The shed stood by the roadside. It had a forlorn, orphan of the storm kind of look about it, for there was no other shed to keep it company. And even such things as sheds, we may suppose, prefer the married state to the single state. But to the wild eye of the motorist desperately wondering how much further he could coax his rackety, old box of ironmongery on wheels to travel on the few drops of fuel still left in the petrol tank, this shed loomed up on the horizon like a nutty palm tree in a desert waste.
For nestling under its protecting eaves was not only a Ford taxi cab – 1919 vintage – but also, ye gods, a petrol pump. With victory snatched from near defeat, his petrol tank refilled, the motorist, with a song of joy and thanksgiving, went rattling and bouncing on his way.
It was twenty-seven years ago this May that the old shed, the Ford taxi-cab, and the petrol pump first made their welcome appearance on a piece of waste land at the back of the ground now covered by the business premises at Tankerton of George Fitt Motors Limited. Such was the humble beginning of an enterprise which has a remarkable and romantic history. Its inception was due to the energy and foresight of the founder of the firm, the late Mr. George Fitt, who died in 1939.
When he started the business he had one mechanic and a boy to work for him. They are still with the firm – Mr. C.A. Bettles and Mr. P.M. Barber. In launching out as he did, George Fitt took a bold and hazardous step, for at that time Tankerton was a very different place to what it is today. The main road, a mere track for traffic, was little better than a swamp in bad weather. Planks were put down for use as crossings.
The busy streets, the fine avenues, the attractive shops and handsome residences we see now were not on the map. Speculators at that time were in no hurry to invest capital in the Tankerton Estate. One of those who had a firm belief in its future prosperity, George Fitt, went quietly ahead with his plans for the development of his small, one-man business. By 1921 the number of his employees had risen to seven. The service he gave to the motoring public, an ever increasing one, was recognised and appreciated.
A new company was formed and a new garage erected, the first of the concrete buildings put up by a local firm of builders – Barton’s. About the same time the work of making Tankerton Road into a respectable thoroughfare was carried out. Since then the business of the company has grown by leaps and bounds. In 1925 a new branch was opened at Herne Bay. It met with such success that an extension of the premises became necessary in 1933.
Another branch was established at Margate and a filling station erected on the Coastal Road at Chestfield. And at Faversham yet a further branch is being set up with the building of modern and up-to-date workshops and showrooms on an elaborate scale.
When the premises of the firm at Tankerton became too cramped for the efficient discharge of the demands made upon them, additional accommodation was provided. Twelve concrete lock-up shops and new showrooms were built opposite the garage. In these show rooms intending purchasers are shown a collection of cars of every type. When the firm took over the local agency for the Morris Motor Company in 1924, an agency which has been retained ever since, they undertook to sell five Morris cars in a year. In 1939 they sold nearly a thousand of them.
With the coming of the late war the firm turned its activities to the production of work for the Government. This work was taken up under exceptionally favourable conditions due to the foresight of George Fitt who, believing for a long time that war was inevitable, had installed lathes and machinery in readiness for immediate use when required. On the outbreak of hostilities contracts were entered into with the Government authorities for the making of aircraft parts and accessories. Specially skilled men and women were engaged on this important task day and night. Another section worked on Admiralty contracts for the fitting of engines to small naval craft.
This work went on throughout the war. Engines were also fitted to invalid carriages for the use of disabled ex-service men. Thirty five of the hundred and fifty employed by the firm saw war service with the forces. All of them are returning to take up their former occupation in civil life again.
The managing director and secretary of George Fitt Motors, Limited is Mrs. W.M. Panther – secretary of the Company since its formation. She has always been actively associated with the business, the success of which is largely due to her hard work and ability. Her husband, Mr. H.W. Panther, who served as an army officer in the war and rose to the rank of Major, is one of the three directors, the other two being Councillor F.V. Fitt – “Peter” to his friends and associates – and Mr. R.H. Stevens, FCA.
Becoming a member of the Whitstable Urban District Council at the last municipal election, Councillor Fitt, who is a son of the founder of the business has control over the repairs department of the works. He saw active service with the Navy during the war. Taking a keen interest in everything that has for its object the promotion of public welfare and the development of Whitstable, he is a popular and well-know resident of the town. The sales organisation throughout the firm’s depots, it should be mentioned, is controlled by Mr. Panther, who joined the company but a short time ago.
Another member of the Fitt family, Mr. A. Fitt, is the proprietor of the Marine Hotel, overlooking the sea on Tankerton front. Here the motorist can spend a pleasant hour before returning to the big garage just around the corner for the car he has left there. The thirst of one is quenched with something nice out of a bottle; that of the other with a spirituous liquid of highly flammable and explosive quality! What more could each party desire?