Jack Hambleton's memories of Sheffield secondhand motor trade characters

Retro reader Jack Hambleton loved sending in his Sheffield memories and he was a charming man and a very entertaining writer.

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 11:00 am

His son-in-law David Holmes has been in touch to say that Jack was sadly one of the first victims of the pandemic

In tribute, here are some extracts from an article Jack wrote about his time in the motor trade after the war. Our condolences to the family.

After the war the time had now arrived for the motor industry to start and concentrate on production for the private sector.

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The bomb site dealers were a far cry from this grand Kennings car showroom building, pictured around 1990, that later became the Showroom cinema

People who could afford a new car had to place their names on a dealer’s list, the vehicle to be supplied on a rotation system. The waiting time could be up to three years.

When they were eventually supplied with the new car the demand was still so great they would be offered up to double what they had paid to sell the car, having originally purchased the car for £350 to £400. In 1949 the profit made against the value of currency at the time was large.

Eventually in the mid-1950s more used cars were coming on to the market. People who had never owned a car were beginning to want their 'first'. This demand was to bring a new businessman into being, the secondhand car trader.

In Sheffield there were numerous empty spaces of land caused by the destruction of property through wartime German bomber raids. Traders operating from these spaces were referred to as bomb site dealers.

Jack Hambleton with one of his manuscripts (and a tub of Brylcreem) in 1990

Very sadly, Jack was one of the first people in Sheffield to die in the coronavirus pandemic in the Northern General Hospital, said his son-in-law, David Holmes, who helped Jack with his computer skills.

In tribute, here are some extracts from one of Jack’s articles remembering his days in the motor trade after the war.

After I was demobbed from the Royal Air Force in December 1946, I had various jobs in Sheffield, then in 1957 I was introduced to a secondhand motor dealer, Louis Fantozzi of Dial Motors in Shalesmoor.

Louis suggested I go into hire-purchase finance for motor cars. He arranged an appointment for me with the manager of Unity Finance, a subsidiary of Vernons Pools. I joined Unity Finance as new business representative in August 1957.

Pickfords Motor Dealers on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield

I was about to meet and become involved with many of Sheffield's most colourful secondhand car trade ‘characters'.

On Infirmary Road was the car showroom of Victor Parr. This, originally, was an open site and a popular place for workmen from nearby factories to browse around during their lunch hours.

Victor's salesman was a 'character' called Johnny Gillott, of whom it was said he could have sold a car to Henry Ford. When Johnny left to go on his own, Victor's brother-in-law, Harry Ellaway, became salesman. Harry was later to open a small car sales on Holme Lane.

Deciding to go upmarket, Victor had a small showroom built with a forecourt. After its completion his trade began to decline. This was put down to the fact that the people who had walked around the previous open site considered his new development too 'posh'.

Victor eventually decided to sell up and move to Barnstaple in Devon. He later returned to Sheffield and he told me that Barnstaple was 'too busy in summer' and 'too quiet in winter'.

He opened up selling used cars in Henry Street at the side of the premises he had sold on Infirmary Road. The showroom Victor was so proud of eventually became a rundown furniture store and has now been demolished.

There were two motor dealers on Meadow Street, the first was Porter Motors, owned by Reg Bennett. Reg's father had started a business there many years before.

I had a great respect for Reg, a qualified light aircraft pilot, and was always assured of a warm welcome. When the property was demolished for development Reg moved to Ellesmere Road.

The other motor dealer on Meadow Street was D J Motors, owned by Dougie Jackson. His office, if one could call it an office, was at the side of his pitch.

It was the most untidy office I ever went to, and I went into a lot of them. It had possibly, in years past, been somebody's front room.

When walking in there I would have to stride over a couple of sleeping greyhounds. The office would always be full of other motor dealers. Dougie would be sat on a table strumming a guitar.

There was an amusing story told about them. It was said that Dougie and his pals went to Skegness for the day.

Finishing up in a working men’s Club, Dougie gave the members a performance on his guitar. One of his pals went around with a hat collecting money. They returned to Sheffield with more money than they had set off with.

Every Sunday morning there was a card school at Meadow Street.

Another story going around (and there were plenty) was that at another dealer’s weekly card school, one of the players was reputed to have lost, not only his shirt and money, but the Ford Zephyr he had gone in. Being gentlemen, they took him home in it.

There was always fun to be had when I visited Denis Hodgkiss of Broad Oaks Motors, on Staniforth Road. Calling there one day, a chap who had left his car, a Morris Oxford, for repairs and had come to collect it.

Sleeping contentedly on a pile of straw on the back seat was a greyhound. Dennis apologised to the astonished owner of the car, saying his mechanic could not start on the repairs until the greyhound had woken up.

It was about this time that a new craze amongst the motor traders started – greyhound racing - and the owning of dogs. There was a lot of rivalry as to who had the best and fastest dog.

I became involved in getting and passing on information and also stirring things up. I would go to Meadow Street and tell Dougie Jackson that Denis Hodgkiss had bought a champion racing dog. A couple of days later, having seen Dougie Jackson, I would return and inform Denis that Dougie had bought a faster dog.

Denis eventually got so worked up he decided to go to Ireland and buy a better greyhound. He asked me to go with him, all expenses paid. I was unable to do so, and I told a motor insurance rep I knew to go.

He went, and according to him they 'had a whale of a time'. When they returned with a 'champion' dog, I was back to Meadow Street 'stirring it up'. The following week, Dougie Jackson told me to tell Denis Hodgkiss that he had pulled one over him. He had bought a greyhound track at Highgate near Goldthorpe. Things went quiet after that.

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