Alton Street Motors

Joe Manns owned the first garage that undertook mechanical repairs in Far Cotton and was the first MOT centre in Northampton.

“When Joe Manns left the army in 1945 he was a qualified driver mechanic so was able to use these skills in Civvy Street. He managed to scrape up enough cash to buy a recovery truck and managed to get work removing crashed or broken-down vehicles.

“There were only a few establishments in Northampton selling vehicles and the main one in our area was Mulliner’s, who did not have a recovery vehicle. So Joe did this work for them. It was while he was doing this work that he was told about some land in Alton Street, Far Cotton that apparently was being used to garage funeral cars. Joe contacted the owner who said that he could rent it for £3.00 a week. That was a lot of money in the late forties but the landowner had an old Riley car that needed repair so Joe undertook the work in lieu of the first few weeks’ rent. Joe recalls that for the first six months he had virtually no trade until he had become known to the locals through the Clinton Arms, after which things began to improve.

“As well as engine repairs, people wanted bodywork doing, so Joe asked his old mates from Mulliner’s to help out – and so the night-shift started. When they finished work at Mulliner’s they would come down to the Alton Street garage to work till about 8 or 9 o-clock at night. They would then retire to the Clinton Arms and proceed to spend most of what they had just earned in the pub. These men were good panel beaters; Mulliner’s coach-builders were some of the best around.

“By this time trade was picking up. Joe was now doing work for Boothville garage as well. While he was there he spoke to a gentleman who worked for the Shell petrol company who said, “why don’t you sell petrol down at Alton Street?” As a result of this conversation Joe applied for permission to sell petrol and when this was granted he had two petrol pumps installed selling Fina petrol. Things were now starting to pick up for the garage and it was at this time that the Government introduced the compulsory MOT tests. Next to the garage in Alton Street were six houses that had been compulsory purchased by the Council. Joe asked if he could buy them and was told as he had a property next to them he had first refusal at £1,000 per house. He managed to raise enough of a loan to buy and demolish the houses and extend his garage. And so the first MOT test centre in Northampton was born.

“Joe and his mates dug the footings out themselves. A friend who was a bricklayer came down at weekends and set up corners for him, and Joe then managed to get a gang of brickies to finish the building. Joe does recall one major setback, which he now looks back on with amusement but must have seemed catastrophic at the time. When the building was finished they installed a hydraulic lift so cars could be worked on from underneath, but as soon as it was installed it was realised that the roof was too low for it to work without putting the car through the roof. So the roof had to come off and be raised. Despite this, business prospered and they had some quality cars through their doors.”

by George Watts

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