To newcomers moving to Charmouth it is something of a mystery why we have to drive so far out of the village to find a garage, but it has not always been this way. In fact within living memory it actually had two Garages facing one another on the Street. It is the more famous of these - Gears Garage that I wish to focus on, as it was probably the largest employer in its heyday with the wide range of services that it was able to offer. Its owner- Billy Gear is still remembered with affection by those who knew him. Unfortunately Reg Pavey, Charmouth`s foremost historian has little to record about him apart from that his Garage was a “ truly remarkable and praiseworthy achievement for a local man”. I have been fortunate in speaking to Sheila Stamp, his niece who still lives in the village, and was able to assist me with an insight into his life.
The background of his family is interesting as there are no clues to his chosen path in life as for over 100 years his Grandfather, Father and brother were Fish Sellers.
The Gear family originate from the Misterton / Crewkerne area. William Geere of Misterton (a tailor) was involved in a court case, which was heard at the Quarter Sessions in 1611, and Walter Gere is listed as a pikeman in the Crewkerne Muster Roll of 1569. It is Tobit Gear who was born in Misterton in 1794 and moves to Charmouth in the mid 19 th century. He is shown in the 1861 Census as a Tinman (Peddler) then living in Old Lyme Road with his wife Elizabeth. Their son Matthew Gear in the same year is described as a Fish Salesman who was born in Symondsbury in 1823. One of the earliest Directories for Charmouth shows listings for both father and son in the year 1875. Matthew and his wife had a son - Matthew James Gear, born in 1868 who continues the family trade as a Fish Salesman. But he also deals in Horses from two fields he owns near his house in Old Lyme Road and has a pony and trap from which he takes passengers too and from the Railway Stations.The graave at Charmouth Cemetery of both Matthew and his wife Amy show them living on into their 90`s. They have 2 sons and a daughter, Norah who dies early aged just 30. Their eldest son Cecil George again continues the family business and in 1931 moves to new premises in the Street near its junction with Old Lyme Road. He carries on a successful business, but is seriously affected by the lack of fish during the 2nd world war, and his life is tragically cut short in 1944 at the early age of 48.
His brother, William Arthur Gear is born in 1898 and takes a different path to the rest of the family and slowly builds up his automobile business in a number of premises. The first reference to him is in the Kellys Directory of 1927 where he is described as a Car Hirer. He garages his first cars in the two sheds Harold Pryer, the Stone Mason, owned before his death on the east side of a narrow lane alongside the Butchers at “Devonedge”. The business prospers and his next move is to the rear of the George Inn. There is a delightful old postcard of him with his mechanics standing proudly alongside his two taxis. He is sporting a bowtie, which was to become his trademark, and he appears in another group photo with it on outside the Royal Oak on Armistice Day in 1929. Another postcard by Claude Hider again shows him driving one of his vehicles, but he is now posing at the entrance of his new premises at the rear of the Coach and Horses.
Billy marries May, the daughter of Jim Bridle the well known landlord of the Royal Oak. The Electoral Roll for 1931 shows them moving from his parent's home in Old Lyme Road to Albuerra (near the former Wander Inn on the Street).
In time he builds a small Garage in Pear Close, west of the Abbots House (Queens Arms), which gradually grows into a substantial building with a large frontage on to the Street and workshops stretching behind it. Its position on the strategic A35 Folkestone to Honiton trunk Road gave him important passing trade. He must have been Charmouth`s foremost businessman at the time for as well as the Garage he owned the large Car Park by the footbridge near the East Cliff and built a number of houses in the village.
The photograph of the outside of his Garage shows him standing smartly by the petrol pump with his workmen alongside his vehicles. To the right is a lock up shop, which had been built by Bagshaw of Axminster in 1931 and was for many years a Gift Shop but is now the Fish Bar. Initially he used it as a showroom for his cars but in time his wife ran a gift shop from it. Adverts in the local directories detail the extensive range of services he could offer. He had well equipped workshop for repairs and servicing. He originally offered Austin, Vauxhall and Standard Cars for sale, but towards the end was a Ford Agent. He was able to offer cars as well as lorries for hire and ran excursions to local places of interest. His telephone number almost from the start of business is shown as just Charmouth 8. The other photograph kindly lent by Jill Matthews reveals the inside of the workshops. She has been able to track down the four gentlemen proudly standing by the automobiles. From left to right can be seen Bert Dancy who was known to assist with the petrol sales on the forecourt with Vic Hunter who still lives in the village and remembers the photograph being taken in 1940 when he was just 16. Then Jill's father –Len Linthorne can be seen with Dick Woollard, one of whose daughters now lives in Lyme Regis.
For many years Billy lived with his wife in the house (Uphill) that is seen today between the Fish Bar and the Bank Café. He worked long hours often from 8 in the morning until 8 at night.
Unfortunately the war was to have a devastating affect on his business and half his premises were requisitioned by the American Army who were stationed in the area. But true to form he decided to assist the returning British soldiers by organising a fund raising auction with contributions from both himself and other villagers. With this money he held a special celebration and presented each man with a wallet with a substantial amount to help them.
He retired in 1963 and continued to live at Westways, Lower Sea lane after selling his business to H.W.Daniells whose son in laws, P. Whittaker and. A. Beccher were to manage it. Their business went into decline and the building of the bypass must have been the final straw. For a while it was an engineering works owned by George Burgess producing wood burning stoves. In time this came to an end with the business moving to Axminster and the buildings were demolished. The site was sold to Naylors from Dalwood who were property developers. A number of houses were built in 2001 on the site, which became known as Queens Walk. It is difficult to visualise the hive of activity that would have once been witnessed in this part of the village when Billy Gear was running his Garage.
Billy Gear lived on for another 10 years after his retirement enjoying much of his time on the Golf Course. He died on April 22 nd 1973 and is buried in Charmouth Cemetery. Sadly there is no memorial to this great Charmouth Citizen who had such an impact on the village in his day. Neil Mattingly (Pavey Group) with thanks to Sheila Stamp, Ron Oxenbury and Jill Mathews for their assistance.