HISTORY OF THE OLD MOTOR HOUSE

circa 1930's image of buses at Lee's Garage John Lee was an entrepreneurial young man who at the start of the last century was living in Wooler and cycling to Rothbury where he had started a plumbing business. In 1902 he and his wife moved to Rothbury and at some stage soon afterwards opened a hardware shop which his wife ran, as well as a cycle shop where he also sold 'motor spirit' in cans for the early pioneer motorists. He is reputed to have run a steam powered car himself at this time, so business must have been quite good.

By 1913 he had bought land in Townfoot and in that year he built the garage then known as Lee's Garage. It has a footplate of about 6,000 square feet, which must have been a very adventurous undertaking at a time when a village like Rothbury could have had only a handful of cars, it was also built of substantial stone with a slate roof, he must have followed the maxim that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

His son and eventual successor, also John Lee who was fifteen at the start of the First World War became apprenticed to Vickers and started to learn engineering, he joined the RAF in 1916. After the war he joined his father in the family business, was renowned as a racing cyclist and drove a supercharged Wolsley Hornet.

image of vehicles in Lee's Garage After the war, John senior was making a market by buying ex-army vehicles and converting them for civilian use as trucks, buses, etc.

By the 1920's the garage was established as a seller of new cars. There was a post-war boom and demand for cars was very high. At this stage the shop at the front of the garage was selling hardware, cycles and china, and the petrol pumps had been installed on the pavement in front.

The records of new car sales during the 1920's and '30's survive, and show an extraordinary variety of marques, including British, European and American. In particular Lee imported Lancia commercial chassis from Italy and had them bodied as charabancs for his own fleet as well as for others. He was also running a haulage business from the garage.

In 1927 Lee built a car showroom opposite the garage, with offices and a flat above.

In the 1930's Lee pioneered the change from horses to the tractor by selling tractors on a buy now, pay after lambing basis. He also had a car sales joint venture with a Colonel Leather known as Lee & Leather in Eldon Square, Newcastle.

Historical photograph of The Old Motor House in Rothbury Lee's health had not been good, he suffered from diabetes and when he got appendicitis this caused complications and he died in 1935. By then he had accumulated many properties, including several shops in Rothbury as well as two farms and some cottages in Wooler, and two more farms near Alwinton.

In the late 1930's the haulage side of the business was most profitable, and so John junior sold the bus and coach business to Linden Wright of whom more later.

During WW2 the garage was taken over by the army who used it as a tank park, an ammunition store and a bakery. John Lee was in charge of agricultural haulage in the region and was in the Home Guard. He was also able to take advantage of the number of larger cars being sold by people who could not get sufficient petrol coupons.

After the war new cars were very scarce, and Lee used to travel to the auctions at Measham in Leicestershire to acquire stock. The transport side of the business flourished with about twenty wagons of various sizes. The workshop was also very busy, mainly servicing pre-war cars, and there were usually five or six mechanics employed. Some names remembered from the 1950's were:

Tommy Harry - Foreman
Miss Patterson - in charge of the shop
Jimmy Riddle- storeman and under manager
Rolly - sign writer and upholsterer
Jack Telfer - car salesman

In the early 1950's John Lee's health was poor and he started to sell up. The haulage business was sold in 1952 and in 1953 Linden Wright who had already bought the bus business took over the garage which became known as Wright's Garage. He worked to build up the agricultural equipment side of the business and maintained the Austin agency.

The Old Motor House today Wrights garage was sold in the 1970's to the Mackie family and they ran the garage and bus business now known as Rothbury Motors until the garage was again sold in 2001 and the bus business moved to Alnwick. The showroom opposite was sold in the late 1970's to a housing association and converted into flats.

The garage was bought by Jon Radgick an enthusiast collector of old cars and was extensively renovated in keeping with its listed status and historical interest. The petrol pumps were removed and the shop was separated from the garage and let out as an independent shop.