It is pretty well known that during the early days of motoring, in fact for the first 25 years or so, that petrol was purchased in cans from chemists, hardware shops and the occasional enterprising repair garage. The cans were usually two gallons in capacity and had painted, or embossed and paint filled, the supplier’s name. Shell, BP and Pratt’s motor spirit (owned by Esso) were all early favourites. When travelling a distance it was always wise to carry extra fuel as supplies were often difficult to locate when in unfamiliar surroundings. To this end cans of fuel would often join the battery and tool boxes mounted on the running boards of early cars, see pictures below.
After the first WW much of the petrol used in this country was imported from Russia. In November 1919 the Automobile Association (AA ) opened the first filling station in Britain, near Aldermaston in Berkshire, to promote British-made coal- based benzole fuel which came to be known as National Benzole. The AA went on to locate nine more fuel service points which we believe were for the use of members only. We wonder how many new members they recruited on the spot from those in dire need of fuel. However by late 1920 others were taking advantage of the developing petrol pump technology and motor repair shops were adding fuel to their services.
The writer has lived close to Aldermaston for many years and having heard the claim concerning the first service station enquired of the long established locals and found either there was no knowledge of the site or five differing views spread over a square mile or more as to the exact location.
Remarkably, the discovery of a short Pathe News silent film has fully answered the question. Watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utkrbtEydkw
The location is on the Bath Road (A 4) west of Reading and close to Aldermaston station.
The picture below shows the site as it is today.
Road and rail passengers swiftly pass the site little knowing that a tiny, but important bit of motoring history took place on the ground behind this layby.
We are indebted to the Aldermaston History Group for bringing this film to our notice.