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Local history

Rothwell and Milbourne's Garage


Austin MaxiWe purchased an Austin Maxi family saloon from Rothwell and Milbourne in 1979; the salesman was a Mr Yardley. It was a good vehicle having a 1,725 cc engine, five speed gearbox, hatchback, air suspension and good visibility front and rear.

Click for further details of the Austin Maxi on Wikipedia

Rothwell and Milbourne's car showroom was on the Worcester Road, a little way down from Brays, and the service department was in Newtown Road. The business closed in 1990 and there is no trace of it now, but we wondered, as we passed the former car showroom, which is now converted into a shop known as Classic Interiors, who founded the company and when. This short story relates what we have discovered about the proprietors of Rothwell and Milbourne and their families.

Rothwell and Milbourne header

Early days

We cannot say exactly when the motor car was invented; cars for the rich were appearing about 1900, but it was not until 1908 that Henry Ford, in the USA, produced the Model T Ford which made motoring more affordable. The equivalent small car in the UK was the Austin 7 which was produced between 1922 and 1939.

The word 'garage' was first used in the UK about 1902 and was copied from the French, from garer to shelter; the term was originally used to describe a large building where motor vehicles were kept. Prior to that people would have spoken of 'stables' for horses and 'coach houses' for carriages.

So it was that at the beginning of the 1900s there was a gradual transition from horse drawn transport and early steam driven vehicles to petrol driven ones. New businesses were set up to sell, service and repair these vehicles; supply fuel, oil and tyres; and in some cases hire them.

Steven's Directory records that in 1911 there was a Central Garage on the Worcester Road in Great Malvern run by Joseph Coley, and his son of the same name, who described themselves as motor engineers dealing in motor vehicles and cycles.

Rothwell and Milbourne

Joseph Coley senior died in 1923 and about this time the business at the Central Garage became known as Rothwell and Milbourne, but this was not the first time the name 'Rothwell and Milbourne' had appeared in Malvern.

Rothwell and Milbourne advertisement'Rothwell and Milbourne' seem first to have acquired Cowleigh Garage in Cowleigh Road, North Malvern in 1919 which had previously been known as Moore's Garage Ltd (see advertisement opposite).

The Angus-Sanderson motor car, mentioned in the advertisement, looks to have been a well engineered vehicle, designed for the upper middle classes, but it proved to be a poor seller.

By 1940 two houses across the Worcester road, Coburg and Sandford Lodge had been demolished and the land was being used by the Central Garage as a car park. Peterson Court built in 1986 stands there now.

Site of Central Garage Car Park

Site of the Central Garage car park, now Peterson Court

So who were Messrs Rothwell and Milbourne. Were they business partners or was this simply a brand a sole proprietor had invented?

Please do tell us if you know.

After some investigation, our theory is that Joseph Rothwell who was born in 1886 and his wife Dorothy nee Milbourne, who Joseph had married in 1913, bought Moore's Garage after he was demobbed from the Royal Flying Corps after the First World War.

The couple had a daughter Pamela Leslie Rothwell who was born in Malvern in 1922; she became a dental surgeon and in the 1950s was the first woman to set up a dental practice in the Australian capital of Canberra; Pamela died in 2016 (ref 5) and one wonders if she knew much about her father's family. Her second forename was after her maternal uncle Leslie who was killed in the First World War, aged only 21 years.

On the 30th May 2014 the 'Canberra Times' newspaper had carried a story of Pamela's search for a living relative, to pass an heirloom on to; a chest which had come down from her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Adshead, who had been given it as a wedding present in 1873 (ref 6).

We don't know for sure what became of Joseph, but we suspect he may have divorced Dorothy and could have been the man who married Emmie Agnes Rudd, grand-daughter of the landlord of the Nag's Head in 1927. Tragically Emmie died in 1931 and you will find her buried in Great Malvern cemetery with her mother. Possibly her husband, Joseph, had died later the same year.

More about the proprietors of Rothwell and Milbourne

The business continued to be known as Rothwell and Milbourne for the next seventy years; during which period only three families were to own it.

Joseph Rothwell

Joseph Rothwell, who we speculate founded the business, was the youngest son of cotton manufacturer William Andrew Rothwell (1851 - 1930), who was proprietor of the Primrose Mill in Walkden, a suburb of Manchester.  A trade directory of 1891 records Primrose Mill had 180 looms, and made nankeens, blue jeans, ticks, grandrills (yarns of mixed colours), dobbies (patterns woven into fabric) and checks. Joseph's uncle Edwin was also a manufacturer of cotton cloth, and you can read a little more about the the family on the History of Walkden web page.

Joseph was the youngest of five sons, and had two sisters Hilda and Kate. Thomas Andrew the eldest son, became a Doctor of Medicine and General Practioner, and served as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War; his only daughter married but died shortly after in South Africa. Benjamin followed his father into the family business; Sidney became a chartered accountant and died prematurely in 1906; while Edwin became an Architect and Surveyor.

Joseph's youngest sister Kate (1893 - 1986) travelled to New Zealand in 1920 on the ancient steamship Paparoa, accompanied by her sister Hilda where, in 1921, she married Gordon Hovey (1894 - 1957). The couple had two daughters, and a son, Patrick, who was last known living in Australia.

Joseph's brother-in-law Gordon Hovey, born in Essex, was the son of a merchant's clerk and his grandfather had been a stevedore. After his father, who had been paralysed for three years, died in 1908 he emigrated from London to New Zealand, as a third class passenger, on the steamship Rippingham Grange, describing himself as a farmer. Following the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, then describing himself as an engineer, eventually ending up in an administrative staff job in London. He must have been good at his job because he was eventually promoted to Temporary Major, service number 13/73, and in 1919 was awarded the OBE, Military Division (ref 7). On his enlistment papers he said he had served 5 years with the 2nd Kent Royal Garrison Artillery. In January 1920 Gordon travelled back from London to New Zealand, on the troopship Athenic, where he married Joseph's sister Kate the next year.

The 1911 census suggests, as a young man, Joseph Rothwell had worked for his father, but the army medal rolls index tells us that by 1915 Joseph had joined the Manchester Regiment, later transferring into the Royal Flying Corps.

An Air War 1914-1918 web page relates:

On 22 April 1917 around 1600 hrs, six FE2bís from 11 Squadron RFC made a second attempt to photograph the Drocourt-Queant switch (a defensive line built by German forces)...  At around 1720 hrs, 1 Naval Squadron ran into a group of 14 enemy aircraft. With a height advantage they engaged in dive and attack tactics, climbing away using their superior performance and then attacking again. 2nd Lieutenant John James Paine and 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Rothwell in FE2b A5500 were injured but manage to land their plane. Other men were killed.

The FE2b was a flimsy biplane used for reconnaisance; the engine and propellor were mounted behind the pilot, and the rear fuselage was an open lattice supporting the tail. How severely Joseph was wounded we don't know.

His colleague John James Paine, also wounded, was promoted to the rank of Captain, and survived the First World War, but died 6 months later aged only 27 years. He was the son of James Albert Ellis Paine, of Sheffield who in the 1911 census described himself as managing director of a cutlery company; possibly he was a wholesaler.

Perhaps after the excitement and perils of war Joseph did not want to go back to a mundane job in his father's cotton mill, and his father had funded him to buy Moore's Garage in Cowleigh Road, North Malvern. It was a long way from his home in Manchester, but the air would have been cleaner and life less stressful for those traumatized by the war.

Steven's street directories of 1917 and 1919 had listed Moore's Garage in Cowleigh Road, but in 1920 the name changed to Rothwell and Milbourne, Motor Engineers, Cars for hire, telephone 312.

Steven's Directory of 1922 records Rothwell and Milbourne at both the Cowleigh Garage in North Malvern and the Central Garage in Great Malvern. An informative full page advertisement before the index includes a list of cars offered for sale. A transcription reads:

Phone 301

Rothwell and Milbourne (MTA)

Central Garage, Worcester Road

Cowleigh Garage, North Malvern

High Class Motor Cars for hire

also, Char-a-bancs

Repair, Painting, Coach Trimming

Petrol, Oil, Tyres etc

Our Agencies include the following







Enfield Allday



Castle 3 Run About

Clyno Motor Cycles

Ivy Motor Cycles


All models

Steven's Directory of 1923 contains a similar full page advertisement and for the first time identifies the proprietor as J Rothwell BSc, adding that that the business is now a Ford Service Agent, as it had been in 1919.

By 1924 the business might have had financial problems, and/or Joseph might have had a falling-out with his wife, because Steven's Directory contains only a short listing for Cowleigh Garage.

We don't know what happened to Joseph Rothwell after that. Perhaps, as mentioned earlier, he divorced Dorothy, and married Emmie Agnes Rudd, who was the grand-daughter of the landlord of the Nag's Head, which was a short distance from his garage. Do tell us if you can clear up this mystery.

Dorothy Milbourne

Joseph's wife, Dorothy, possibly a partner in the business, was the daughter of wholesale butcher James Parker Milbourne and Esther Ward. Dorothy was born at Eccles in Lancashire in 1890. She had four sisters Jessie, May, Rachel and Ethel; and two brothers Philip and Leslie.

Philip worked for the family business, and died in Cheshire in 1940.

Sadly Dorothy's brother Leslie Milbourne Lt in the 7th Service Bn, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was shot by a sniper and died 10th July 1916 at No 7 Stationary hospital Boulogne while on active service, during the First World War. Click to find his story and photograph on the Manchester University Roll of Honour web site.

Dorothy did not marry again and died at Stockport Cheshire in 1971.

Bernard B Slater

Steven's Directory of 1925 records Bernard B Slater as the next proprietor of Rothwell and Milbourne at the Central Garage and at Cowleigh Garage, but he was not to last, and we have been unable to identify who he was. Do you know?

Arthur Linnell MacVitie

Arthur Linnell MacVitie acquired the business in 1926 continuing to trade as Rothwell and Milbourne. Prior to that he had worked for Shellmex, a division of the powerful Shell oil company. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Motor Trade (FIMT) which is now known as the IMI. In the 1930s St James Garage in West Malvern joined the group.

Arthur was born on 20 Dec 1893 at Aston, Warwickshire and died in 1970 at Ledbury; he was the son of Walter MacVitie and Esther Linnell. In WWI Arthur had served as a private in the Labour Corps, where he probably increased his knowledge of motor vehicles. After the war Arthur joined Shellmex and in 1920 married Nellie Dorothy Castle at Worcester.

Malvern Gazette Banner 1941

Malvern Gazette Banner 1941

During WWII few family cars were made, and petrol was rationed, and that combination of factors would have reduced trade for garages; especially any that did not have war work to compensate. The advertisement above indicates the garage was keen to buy secondhand cars in 1941.

In 1953 Rothwell and Milbourne, having survived the Second World War, became a Limited Company and in 1959 a service department was opened in Newtown Road; meanwhile Arthur's son, John Linnell MacVitie, had joined the business.

Eventually in March 1989 it was decided to place Rothwell and Milbourne into voluntary liquidation and the business closed in 1990. It was the end of an era.

When the garage closed the premises on the Worcester Road became an Exhaust, Tyres and Battery depot, since tastefully converted into a shop (see photo below), and the service centre in Newtown Road was acquired by Brooklyn Motors; after Brooklyn went bust, in the financial crisis of 2008, Hills Ford took over the Newtown Road premises.

Site of Central Garage

Site of the Central Garage on the Worcester Road

Austin Maxi

The Austin Maxi at Barton on Sea in 1984

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  1. Stevens' Directory and Gazetteer, volumes 1911 to 1940
  2. National Probate Calendar
  3. England and Wales Census
  4. Index of births, marriages, and deaths
  5. Pamela Rothwell Tribute (archived), Canberra Times,  28th October 2016
  6. Family heirloom finds some (lost) family, Canberra Times, 30th May 2014
  7. National Archives of Australia, ANZAC service records