Our Guinness World Record application for the oldest working automotive garage

Howard Watts
By Howard Watts

Founded in 1900, Riddelsdell Bros would like to be acknowledged, by Guinness World Records, as the oldest filling station in the World. Our local TV station has picked up on our story, following an alert that a garage in the USA is claiming this title - having been founded in 1909. As Riddelsdells was founded 9 years before that; dispensing fuel, initially as agricultural/motor engineers, then as three wheeler motorbike manufacturers and car repairers/sales of the earliest motor vehicles; we believe that we have a greater claim to this title.

Statement from the Anglia Press Agency:

A tiny garage in Suffolk is bidding for a place in motoring history - as the world’s first filling station. Petrol was first sold at Riddelsdells Garage in Boxford at the beginning of the last century - when a gallon cost the equivalent of two shillings (10p), and drivers didn’t need to pass a test or carry any insurance.

Pumps were first installed in 1917 as the internal combustion engine began to replace steam and horse power, and more than a century later motorists are still filling up at the same forecourt.

And since Percy Riddelsdell opened for business in 1900 the garage has had just four owners and is still trading on the same site, pumping petrol and selling & servicing cars.

These days the showroom is full of classic cars including Porsches and Ferraris rather than long forgotten marques like Alvis, Lea Francis, Lagonda and Sunbeam.

Current owner, Howard Watts, who took over in 2001, has uncovered remarkable archive photos showing how the garage buildings have changed little over the last century.

A lot of things have changed in the world of motoring in the last 120 years but drivers can still pull into the forecourt here to fill up and we serve them. There is no self-service as we like to do things properly!

When the garage opened it was an agricultural workshop, looking after and repairing agricultural machinery for local farmers. When cars first arrived owners had to come to the garage with their own jerry cans which were filled from a small tank in the yard.

The combustion engine changed the world and it’s a real thrill to discover that this small garage was there at the start of the motor car revolution”

Inside the original garage workshop
Inside the original garage workshop

Percy’s garage, which also sold and serviced carts, bicycles and traction engines, began selling cars in 1902 and one of his first car customers was the local vicar, the Rev Witt Bonsey, who bought a French-built Panhard-Levassor.

At that time there were fewer than 1,000 cars on Britain’s roads and speed limits were less than 5mph.

There were no showrooms either and new cars could only be bought from major department stores, such as Gamages in London, or direct from the maker. The cheapest cost about £300 at a time when the average weekly wage was about fifty shillings (or £2.50 a week in today’s money).

There were no tarmac roads either, just rutted dirt tracks - which meant the early cars were frequent visitors to Boxford for broken wheels, punctures and suspension failures

Percy Riddlesdell
Percy Riddlesdell

A spokesman for Guinness World Records said: ‘We always welcome anyone who thinks they have broken a record to get in touch with us and make an application for our records management team to investigate. We look forward to hearing from the garage’

And in an extraordinary ‘treble’ Boxford - population just 1,200 - also boasts Britain’s oldest shop - opened in the early 1400’s to serve horsemen with hay and harnesses - and the country’s oldest commercial apple orchard that was planted in the 1930’s and still produces an annual crop.

Proprietor and staff, circa 1935
Proprietor and staff, circa 1935

Many believe America led the automobile revolution but is has now been confirmed that the oldest filling station in the USA did not start serving drivers until 1909. Reighards Gold Star Service Station in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a town created by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1849 to extend it’s network, still offers customers a personal service, filling tanks and cleaning windscreens

We now wait with bated breath to find out if the World Record is confirmed