Local History

A tale of two number plates | Then & Now

My 1904 picture of Gillingham High Street is historically interesting on several fronts, not least because it features the town’s first car and its rather significant number plate.

The dark green and black Humberette is seen parked outside E R Stickland’s cycle shop and ironmonger’s.

It appears to be of great interest to Gillingham’s Edwardian residents, judging by the large crowd gathered on the other side of the road.

Stickland’s ironmonger’s shop (now Crocker’s) and Gillingham’s first car in 1904

The car belonged to Mr Stickland and carried the registration number BF 89.

It was registered on January 4, 1904, very soon after the introduction of vehicle registration the previous month.

The allocation of BF numbers to Dorset did not go down well in some quarters due to the inference that the county’s early motorists were ‘bloody fools’.

By the time the sequence had reached BF 162, Dorset had been issued with an alternative and vehicle owners could apply to the county council to switch from BF to FX.

Many did but Mr Stickland stuck with his BF number.

The other striking thing about these pictures is how little the shop has changed in 117 years.

The original balcony survives complete with pillars and ironwork and even the shop windows appear the same.

The bicycles have gone but the shop’s use as a ‘traditional ironmonger’s’ is retained.

This rare example of shop front conservation owes much to former ironmonger and local historian Peter Crocker, who still owns the property and organised its authentic restoration in 2012.

Peter, now aged 77, tells me the building dates from the 1870s and the ironmonger’s business was founded by Edwin Roberts Stickland, his great-grandfather, in 1882.

The shop has changed remarkably little in 117 years

It later passed to Peter’s grandfather Jack Stickland.

Peter himself worked in the shop as a schoolboy, became manager in the 1960s and bought the business in 1972.

Although he retired in 1996, it is still called Crocker’s.

By: Roger Guttridge

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