A Question Of Space

The Art of the garage. From the BBC.

(c) Jonathan Rudd via BBC

Time nor tide waiteth for no man, so the saying goes. One example of this being the BBC. Initiated in 1922 with only a handful of board members, one being First World War pilot Cecil Lewis whose book Sagittarius Rising is an exemplary account of the war in the air. As readable as it is terrifying, it’s a (then) young mans story told amidst horrendous circumstances. I digress.

Once upon a time the BBC was referred to as Auntie Beeb, for the corporation inspired warmth with the added sense of being impartial yet caring. And gave us Morecombe & Wise. But time and the internet has had huge implications on the Beeb’s persona and some of that friendliness has been lost. Trying not to drown in recent political, environmental and medical travails however, my eyes spied something of relevance: Garages.

The BBC website hosts a weekly themed photographic gallery – usually an excuse to brag about expensive holidays but for the mid-December episode, these dwellings offered me shelter of a different kind. Like people, garages can be oddities; pristine or neglected, stuffed to the gunwhales or akin to shrine. And the following seven pictures (some pre-arranged but mostly natural) offer that friendly glimpse into them.

This old coach garage and workshop in Builth Wells, Powys, Wales (main photo) cuts a rather forlorn figure. No doubt once the town’s hub for public transport, it is now neglected, abandoned and probably an environmental nightmare. Who owns these old and rusty vehicles? Will anyone rescue and refurbish them? Or are the inevitable planners lying in wait to develop housing, bricking over any memories of the place (good or bad)? There’s a sadly enigmatic charm to this picture though.

(c) Jason Shrubb via BBC

This next picture is a recreation, but carried out with taste and plenty of planning. The detritus accumulated by the motor trade of old is pleasingly comforting. Forgetting the recreation part, you could be transported back to 1932 and smell the oil in the air here, the clanging of tools on the hard flooring, the mechanics profanities, the out of shot customer wondering “how long this bloody job will take, never mind cost?” And the cold; summer days in a garage can perish the human (and motor) spirit. So in winter? No thanks.

Picture three reveals this poor soul not having even made it into the garage – the building itself in a sorry state. Hardly surprising given the conditions and location: Chernobyl. Was this Lada vandalised after the disaster or before, hastily stripped for parts? Either way, it’s doubtful this car will find its way to restoration anytime soon. Nor the garage surviving many more nuclear winters.

(c) Suman Banerjee via BBC

An artful garage door now. Pink Floyd may not be to everyone’s taste. I find them more morose than relaxing to listen to, thus my collection has nothing by them. To the contents behind the door then: is there a rarely seen Ferrari 250 GTO, a lá Nick Mason, hence the fan connection? Forgotten about for decades, squeezed in with nary a gnat’s semi-breve between door and wall. Or just chock full of clutter?

(c) Michael Darley via BBC

Now Sheffield has its steep hills but no amount of cajoling would have me manoeuvring in nor out of any of these San Francisco garages. Spare a moment for the poor clutch, pray the handbrake retains tension. Those cables outside suggest the route is serviced by either tram or trolley bus. Far better therefore to gird one’s loins and use public transport – leave the garage to accrue detritus.

(c) Elizabeth Last via BBC

The final two pictures are my personal favourites – but for probably the wrong reasons in the grand scheme of things. But revel in that patina and the beauty of decay. These are such beautiful scenes.

The Shropshire town of Much Wenlock is in many ways the perfect location for Birchfield Garage; an ancient town with architectural delights, history, surrounding bucolic areas and this dilapidated garage. It fits the bill with archetypal aplomb. My suspicions are that it dealt with the original form of horsepower before the motor car came along; The clanking hammer and heated air of the farrier. Plenty of manure too.

(c) Sarah Sims via BBC

Then came Austin and co: those pale blue doors will have seen every iteration of Austin, Cortina and even some of them foreign cars. Did a young village lad aspire to serving petrol on the forecourt? Can you still hear the tooth sucking mechanic extolling the virtues of having it all replaced at a cost to make your eyes water? Was there a young lass in the office who quickly disposed of her blushes at the typical mechanics verbal diarrhoea? The photographer says she’s driven past here hundreds of times and wishes it to remain so. I stand beside her.

A similar story occurs in Llanrug, a Snowdonian outpost in Wales. This garage has more character than certainly any new build and most old buildings put together. If it were French, it would be wearing a beret, smoking a Gauloise and shrugging over a dead Citroën. But this garage is Welsh and has the location and backdrop to die for.

(c) E W Griffiths via BBC

The legendary wriggly tin construction method and for added points, enamel signs and stacks of old tyres. Garage nirvana. Not for one moment would I consider having any work done here – but for the visible drama, the untold stories and sheer beauty of these car houses, long may they remain.

Three bob o’ two star and a new alternator, Iestyn? Comin’ right up…

The link to the full article is here

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

9 thoughts on “A Question Of Space”

  1. Good morning, Andrew and thanks for bringing us an interesting topic that I don’t think has been the subject of a DTW exposition previously.

    You can tell a lot about a man (and it’s usually a man) by the state of his garage. Mine is, as you might suspect, a haven of orderliness, with a place for everything and everything in its place on a long wall of steel shelving units.

    I think it’s a shame that so many domestic garages, especially the stupidly narrow ones that come with modern houses, have become a dumping ground for detritus, the car instead banished to the driveway or roadside. I suppose it’s the corollary of western society’s insatiable appetite for “stuff” and the incredible cheapness of consumer durables, a wholly unsustainable situation.

    Anyway I digress. I am sure we’ve walked by that row of garages in our strolls around San Francisco. The street is even steeper than it first appears in the photo: look at how the horizontal line of windows above is actually sloping upwards. In our first visit to the city in 1990, we were amused to see this wittily defaced sign and photographed it:

    Our pre-digital photo is somewhere in a long “archived” (aka forgotten) box, but the internet has kindly provided me with the copy above.

    There’s a long-abandoned small commercial garage on a square right in the centre of our small market town. Through the heavily cobwebbed windows you can make out a 1940’s or early 50’s saloon car of uncertain make, slowly mouldering away. I must take some photos next time I walk past.

  2. Daniel, that sign is comedy gold. Well spotted. Brevity being the soul of wit.
    As for your own town’s mouldy garage, please do take a picture or two and post them. Always looking out for outdated, old fashioned and interesting buildings like these.
    My previous residence had a garage I too liked to keep as clean and tidy as possible. However, other family members had different opinions…but my driveway at this home is clutter free!

    1. Happy to oblige, Andrew. I needed to pop out for something, so here it is:

      Sadly, the old car has disappeared. It was there for as long as I’ve known the garage (nearly twenty years) but I notice there’s a planning application currently under consideration to convert the building into three residential units, so that probably explains its disappearance. Shame, as identifying it would have made a good Sunday afternoon teaser.

  3. And here’s our garage:

    It’ll be tidier once the garden furniture goes back outside shortly.

    Those tins of leftover paint you see not only have their labels all facing front, but are arranged in alphabetical order. I have a corresponding spreadsheet of the paints (name and codes) used in every room in the house.

    Do I need professional help?

  4. Another excellent article Andrew and thanks for posting. Sadly our garage with its steel shelving and racking has been converted into a bedroom/study. All my tools and paint tins are in one shed along with various posters, signs and similar stuff.
    I have seen the garage at Builth Wells and will also look out my pictures of the one near Clyro, which is about 20 miles form there. A cornucopia of Land Rovers and a myriad of other cars, busses and vans either waiting for parts or just forgotten. Amazing how they accumulate.

  5. Daniel, full marks and thank you for your dedication there. As for you needing professional help, no, just maybe a little more fresh air.

    Mike, Clyro itself sounds interesting so a garage full of old vehicles there makes it more so. Dig away, sir!

  6. an Australian photographer, Warren Kirk, has been for some years
    putting up a photo a day on his site “Westography – documenting the
    fading ‘social landscape’ of the western and north-western suburbs
    of Melbourne, and the western arc of country Victoria”.
    for me, who left those western suburbs long ago, his fine photos are
    often pleasingly melancholy and evocative. old garages often appear
    and he has a good nose for old cars. recommended for those who find
    poetry in the banal. https://www.flickr.com/photos/70980743@N03/

    1. Thanks for that. This is the undesigned world of the vernacular. There´s a British chap called Martin Parr who has mined the same vein. We pass this stuff by until it´s framed in a photo and then it takes on an alien quality but is as distinctive as the world of Georgian, modernist or middle class holiday cottage intereriors. Most of of what we build is not architecture, most of what we consume is not “Design” and most of what we read is not literature but 90% of culture has this ratio exactly reversed.
      This is photgraphy by two Danes: https://www.pinterest.dk/pin/73535406394064267/

  7. Yes, yes, late to the party… But just two observations regarding the San Francisco photo. First, vanishingly few North Americans drive a manual, so no pity needed for the non-existent clutch. And those ‘cables’ outside look like the usual array: cablevision, telephone, and electricity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.