Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 17, 2019
Webpage updated: September 17, 2019




The Plymouth business house of Messrs Turnbull's Limited, Vauxhall car and Bedford van dealers, was located at Mill Street, Plymouth, before the Second World War and at Princess Street, Regent Street and a Nissen hut in Mill Street thereafter until new premises were erected at Charles Cross roundabout.

Mr George Henry Turnbull was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire, in 1878.  His father died soon afterwards and at the time of the 1881 census Mrs Sarah Ann Turnbull and young George were living at 22 Moorville Place, Hunslet, Leeds.  His mother was quoted as an out of employment boot fitter.

In his mid-twenties, Mr George Henry Turnbull married Miss Alice Ann Clayton in Leeds in 1904 and later that year they had their first son, John Henry Turnbull.  On May 31st 1906 he was followed by a second son, George Henry Turnbull.

For some reason as yet undiscovered the family moved to Plymouth, where, in 1908, Mr George Henry Turnbull senior opened a garage in Mill Street.

Mr George Henry Turnbull died on October 30th 1920, at the very young age of 42 years.  He was survived by his widow and three sons, Harry (presumably Mr John Henry Turnbull), George and 7-years-old Harold, the only one born in Plymouth.

It was his second son, Mr George Henry Turnbull junior, who seems to have taken over running the business and he married Miss Muriel Flossie May Schaffer at Emmanuel Church, on April 4th 1934.

The bombing of the Second World War saw their premises in Mill Street totally destroyed.  Once the reconstruction of the City was started the firm moved into one of the many Nissen huts erected in the same area.  They also had a site in Regent Street but the main office and showroom were at numbers 1 and 2 Princess Street, formerly the Lockyer Garage.

During the 1950s there was a surge in the sales of motor cars and in 1956 Turnbull's got in at the start of a new craze, the in-car radio.  In June 1957 they became the local dealer for Radiomobile.  This part of their business was run from the Nissen hut in Mill Street.

By now known as Messrs Turnbull's Garage Ltd, they opened their new serviced station at Breton Side on Tuesday September 9th 1958.  Or rather, Mr Stirling Moss, the famous racing driver, opened it for them.  He arrived from Southampton by helicopter, landing at 12.10pm in the car park of Home Park Football Ground.  After cutting the green ribbon with a pair of gold scissors he and the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman G J Wingett, toured the building and then he signed autographs for the children who turned out to witness the occasion.  [7]

The new premises were designed by Mr William Roseveare MInstRA, of Sherwell House, Tavistock Road, Plymouth, and constructed by Messrs A N Coles (Contractors) Ltd, also of Plymouth.  Built entirely of reinforced concrete in order to give unobstructed floor areas, the building featured a cantilevered canopy.  The fuel  pumps served British Petroleum (BP) petrol.  The electrical equipment was installed by Messrs W G Heath & Company Ltd; the fittings came from Messrs J F Hussell and Company Limited; and the steel service staircase and exterior railings were manufactured by Messrs Woodrow Metals Limited, all local firms.

The first self-service petrol pumps in the United Kingdom were installed in Turnbull's garage in Plymouth.  This was opened to the public on Thursday April 11th 1963.  There were nine pumps in all.  Three of them were of a Swedish design that were able to mix petrol grades into five intermediate grades between Regular and Super.  The remaining six pumps delivered the straight forward grades. Prices were 4s 3d, 4s 5d, 4s 5d, 4s 7d, 4s 8d, 4s 9d or 4s 11d per gallon.  Because the automatic pumps required only one attendant who was sat in a control booth, the petrol was around 2d or 2d per gallon cheaper than elsewhere.

Exactly six years later, on Wednesday September 9th 1964, Mr Stirling Moss opened the upper portion of the 200,000 development, opposite Charles Church.  Designed by Mr Peter Roseveare of Messrs William Roseveare and Son and constructed by Messrs Dudley Coles Limited, this was the most modern motor vehicle service station in the country and was visited by industry representatives from all over the country.

It was the first filling station in the country to be built on the outer edge of a roundabout and Mr Turnbull had spent years convincing the Ministry of Transport that placing one in such a position need not interfere with the flow of traffic.  But apparently it was not until they had accepted his idea that he discovered that his suggested entrance and exit points required a circular layout to the filling station.  The nine pumps could handle about 76 cars an hour.

There was next a circular quick service bay, of which only one other was known to exist, in Vienna, the Austrian capital.  Cars entered from the filling station and passed onto a turntable, from which they were driven into one of the bays.  They could then be worked on from a platform on the floor below.  Here, too, was a Crypton Heenan Rolling Road that enabled cars to be run at speeds up to 120 miles per hour to test performance and diagnose problems.  While they waited for their cars to be examined, the motorists could relax in the waiting room, with its coffee bar, from where they could watch the work being done.

From the quick service department, a car could be run down a ramp to the workshop floor below, where it could be put through the semi-automatic washer.  An attendant wearing sheepskin mittens lathered the vehicles before they were rinsed clean.  The washing process took about 30 minutes but it was intended to reduce it to twenty minutes.

In 1973 Mr Turnbull retired and sold the business to Messrs Wincanton Motor Company, of Wincanton, in Somerset.  Although it continued to trade as Turnbull's, it was sold again in the 1980s, to Arlington, and finally in 1995 to LEX, who finally pulled out of Plymouth in 1995.  The site was until recently the Staples stationery store while an original part of the premises is still used by the cycle dealer adjacent.

Mr George Henry Turnbull died at his home in Glentor Road, Hartley, Plymouth, on February 23rd 1986 at the age of 79 years.  At that time the Turnbull name was still over eight garages in Plymouth and one at Totnes.

His widow, Mrs Muriel Flossie May Turnbull, died in December 1986 at the age of 78 years.