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The history of Rothwell and Milbourne's Garage


Austin MaxiIn 1979 we purchased an Austin Maxi family saloon from Rothwell and Milbourne; 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, as we passed the former car showroom, which is now converted into a shop known as Classic Interiors, we wondered who founded the company and when. This short story relates what we have discovered about the proprietors of Rothwell and Milbourne, their families, and predecessors.

In 2020 we were contacted by family historian Lisa Calder from Narrabeen, NSW, Australia, who had met Pamela Rothwell, the daugher of one of the garage founders, following which this account has been updated.

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.

Stevens Annual Directory of Malvern 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.

Local historian Paul Ferris sent us a photo (see below) indicating that Coley and Son also had a shop selling cycles, sports equipment, and gramophones in Church Street.

Coley and Son shop in Great Malvern

Coley and Son's shop circa 1910, courtesy of Paul Ferris

Paul told us that this was not the first motor business in Malvern as in 1905 the Coleys had taken over the premises from William Henry Mayo and Mrs Mayo, who had arrived in Malvern in 1897. In his book, Malvern Through Time, Brian Iles relates that this may have been the first business in the area to  to cater for the motor car and sell motor spirit, as petrol was then known.

William Mayo's shop

Advert for WH and Mrs Mayo circa 1900, courtesy of Paul Ferris

Most of the ground floor of the shop no longer exists as it was knocked through in order to create Church Walk leading from Church Street to Wilko, and crossing Edith Walk to Waitrose, but you will see that the top of the building is much as it was in the year 1900.

Entrance to Church Walk, site of Mayo's shop

Mayo's premises, seen above, in 2014

William Henry Mayo was born in Coventry on 11th September 1875. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers records him as a managing partner, Coventry Cycle and Motor Co, of Church Street Malvern, elected 27th April 1899. Twelve years later the 1911 census records him as a draper living in Worcester.

The 1939 register records William Henry Mayo as an Inspector of Aircraft Production, ARP Reserve, aged 64, living in Coventry. Possibly he was working at either the Spitfire factory at Castle Bromwich or one of the other Shadow Factories. His first wife died in 1949 and he married second a Malvern lady, and died at Malvern in 1955.

A short article about William's father, Edmund Mayo, who was also in the motor trade, can be found in Graces Guide to British Industrial History.

Rothwell and Milbourne

Joseph Coley senior died in 1923, shortly before 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 about 1919 Cowleigh Garage in Cowleigh Road, North Malvern, 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.

Advertisement for RM 1920


In 1920, Steven's Directory contained a full page advertisement (see opposite) indicating the business had expanded to include the Central Garage on the Worcester Road, presumably following retirement of Joseph Coley.


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

The founders of Rothwell and Milbourne were Joseph Rothwell and his brother-in-law Philip Milbourne, survivors of the Great War (ref 11).

Joseph Rothwell

Joseph and Dorothy RothwellJoseph Rothwell, who was born near Manchester in 1886, married Dorothy Milbourne in 1913 and bought Moore's Garage after he was demobbed from the Royal Flying Corps after the First World War.

Lisa Calder discovered Joseph and Dorothy's only child Pamela while researching her own 'Ward' family history and drove from Sydney to Canberra to meet her in 2000. The following photos of the family are from Pamela Rothwell's photo album.

Photo opposite: Joseph and Dorothy Rothwell, source Lisa Calder.


(more about Joseph Rothwell's background later)

Joseph Rothwell and his parents

Joseph Rothwell, Dorothy and his parents

Do you recognise the house outside which the family is standing; could it be tucked under the Malvern Hills in North Malvern?

Joseph left Dorothy in 1923, a few months after the birth of their daughter, and eventually married Emmie Agnes Rudd at London in 1927; Emmie was the eldest daughter of Frank Rudd, the landlord of the Nag's Head pub.

Emmie Rudd's memorial in Great Malvern CemeteryTragically Emmie died in 1931, following an operation, and you will find her buried in Great Malvern cemetery with her mother (see photo of memorial opposite). Her funeral was well attended and reported in the Malvern Gazette (ref 8). Emmie had a younger sister, Olive, who married accountant Leonard Downs Garrard. The couple emigrated from England to Argentina, on the merchant ship Harmala in 1935, where she died in 1956, survived by a son and daughter.

The Harmala was sunk in 1943 by U-614.

We speculate Joseph might have died in 1931, possibly at Swansea. Do tell us if you know what became of him.


Philip Milbourne

Phillip MilbournePhoto left, Phillip Milbourne one of the founders of Rothwell and Milbourne, source Lisa Calder.

Philip was the son of wholesale butcher James Parker Milbourne and Esther Ward. He later worked for the family business, and died in Cheshire in 1940. He had a brother, Leslie, and five sisters, Jessie, May, Rachel, Ethel and Dorothy, who married Joseph Rothwell in 1913.

Dorothy Milbourne

James Parker MilbourneDorothy was born in Eccles, Lancashire, in 1890 and her father, wholesale butcher James Parker Milbourne, is pictured opposite.

As mentioned above, Dorothy had four sisters Jessie, May, Rachel and Ethel; and two brothers Leslie and Philip, the latter going into business with Dorothy's husband, Joseph.

Joseph abandoned the family when their daughter Pamela was a few months old, and later married Emmie oldest daughter of the landlord of the Nags Head.

Lisa Calder relates:

Dorothy Rothwell, nee Milbourne, was born at Barton upon Irwell in Manchester. She attended an Art School in Wales. Later she obtained a position through Harold Hartley (her sister Ethel’s husband) demonstrating gas cookers for a company ‘Radiation’. Dorothy married Joseph Rothwell - son of William Andrew Rothwell and Annie Elizabeth Adshead - in a double wedding with her sister Ethel on 13 April 1913 at Barton upon Irwell. Joseph was a very good organist. He was shot down three times whilst in the Royal Flying Corps and as a consequence only had one lung. When Joseph came back from the war he could only speak when a gramaphone was playing music. He opened the garage in Malvern with Philip Milbourne, Dorothy's brother.

Dorothy and PamelaThe 1939 Register of England and Wales records Dorothy, a widow, living on private means at 87, Lightburne Avenue in the seaside town of Lytham St Annes. The person blanked out in the next record might be her daughter Pamela.

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

Photo opposite: Dorothy with Pam circa 1929, source Lisa Calder.

Pamela Leslie Rothwell

Joseph and Dorothy's daughter, Pamela Leslie Rothwell, was born in Malvern in 1922; she became a dental surgeon and in the 1950s was the first woman to set up a private dental practice in the Australian capital of Canberra.

Lisa Calder and Pamela Rothwell

Lisa Calder and Pamela Rothwell in 2000

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).

Pamela died at Canberra in 2016 (ref 5), survived by an adopted son Richard.

The Mercury newspaper reported:

ROTHWELL, Dr Pamela Leslie.

8.12.1922 - 28.10.2016

Died peacefully at Goodwin House, Ainslie, Canberra after a short illness. Daughter of the late Dorothy and Joseph Rothwell of Northern England. Loved mother of Roy/Richard Jackson, loved grandmother of Angela, Emma, Pietta and Thomas, great-grandmother of William, Esther and Hannah.

Now at peace.

Leslie Milbourne

Leslie MilbournePamela Rothwell's second forename was after Dorothy's brother Leslie who was killed in the First World War, aged only 21 years.

Photo opposite: Leslie Milbourne, source Lisa Calder. Lisa relates:

Leslie Milbourne (1894 – 10 Jul 1916) was born at Barton upon Irwell, Manchester and attended Manchester Grammar School. He had an accident when, aged about 16, walking into the kitchen he knocked into the architrave around a door with a live cartridge in his pocket, which then exploded blowing off two left fingers.The family had hoped that this injury would preclude him from being accepted to join the war. Leslie was very good at rugby and studied to qualify himself for the Consular Service – he was very clever and spoke a few languages. He gained a B Com from Manchester University a few weeks before the war and was in Paris working as a Diplomatic Cadet when war actually broke out.

Sadly Leslie who was Lt in the 7th Service Bn, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was shot by a sniper and died on 10th July 1916 at No 7 Stationary Hospital Boulogne, while on active service during the First World War. His story and photograph can be found on the Manchester University Roll of Honour web site.


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, one of the founders of the business, was the youngest son of cotton cloth manufacturer William Andrew Rothwell (1851 - 1930), 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.

The 1901 census records that Joseph, aged 14 years, was a boarder at Epworth College near Rhuddlan which lies midway between the seaside town of Rhyl and St Asaph in north Wales.

Epworth College was a Methodist school founded about 1880, with support from Rev Frederick Payne (1835 - 1895) who was minister at Rhyl and had been appointed 'North Wales Coast Missionary' in 1879 by the Wesleyan Methodist Conference. The school was named after the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley.

The 1901 census of Wales recorded schoolmaster Joseph C Beattie BA in residence. A Welsh language primary school known as 'Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant' now occupies the site of Epworth College.

Many pupils of Epworth College were casualties of the Great War. Names include:

Sub Lt Edwin Percy Farrow who was killed in action at Gallipoli on 25th August 1915. The following year his brother John Worthington Farrow, Manchester Regiment, died of wounds in France on 5th May 1916.

William Reginald Minshull Percy, of Mold, who was born on 4th Feb 1895 and killed near Ypres on 27th Feb 1915. Click to read his story on the Flintshire war memorials website.

Surgeon Arthur Lincoln Thornley, RAMC, died 12th April 1916 of Septicaemia, while on active service. His youngest brother Norman Garfield Thornley also served with the RAMC and survived the war. 

Former pupils of note include:

Arthur Eyre Smith Seccombe 1888 - 1943 who became a Naval engineer

Warrington Yorke, FRS, 1883 - 1943, who became a Professor of Tropical Medicine.

George Bramwell Evens, 1884 - 1943, who became a Methodist minister and radio presenter of countryside stories.

In 1911 Joseph was back with his family living at a house named Brentwood, in Walkden, described as having 12 rooms. The house was built for Joseph's father; after his death it was bought by the council and became Walkden Library. Joseph, like his father, was then described as a cotton cloth manufacturer.

Joseph was the youngest of five sons, and also had two sisters Hilda and Kate. Thomas Andrew (1874 - 1927) the eldest son, became a Doctor of Medicine and General Practitioner, and served as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War; his only daughter, Elizabeth Martin Rothwell married Edwin Grenville Fenn Salmon, but died shortly after in South Africa in 1938. Benjamin (1875 - 1959), the second son, followed his father into the family business, he married Eva Eleanor Tew and the couple had a son Richard; Sidney became a chartered accountant and died prematurely in 1906; while Edwin (1881 - 1966) became an Architect and Surveyor.

Joseph's youngest sister Kate Rothwell (1893 - 1986) travelled in 1920 on the ancient steamship Paparoa to New Zealand, 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, Gordon 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 previously served 5 years with the 2nd Kent Royal Garrison Artillery. In January 1920 Gordon travelled on the troopship Athenic back from London to New Zealand, where he married Joseph's sister Kate the next year.

Before the First World War Gordon Hovey had first married Mary Fordyce Strachan Milne who was born in Fife, Scotland in 1887; her father David Milne was a naval engineer and the family emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand in 1891. Perhaps it was through her father that Gordon became an engineer. Mary trained as a nurse at Auckland, and during the war had first served with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve, as a staff nurse with New Zealand forces at Codford Camp in Wiltshire, before being promoted 'Sister' and serving with New Zealand military hospitals  in France (ref 7). After the war Mary returned to New Zealand and latterly lived in Australia.

The outbreak of war in 1914 changed many peoples lives. Joseph had been born into a wealthy family and educated near the seaside town of Rhyl, but the Army Medal Rolls Index tells us that in 1915 Joseph became a soldier joining 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 FE2b’s 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.

So why did Joseph come to Malvern? 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, so his father 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.

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

Stevens Directory of 1922 recorded Rothwell and Milbourne still at the Cowleigh Garage in North Malvern and the Central Garage in Great Malvern.

Advert for RM 1922 A full page advertisement at the front of the Directory included a list of cars offered for sale (see photo opposite, courtesy of Great Malvern library).

A transcription reads:

Phone 301 Malvern

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

CARS - - -







Enfield Allday



Castle 3 Run About

Clyno Motor Cycles

Ivy Motor Cycles


Advert for RM 1923Steven's Directory of 1923 contained 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. The advertisement mentions that the business now has a Kerbside pump.

By 1924 the business might have had financial problems, but more likely Joseph had a falling-out with his brother-in-law because of deserting Dorothy, because Steven's Directory contains only a short listing for Cowleigh Garage naming J Rothwell as the sole proprietor.

We don't know for certain what happened to Joseph Rothwell after that, but it looks like he divorced Dorothy and married Emmie Agnes Rudd, who was the daughter of the landlord of the Nag's Head pub, which was a short distance from his garages.


Bernard Beattie Slater

Stevens Directory of 1925 recorded 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 as the business was soon acquired by Arthur MacVitie.

Possibly, as a young man, Bernard had worked for Joseph Rothwell and had been given the opportunity to take on the garage when Joseph left Malvern.

Bernard Beattie Slater (1902 - 1971) was born in Buxton, Derbyshire, the son of wealthy family grocer George Slater (1857 - 1930), Alderman and JP of Fairfield, and Sarah Beattie. Sadly his mother died in 1903 aged only 35 years when Bernard was one year old, and in 1906 his father married, second, Eleanor Amy Milligan.

Bernard, aged 7 years, was christened at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Fairfield, Buxton on 16th May 1909, where his elder brother Stewart had been christened on 9th December 1900. His elder brother Stewart Beattie Slater, who became a solicitor, had been sent to boarding school at Epworth College near Rhyl, founded by the Methodist movement, which was the same school earlier attended by Joseph Rothwell. Bernard himself may have been sent to school in Manchester; the 1911 census records him in a small nursing home, Dudhope House in Victoria Park Manchester, where he was a patient.

When Bernard took over Rothwell and Milbourne, he would have been no more than 23 years of age, and possibly did not have sufficient maturity and financial backing to make a go of it.

Following his father's death in 1930, when Bernard, an executor, was described as an Engineer, Bernard married Florence Adelaide Barlow, the daughter of house furnisher Harold Barlow. The couple are recorded in the 1939 Register of England and Wales living with her parents in Langham Road, Bowden, a prosperous district of Greater Manchester when Bernard's occupation was described - Arena, manager on sales side, for firm garage equipment. In 1940 Bernard was recorded in Solihull where perhaps he was moved to support the war effort.


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, which locally distributed petrol and oil products. 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.

Central Garage Great Malvern 1935

Advert for Central Garage 1935, courtesy of Paul Ferris

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 likely increased his knowledge of motor vehicles. In 1920 he 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; when Brooklyn ceased trading after 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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ReferencesThe Malvern Hills log

  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
  8. Report of the funeral of Mrs J Rothwell, Malvern Gazette, March 1931
  9. 1939 Register of England and Wales
  10. Communications from Paul Ferris, July 2018
  11. Communications from Lisa Calder, May 2020