North Laine History
Motorpair, after the extension to no 16 in the mid 1980s
Roy, right, with Martyn enjoying a break from work
Reflections over 27 years
By Sue Moffatt (edited by Francis Clark-
At the end of 2007 Roy Moffatt closed Motorpair's doors in Vine Street for the last time, having traded there for 27 years. Roy didn't originally intend to set up a business in Vine Street, but thanks to him having done so he has much to tell us about the changes over the years in his corner of the North Laine.
Roy qualified as a motor engineer
Growing up around his father's garage in Hove, Roy qualified as a motor engineer. In 1967, at the age of 21, he and Martyn Dearle set up a vehicle repair and servicing business in Shoreham. They called it Motorpair, a pun on the pair of them and the repair of motors. Martyn and Roy had been at school together in the 1950s and in the 60s they were to be seen riding their Lambrettas and Vespas around Brighton in proper mod style. After a few years Martyn moved off to a variety of other jobs over the next 30 years before returning to Motorpair in Vine Street.
Bidding for a redevelopment site
In 1979 the premises Roy had leased in Shoreham were scheduled for demolition to enable road widening, so he had to relocate fast. He was beginning to get worried when he saw a small advertisement in the back of The Argus. Brighton Council (as it was then) was advertising two sites for bids for redevelopment. One was a tumbledown 19th century workshop in Gloucester Road, the other a derelict site in Vine Street.
Roy thought he could make the Gloucester Road building useable, so he spent time drawing up a carefully worded bid. Then just before the submission date he thought he might as well submit one for the Vine Street site too, although he wasn't so keen on that one. Needless to say his bid for Vine Street was the successful one, probably because he was the only person in 1979 interested in a plot of land with a floor of broken bricks, underneath which lay an air raid shelter!
The North Laine wasn't fashionable then
At that time the property market was very different from today and the North Laine area wasn't at all fashionable. There were a lot of run-
A community of small businesses
In those days no-
On the opposite side of the road the tall warehouse was used by a basket-
On the opposite corner with North Road there was the inappropriately named Brick's glass shop and behind it ran a long workshop with an entrance onto Vine Street, through which builders went to have glass cut for window panes. The old stables next to them were used as stores and workshops by small businesses, and adjoining them the Vokin's Department store (then in North Street) had a warehouse. Next to Roy's premises was an undertaker's garage, above which they had a workshop through whose open windows you could hear a cheerful bunch of carpenters building coffins. If you went up there you could occasionally find a tired carpenter having a snooze in one of his creations!
Roy's planning application was agreed
So it was a busy working community that Roy joined. His planning application was agreed. No one was interested in the street in those days and anyway he was the first person to build anything new there for years. He needed to start building quickly, but clearing away the old air raid shelter proved quite a task because, of course, it was intended to be bomb-
Fortunately Ted Spence, who had rented part of Motorpair's space at Shoreham, moved to Brighton with Roy, and was followed by his many loyal customers. Ted had fought in both world wars, and had been captured by the Japanese army. He didn't believe in retirement and stayed at Vine Street for some years, regularly supplying Roy with fine trout after the fly fishing trips which interspersed his working days.
The business grew
As the business grew Roy managed to obtain a two-
For years Roy tried to persuade the Council to let to him a small open yard opposite the workshop in order to provide extra off-
Terry joined the firm
Terry, Roy's older brother, had also worked as a teenager in their father's Hove garage. He had moved out of the motor trade into the engineering industry, an occupation which took him as far afield at Saudi Arabia. But contraction of that sector encouraged him to return to the motor trade in 1994, when he joined Roy at Motorpair. So for the past decade Roy, Terry and Martin, all now mature, were working together again in Vine Street. Terry and Roy had both decided that they would retire in 2008, but before they did so, sadly, Martyn became ill and died in 2007. And so the closure of Motorpair was brought forward by a couple of months.
Trade by recommendation
In all his years in Vine Street Roy never advertised in the newspapers, preferring to get trade by recommendation. The one exception was the North Laine Runner. In its early days Roy was asked if he would advertise to help support the new community paper and his advertisement was in every issue after that. He built up a lot of regular good customers in the North Laine, and indeed at times he says it felt as if he was running a village garage. So, unexpectedly, the North Laine became an important part of Roy's life and he reflects that moving to Vine Street was not such a bad move after all.
[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 192, May/June 2008]