Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 26, 2019
Webpage updated: September 26, 2019




The Plymouth business house of Messrs W Mumford Limited, motor car agents and dealers, was located at the Abbey Garage, Saint Andrew Street, Plymouth, before the Second World War, with showrooms in Old Town Street and Salisbury Road.  Their headquarters remained at the Abbey Garage after the War.

Mr Joseph Mumford was born at Shaugh Farm, in the Parish of Shaugh Prior, Devon, in circa 1835.  At the time of the time of the census in 1851 he was apprenticed to Mr William Lillicrap, wheelwright, of 37 Union Street, East Stonehouse.  However, ten years later he was a Beer House Keeper at the Abbey Hotel, number 5 Saint Andrew Street.  He and his wife only had two children at that point, the youngest being John Mumford, only two months old.

It is claimed that the Company was founded in 1860 because the preserved 1765 hand-pump formerly owned by the Plympton Fire Brigade carries a shield which states: 'Mumford and Sons, Mutley Plain. Est. 1860'.  This presumably refers to a refurbishment of the vehicle sometime after 1890.

It was between then and the next census in 1881 that he became a full-time wheelwright along with his two eldest sons, John and Joseph.  They were then living at, and probably working from, number 12 Amity Place, Plymouth.  The two lads had four sisters but in April 1878 young William Mumford had been born and he was soon to start at Charles National School, not far from home.  A further brother, Frank Mumford, was born in 1884.

By 1890 Messrs Mumford and Sons, were coach builders and wheelwrights at Grosvenor Lane, off Mutley Plain.  The father, Mr Joseph Mumford, died on March 12th 1892, at the age of only 57 years.

At the age of 21 Mr William Mumford started his own carriage building business in Glanville Street in 1900.  Motor vehicles were few and far between but William was of the right age to become interested in them and added engineering and servicing to his body building business.  He is said to have built the first car body in the Westcountry on a 40/45 horse-power Ariel-Simplex chassis.

It was not long before the business outgrew the premises and in 1903 he moved to redeveloped Ebrington Street.

He built the first motor taxi in Plymouth using the chassis of a model T Ford.  He then sold the vehicle to Mr Jack Andrew, of Andrew's Garage.  In 1908 William also started the first motor bus service between Plymouth and Crownhill, on which he used a De Dion Bouton vehicle.

In 1912 he started to build his own flying machine but the project had to be abandoned because of the lack of a decent engine.  In 1915 the business moved to spacious premises in Salisbury Road, Saint Jude's, where they later started constructing bodies for bus chassis.

A 5-acre site at Billacombe, Plymstock, was acquired in 1920.  The following year Mr Clarence Mumford joined the Company.  On September 28th 1922 the Company took on limited liability.  When Mr Clarence Mumford became a director in 1924, his brother, Mr William Roy Mumford, joined the business.  Another brother, Mr Ronald Mumford BSc MIMechE, joined the business in 1926 and William was made a director in 1927.  Finally, Mr Kenneth John Mumford joined the Company in 1930 and Ronald became a director the following year.

In a review of the business in the trade magazine "Motor Transport" at the end of 1925, Mr Mumford revealed that only well-seasoned timber, usually for 10 years, was used for their body work and that the firm did everything themselves, including panel beating, smithing, graining, painting, and upholstery, and they also had a grinder for crankshafts and a 300-ron hydraulic press.  They had manufactured many convertible touring bodies for Durant, Overland, Morris, Chevrolet and other chassis and had recently designed and constructed a lorry for carrying piping for the Octagon Brewery Limited (registration CO 7729).

It will be recalled that back in 1861 Mr Joseph Mumford was the landlord of the Abbey Inn in Saint Andrew Street.  In 1928 the Mumford family acquired the site of the that Inn and in 1933 opened the Abbey Garage on the spot.  

William retired in 1930 and left the business in the hands of his four sons, going on to develop a second career as cinema owner with Mr Gwyther Eastlake 'Guy' Prance.

Sunday September 10th 1933 saw the official opening of the new Abbey Garage in Saint Andrew Street.  This four-storey building occupied some 36,000 square feet and could accommodate 50 motor cars in the basement.  Vehicles up to three tons in weight could be transferred between all floors by means of an electric lift.  One innovation was that mechanics had direct access to the pits beneath the cars they were working on from their work benches.  Part of the equipment were a brake testing machine and a device for adjusting head lamps.  The offices and stores were on the first floor, accessed by means off an oak staircase.  All departments were connected by dictograph telephone system and by means of bells and coloured lights it was possible to summon any member of the executive staff from any floor.  An advantage of leaving your car at the Abbey Garage, either while shopping or while it was under maintenance, was that you received a complimentary voucher for coffee at Messrs Spooner and Company Limited, just up the road.

An advertising feature launching the new premises pointed out that Mumford's sold Daimler cares from 450; the Wolseley Hornet at 198 10s; the Wolseley Sixteen at 325; the Lanchester 10hp at 315; the Lanchester Eighteen at 595; the Alvis Firefly for 495; the Alvis Crested Eagle at 750; the BSA 10hp saloon for 240; or the very popular Austin Ten (10hp) for the bargain sum of 155.  All of these models were available from the Mumford's showrooms in Old Town Street, conveniently placed to visit after you had finished your free cup of coffee in Spooner's.

On November 9th 1938 Messrs Western Motor Holdings Limited was incorporated as a holding company for Messrs W Mumford Limited, which was absorbed into the group on December 29th 1938.  Mr Clarence Mumford was appointed chairman of the board in 1939.

From 1939 onwards the works at Billacombe produced aircraft for the War effort and their premises in Mill Street were used for the repair of army vehicles.  There was also a Tyresoles plant at the Mill Street premises, which dealt with many thousands of tyres for the Ministry of Supply.  Mumford's works at Billacombe also converted a large number of redundant vehicles into ambulances.  They advertised a 16-25hp Abbey Home Service Ambulance, capable of carrying four stretchers, from 85 each.

The Company's reputation was greatly enhanced in 1946 when it was awarded the Devon and Cornwall agency for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars.

Mr Kenneth John Mumford was made a director in 1954.

At some point during their expansion they acquired the Barton business in Plymouth and Exeter and then in 1959 moved their headquarters from the Abbey garage out to Laira Bridge Road.  In addition to the already mentioned Rolls-Royce and Bentley, they were also agents for British Leyland's Morris, Wolseley, and MG cars.

Mr William Mumford died on Thursday February 26th 1959 at a nursing home in Paignton, Devon, where he had lived for some thirty years.  He was survived by five sons and a daughter.  At the time the general manager of the Company was Mr Peter Prance, the son of Mr Guy Prance.

During the Second World War the entire centre of Plymouth was destroyed but not the Abbey Garage.  However, the area was required for the post-war reconstruction work and in July 1960 Mumford's were given a Notice to Quit with effect from January 1st 1961.

At the time of the publication of the prospectus on June 1st 1964, it was stated that in addition to being the Rolls-Royce and Bentley agents for Devon and Cornwall, Mumford's were also the distributor for Wolseley in South West Devon and the whole of Cornwall; distributor for MG in South West Devon and East Cornwall; distributor for Morris Commercial in Central and South West Devon and East Cornwall; the area dealer for Triumph cars and Standard Eight commercial vehicles in Plymouth and district; dealers for Daimler, Austin, and Riley cars and Morris cars and light commercial vehicles in parts of Devon and Cornwall; and distributors of Massey Ferguson tractors and farm machinery in South West Devon.

In addition, they undertook car hire in Plymouth through Supercabs Limited; body manufacture and commercial vehicle repairs through Drake Motors Limited; and the subsidiary, Drake Carriers Limited, had a storage and distribution depot at Crabtree.

Mumford's opened new premises at Marsh Mills on January 21st 1972.  In 1986 Mr Garth Mumford bought Messrs W Mumford Limited back off Western Motor Holdings Limited for 228,000.  The business closed down at the end of January 1991 due to a huge slump in sales of the Fiat cars it was agent for.  At that time Mr Gerald Apps was the managing director and Mr Mumford was chairman.

By 2010 Mumford's had become a trading arm of Messrs Western Garage Plymouth Limited.  That Company went into administration on Wednesday November 2nd 2010 but the assets were all purchased by another local car dealers, Vosper's, and were transferred to the new owners at 10.30am on the same day.