Times Past: North Devon’s first garage for ‘horseless carriages’ grew quickly

Bale's Trafalgar Cycle Works in 1902 with Sydney standing in the doorway. Picture: courtesy of the B

Bale's Trafalgar Cycle Works in 1902 with Sydney standing in the doorway. Picture: courtesy of the Bale family - Credit: Bale family

Cars are so much a part of our lives today that it is hard to think of a time when they were new.

The Bales building two years later - with a fine display of early cars outside.

The Bales building two years later - with a fine display of early cars outside. - Credit: Archant

The first recognisable car was built by Carl Benz of Germany in 1885-6 but it wasn’t until 1895 that the first example arrived in Britain.

North Devonians had to wait another year to see a ‘horseless carriage’, it arriving in the area as part of a circus run by the Anderton family.

The novelty of this new invention was clearly shown by its being a sideshow at the circus – with its owners driving it around Barnstaple to attract visitors.

Two years later the first motorcycle appeared in the area, being driven up to Newport in Barnstaple at the then impressive speed of 12 mph.


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As numbers of cars and motorcycles began to rise it was inevitable that garages would be needed – and in January 1902 Sydney J Bale, who ran the Trafalgar Cycle Works in Newport, decided that cars could be the future, and began selling cars as a sideline.

He became the agent for MMC (Motor Manufacturing Company) vehicles, advertising them as ‘Reliable! Speedy! Best of all!’

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His first cars were four-seaters, had a six horsepower engine and he claimed that two gallons of petrol (costing the equivalent of 15p) was enough to drive 70 miles.

A month after this first offering he was also advertising ‘Werner Motor Cycles and Motor Cars’.

So successful did this new arm of Bale’s business become that within two years his garage was renamed as The Barnstaple Motor and Cycle Works.

Further rapid growth saw the firm move to a site in Barnstaple Square – where it remained for many years – a proud pioneer in the history of North Devon motoring.

This is an edited extract from Peter Christie’s book The Introduction of Motor Vehicles to North Devon, available at £10 post free – phone 01237 473577 for details.

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