The former owner of Sparks Garage in Camberley said the town has ‘lost a piece of its history’ after the landmark was flattened by developers in 2016.
Arthur Sparks who built it, was the man credited with inventing scrambling in 1924, and in all these years neither he, nor his son John who recently retired, could ever get planning permission for it to become a permanent building.
The 90-year-old dilapidated car repair garage, built out of blue corrugated iron, was a familiar sight to motorists as they passed the Jolly Farmer roundabout, until it was finally torn down to make way for flats.
John Sparks, who inherited the business from his father and ran it for almost 50 years until he shut up shop in 2014, said he was sad to see it demolished but also pleasantly surprised by a flood of nostalgia from former customers.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to says it’s not going to be the same without the garage there,” Mr Sparks said.
“It was a landmark and everyone knew about it.
“I’ve had some lovely comments from people who brought their cars to me for years.
“It was probably a bit of an eyesore, but somehow people liked it that way.
“It’s good to know what it meant to local people.
“Camberley has certainly lost a piece of its history.”
The site, formerly a school sports pitch, was bought by Mr Sparks’s grandmother in 1926.
The garage was built by his family and initially run as Sparks & Wakelin by his father, Arthur, as a petrol station and a vehicle repair workshop.
Arthur Sparks was well-known as the first winner of a motorcycle scrambling event on Bagshot ranges in 1924. His reputation attracted a lot of customers and, at its peak, the garage employed three other mechanics.
John Sparks joined the business as an apprentice, aged 17. After his father died in 1966, he took over the garage and ran it single-handedly for 48 years.
“I plodded on in my own way,” the 80-year-old said.
“I had plenty of loyal customers and I still hear from many of them.
“I was surprised how many people I met last week while walking the dog, who said they used to bring their motorbikes to me.
“I would try to rescue any vehicle and I never used to charge for all the work I did. People have told me that other garages won’t even try to fix some of the problems I’d have a go at.
“Before the big petrol stations opened, I would sell petrol on Christmas Day and people would come from all over the county.”
Mr Sparks decided to retire after an accident on Christmas Eve in 2014, when he was fixing the garage roof and fell through it.
“After that I had a lot of aches and pains so I couldn’t work any more,” he said.
“Besides, cars were getting too technical and I didn’t have the equipment for it.
“It’s not like it used to be, when you would turn a screw and listen for a sound.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision, I just had to accept it. I hadn’t taken a proper holiday in all the years I ran the garage, so it was probably a good thing.
“I kept working as long as I could because I loved it. Sometimes I would be in the garage until 4am, but I didn’t mind. It was more of a hobby than a job.”
Mr Sparks sold the land to developer North Maultway Ltd, which applied to Surrey Heath Borough Council’s planning committee and was granted outline permission last August to knock down the garage and build up to 10 flats with on-site parking.
The details of the development are yet to be finalised and will go before the committee at a future meeting.
“It was a shame to see it go down, but there we are,” Mr Sparks added. “It was in a bad state and nobody could do anything with it except to start from scratch. It’s just nice to know that people appreciated the business.”