The History of Crossways Garage, also known as Bob’s Shop
The modern-day Crossways Garage, familiarly known in the area as ‘Bob’s Shop’, lies on the boundary between the parishes of Michaelchurch Escley and Newton St Margarets in the shadow of the Black Mountains. The land it occupies formed part of the ancient Welsh kingdom of Ewias, which after the Conquest of 1066 was granted by the new King William to his Norman allies the de Lacy family and became the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy. When the Marcher Lord Walter de Lacy died in 1241 without a male heir the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy was divided into two parts; the part containing the future site of Bob’s Shop devolved through his granddaughter Margery, eventually into the possession of the Nevill family, the Marquesses of Abergavenny. It remained in their ownership until they sold it in the 1920s, although over the centuries the property was occupied by various tenants.
The site is at the crossroads formed by an ancient north-south ridgeway linking Longtown to Hay via St Margarets and an east-west lane from Vowchurch to Michaelchurch Escley and Craswall via the Slough. Both these routes date back to at least medieval times and probably much earlier. Their crossing was therefore an important place that would have seen a good number of travellers, at least by the standards of these parts. Such crossroads were significant locations for local businesses because of the volume of traffic and relatively easy access from a wide area.
Exactly how and when the place got its local name of Bob’s Shop is lost in the mists of time. However the historical records leave some clues from which it is possible to put together reasonable suggestions. Two questions need answering; why was it called a ‘shop’, and who was ‘Bob’?
The word “shop” reputedly comes from a mix of Old French, German and Old English. Eschoppe from Old French (meaning booth), Schopf from German (meaning porch), and Shippon from Old English (meaning cattle shed). So the first usage of the word can be traced to mean a booth where cattle were bought and sold. People would travel to the “shop” to speak with a cattle trader and negotiate an agreement. The main significance of the word is the fact that it was a place where agreements were reached, face-to-face. Buyers could see the cattle they wished to buy, they could get recommendations on the right kind of cattle for their needs, and most importantly they could develop a relationship with their supplier. In country areas this usage quickly extended to other rural trades, and a particularly common application was for a ‘Blacksmith’s Shop’ where people congregated when horses needed shoeing or ironwork needed making or repairing.
The hill farms around Michaelchurch were never particularly cattle oriented, and most livestock trading took place at the local markets in Abergavenny, Hay and Hereford. A reasonable assumption to make is therefore that the ‘shop’ part of the ‘Bob’s Shop’ name arises because there was a blacksmith’s business at Crossways. This is borne out by the recollections of a local man Mike Griffiths of Clehonger when he worked on restoration of Michaelchurch Mill in the 1990s. He had been born and raised in St Margarets, and recalled that his grandfather had been a blacksmith working at Bob’s Shop around the end of the nineteenth century. Surviving documents including Census records and local Directories and Gazetteers confirm that there were blacksmiths living and working continuously in and around Michaelchurch Escley from at least the early 1800s up until relatively recent times.
If we therefore assume that the ‘Shop’ is a blacksmith’s place of work, we have a starting point for answering the second question; who was the ‘Bob’ that Bob’s Shop was named after?
Prior to the establishment of a Land Registry in 1862 and all the bureaucracy that goes with the modern records of property ownership, land was often identified and referred to by the name of the person who leased or occupied it. Rental and other details were kept by the Lord of the Manor’s Steward who formalised and recorded them through the Manorial Courts. However as property rights were handed down, frequently from generation to generation within the same family, the old names were often kept since local people knew the customary names and boundaries very well. This convention of naming could apply to anything from a single field [for example ‘Old Charles’ Meadow’] to an entire manor [for example the ‘Manor of Jenkin Prichard’], and in some cases the tradition persists to the present day.
The solution to the next part of the puzzle is therefore, perhaps, to find a blacksmith called Bob who owned and/or worked in a smithy at the crossroads.
The record of the names of local blacksmiths is reasonably comprehensive, and the good news for us is that the only ‘Bob’ in the list going back in time over the last two hundred years is Robert Francis of Michaelchurch Escley. The Manorial records in turn reveal that Robert Francis, blacksmith, acquired the leasehold of land at the Crossways from the Marquess of Abergavenny in 1802. This included land called ‘Old Shop’ around the crossroads which an indenture of 15th May 1802 records as containing a messuage [building] “having been destroyed by fire” during the lifetime of the previous tenant. By the nature of the blacksmith’s business it was a fairly common event for their premises to catch fire, so we may guess that the ‘Old Shop’ was also a smithy, had perhaps been so for many years, and had gone out of business after it burned down.
It is perhaps also reasonable to surmise that blacksmith Robert Francis purchased the lease with the intention of resurrecting an old established business under his management. He would have rebuilt the forge and smithy and sought to regain the patronage of local customers. As part of this it is logical to suppose that he might have wanted to –as we might say in modern parlance – ‘rebrand’ his business by literally stamping his name on it. The old smithy was gone so it would be natural enough to drop the traditional ‘Old Shop’ and look for a new start. ‘Bob’s Shop’ would have had a nice ring about it, even if it was the product of local word of mouth rather than a conscious choice of the proprietor.
The Francis family continued to hold the leases to the land around Crossways until at least 1844 when their holdings are listed in the Tithe Maps for the parishes of Michaelchurch Escley and St Margarets. However, by 1890 the blacksmith there was Thomas Rudge and in 1895 the smithy passed into the ownership of the Davies family. Charles Davies worked as the local smith from about 1895 until 1917 when Herbert [Bert] Davies took over. By the 1930s Warren Lewis, then the miller at Michaelchurch, recalled that Bert Davies had moved his blacksmith business to Forge Cottage near the Bridge Inn in Michaelchurch, but there are clues in the historical records suggesting that this move might have taken place as early as 1895.
It remains unclear exactly when the move of the blacksmiths shop from Crossways took place and how the site transitioned to a garage for motor vehicles. However, after the end of the First World War in 1918 motor transport was becoming widely available in the area and this created new business opportunities for repairs and maintenance. In the early days many vehicles had been hand-built and without standardised spare parts, so it seems natural enough that a blacksmiths shop would be well suited to provide the necessary servicing facilities and custom-made parts. But with mass production taking over and factory-made spares becoming widely available, the nature of the motor business quickly changed.
By 1920 JC Wilding’s ‘West End Cycle Depot’ at Vowchurch was selling petrol and operating a garage catering initially for motorcyclists and later for motorists too as local vehicle ownership expanded rapidly. In 1921 Hereford Transport Limited set up an ‘outpost’ at Bob’s Shop in Michaelchurch; it is reasonable to suppose that they also set up some sort of maintenance facilities there for their vehicles and this may well have been the trigger for the transformation of the business to a motor garage.
By 1924, Mr Wilfred Pritchard was running a Ford bus around the area of Michaelchurch and Longtown, and from 1927 there were regular bus services run from a base at Bob’s Shop. In 1929 the Red and White Bus company were running a daily omnibus service from Michaelchurch to Abergavenny, Hay and Hereford. The bus franchise changed hands regularly, suggesting that business was not overly profitable; in 1934 Pritchard’s Omnibus was offering services to Abergavenny on Tuesdays, Hay on Thursdays and Hereford on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which corresponded to the local market days. In 1937 the same timetable was on offer from Morgan’s Omnibus Company, while by 1941 the Wye Valley Motor Company had taken it over.
After the Second World War private car ownership grew rapidly and the demand for bus services declined. The emphasis of the business at Michaelchurch seems to have changed accordingly. By 1960 Mr Percy Powell was the 30-year-old proprietor of Crossways Garage and a leading light in the popular local jalopy racing fraternity who reportedly had a considerable talent for developing cars suitable for this new sport. By 1983/4 the business had grown sufficiently to allow him to build a substantial new workshop on the site and it became the motor vehicle business we know today as ‘Crossways Garage’.
At least, that’s the name on the notepaper. The rest of us still call it ‘Bob’s Shop’ even though its namesake, blacksmith Robert Francis, would no longer recognise it as the smithy he built in 1802. But whether or not ‘Bob’ Francis was indeed the origin of the name Bob’s Shop I have a feeling that he and Percy Powell would have got on like a house on fire; they were both practical men who in their day built successful businesses at the Crossways and played a prominent part in our local community.
Bob Steele: Ewyas Lacy Study Group
Related Documents and References
Property at or near ‘Bob’s Shop’ linked to the Francis Family
3. Lease 1772
7. Lease 1819
8. Lease 1819
9. Lease 1831
Other sources suggest that Crossways was a beer house or pub intermittently, perhaps trading as the ‘Cross Keys’ in 1851 when the licence was held by Elizabeth Williams. From 1872 the licence is said to have been held by Edmund Harper trading as ‘The Crossway’, and by Henry Cousins in 1881. The licence lapsed in 1884. There are no references to pubs or inns with these names in the Directories of the time, although they list other licensed premises.
1901 Census records show Charles Davies and family at the ‘Blacksmith’s Shop’ in Michaelchurch Escley on a schedule next to Jasmine Cottage, Village Cottage, Bridge Farm and Church Cottage. This suggests that the business had already moved from the Crossways to what is known today as Forge Cottage [near the Church], possibly c.1895 when Charles Davies took over as local blacksmith. A local St Margarets man recalls a Blacksmith’s shop at Crossways where his grandfather worked in the late 1800s, so it is possible that the business had operated there since at least the early 1800s when it was established by Robert Francis. The miller at Michaelchurch in the 1930s recalled Blacksmith Bert Davies working from Forge Cottage in Michaelchurch in 1935, so the business had certainly moved from Crossways by then.
1901 census records also show William Richard Howard, Master Tailor, and family at Crossway House, although the 1905 Directory names William Robert Howard as the local tailor. Other directory entries between 1885 and 1905 refer to William Howard, suggesting that in any case William was his preferred name and that he is therefore an unlikely candidate for the origin of ‘Bob’s Shop’ as some sources suggest; presumably it would have been ‘Bill’s Shop’!
Source: The History of Ewyas Lacy: www.ewyaslacy.org.uk
Website of the Ewyas Lacy Study Group