followed brought a continuous pattern of improvements and developments in all types of cars and commercial vehicles, but there is a very special place in the hearts of all motoring enthusiasts and pioneers for Henry Ford's old T' type.

Although it has been said a million times before and repeated to the point of tedium I do not think we can leave any mention of the early Fords without reference, just one more time, to Henry Ford's famous quote when he was asked by one of his staff about the colour choice he intended to offer on a new model. "They can have any colour they like" said Henry "as long as it's black."

Over the years John Ridout's garage extended its interests to Vauxhall cars, Bedford trucks, the beautiful Flying Standard range and S.S. the fore-runner of Jaguar.

Another enterprise with which John was involved, with S. Tennant & Sons resulted in the appearance of the first Watton-based motor hearse. In earlier years the journey from the known to the unknown had been accomplished on the shoulders of strong men, by being pushed on wheeled biers, or accommodated in an ornate plate-glass sided Vic­torian type hearse, complete with sleek black horse and top-halted driver. All this was to change. A modern hearse body was fitted to a Rolls Royce chassis and, with Fred Ward, who now lives on Merton Road, at the wheel, this stately conveyance could often be seen purring along Church Road, or heading for God's Acre at one of the village churches. Sitting almost motionless, immaculate in black tie and shiny peaked hat Fred gave to many people what was probably their first and very definitely their last ride in a Rolls Royce.

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