The history of motoring in the Yorkshire Dales is closely linked to the history of tourism in the area. The first mass tourists came on the newly built railways, but once at the station, they needed transport to reach the popular beauty spots. At first, horse-drawn vehicles were laid on. People arriving at Skipton Railway Station and wanting to travel into Wharfedale might for instance catch the regular horse-drawn coach service operated by Metcalfe’s of Hebden. Horse-drawn wagonettes continued to operate around the Bolton Abbey estate until well into the 20th century as the historians Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley recall : “We found our man waiting at the Cavendish Pavilion, and climbed onto the springless seats. Soon the rolling of the wheels, the sudden jerk of the brake, and the smell of horse and leather brought back the thrill of a wagonette ride when such events were rare occurrences…”. Originally these wagonettes brought visitors from Bolton Abbey Station. Metcalfe’s regular ‘Omnibus’ service and others like it were also used by the newly arrived population of commuters who found they could live in the countryside and travel to work in Bradford and Leeds.
A branch line was built to Grassington and opened in 1902. This brought visitors and commuters even further into the beautiful countryside of the Dales. In the meantime, the 1890s saw the development of a motor industry in Europe. By the turn of the 19th century, there were so many cars on the road in Britain that they had to be regulated. The 1903 Motor Car Act introduced measures to help identify vehicles and their drivers and registration plates became a requirement. The first motor buses were operating in the London area by 1905. Cars were beyond the reach of all but the wealthy in the Yorkshire Dales, but several businesses invested in the new commercial vehicles. A regular motorised coach service was established by Hargreaves of Hebden connecting with trains at Grassington Station shortly after it opened. The company flourished and still operates a coach hire company out of the village.
Cars continued to be too expensive for most people, but as living standards rose through the 1920s and 30s, the battle was on to develop affordable cars for the middle class customer. The first £100 car, the Morris Minor, was produced in 1931 but was a very basic open top two-seater, a far cry from the popular post-war version. Ford brought in their own £100 car in 1935. The Model Y was the first full-sized saloon car to be sold at that price in Britain. By 1939 there were two million cars in the country. Following the Second World War and the end of petrol rationing, the 1950s saw a doubling in the number of motor car owners. The number doubled again in the 1960s and continues to rise with an ever increasing impact on the environment.
As roads improved and people had extra leisure time, more and more people were able to drive into the Dales. The longer journeys meant that facilities had to be provided to accommodate them. Oil companies actively encouraged motorists to use their cars to explore the countryside through poster campaigns such as the now collectable Shell posters of the 1930s. The first filling stations were usually nothing more than a corrugated iron shed selling several brands of fuel and this continued to be the case in the more remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales where business was never profitable enough to warrant the building of a service station. The Garage in Kettlewell established in 1946 is a typical example. A set of early roadside petrol pumps still stands in Langthwaite, Arkengarthdale. They carry the logo of the National Benzole Company. Sometimes village blacksmiths turned their hand to car repairs and their smithies became repair shops. One example of a blacksmith’s workshop turned into a garage stood almost opposite the Devonshire Hotel in Bolton Abbey village. It was ideally placed to repair the cars of visitors to the beauty spot. It is still known as Forge Garage, but the old buildings have been replaced by a modern car repair shop and it no longer sells petrol. The number of rural garages reached a peak in the 1960s and 70s since when the increasing fuel economy and reliability of car engines has led to many closing and their sites being redeveloped.
Another reminder of the early days of motoring in the Dales is the AA box standing beside the road near Aysgarth in Wensleydale. The Automobile Association was founded in 1905 and by 1953 had 1.3 million members. It provided roadside assistance for its members through a fleet of uniformed motorcyclists. People can still remember the uniformed AA men standing outside these roadside boxes and smartly saluting cars carrying the famous winged AA badge. The Wensleydale example dates to around 1956.
Cars brought visitors into the heart of the National Park and with them problems of congestion and pollution, the very thing that people were trying to escape. During the 20th century, as railway lines were closed and bus services cut, the car also became an essential part of life for residents of the park. The 21st century brings the challenge of trying to reduce the number of cars on country roads and in villages that were never designed to deal with them in such quantities. Bus services have been revived and some routes are publicly subsidised. New facilities have been provided for bus passengers and cyclists such as the bus shelter and bike storage facilities in Grassington National Park car park. Visitors are now encouraged to give their car a break and leave it at home.
Jones, Helen (1998) ‘Buildings designed to advertise fuel’ British Archaeology Issue no 38 pp6-7
Passmore, Michael (2003) The AA: History, Badges and Memorabilia Princes Risborough: Shire Publications
Pontefract, Ella & Hartley, Marie (1988) Wharfedale Otley: Smith Settle
www.theaa.com/aboutaa/history – History of the Automobile Association
www.beaulieu.co.uk/motormuseum/motoringhistory – the early history of motoring from the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu
www.dvla.gov.uk/histm-1 – DVLA pages on the history of motoring and licensing