Proprietor: Maurice Hillyer.
Location: West End, Street.
Years of Operation: 1954-74.
Sold: Esso Petrol.
Interviewee(s): Mrs. Pauline Hillyer, Maurice’s widow.
The Hillyer’s West End Service Station opened in 1954, serving Esso petrol from the outset. The petrol was originally served by an attendant or engineer, before moving to self-service. The garage offered many services besides: naturally servicing, repairing and selling cars, but also providing wedding and taxi services, and the kiosk sold merchandise such as torches, stationery, and even cigarettes. Esso memorabilia was also sold, and the Hillyer family still own boxes full of old pencils, handkerchiefs, lion mascots, and price stickers. Their tyres were provided by Gunnings of Wells, Maurice having been great pals with old man Gunning.
The Hillyer family’s involvement in the motor industry has been a long one. Maurice Hillyer’s mother bought a farm house in the nearby village of Barton St. David after she married his father in 1908, and ran the village shop attached – selling, among other things, petrol in tins. His father, meanwhile, was a proud owner of one of the first motor vehicles: the Bean car. Maurice’s Brother Bert also started his own garage and filling station in Piltown, more of which later. Today, the following generation – Maurice’s son Andrew, and Bert’s son John – both continue the tradition, with Maurice’s son still letting a workshop on the same site, and the Piltown Filling Station still in operation.
When I asked Mrs. Hillyer if anything unusual had ever happened, anything she could not forget, she replied, “Well… We never had any accidents.” “What about your local competition?”, I inquired. At this point, Mrs. Hillyer recalls the time that Esso – their supplier – decided to open another service station just a few hundred meters closer to the town centre, on the opposite side of the road; “… Much to our disgust… I gave the rep a piece of my mind when he came round”, she remarks, laughing as she remembers the harsh words said.
During the construction of the new Esso filling station, a man was tragically killed. One of the Hillyers’ engineers commented “That place will never prosper now.” That turned out to be a prophetic remark, because the business only survived a couple of years. Exactly what motivated Esso to open a second service station so nearby was initially mysterious, but Mrs. Hillyer’s nephew, John, shed some light on the subject. He believes they may have snapped up the site in order to close out the possibility of another petrol company using it. On the site today is to be found the Street Police Station.
After the business closed in 1974, Maurice Hillyer spent a restless year at home. Eventually the tedium of life there became too much for him, and Maurice returned to both the motor industry and his old haunt, opening up a workshop on the same site. It was here that he was to provide repairs for, among other patrons, Somerset County Council. He also came to employ his son, Andrew, after he had finished his apprenticeship at Bartlett’s of Glastonbury. That same workshop is today rented out to a Mr. Edwards, who offers repairs and MOT tests. Meanwhile, the West End Service Station became the home of the Rizutti Bros, before eventually transforming into Jon Thorner’s Farm Shop. After my interview with Mrs. Hillyer, I made the fateful decision to head straight on down to Thorner’s and take a couple of photographs – fateful because, unbeknownst to me, the shop was about to become a Co-Operative, closing down for renovation a few days after I had visited.
Maurice Trevilyan Hillyer died in 2007, at the age of 85, and is survived by his wife and son. Mrs. Hillyer is still an active landlady herself, renting to the nearby Cosy Feet, and maintaining a lockup behind her bungalow in Street, Somerset.