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The purpose of this Chapter is not to give a potted History of the AGA from its first arrival in Great Britain in 1929 until the present day. This has been put into print on numerous occasions together with a whole family of associated literature covering just about anything anyone could possibly want (legally) to do with the ubiquitous cooker such as ‘How To Sell AGAs’, ‘How to Service AGAs’, ‘How to Identify The Different AGA Models’, ‘How to Cook In AGAs’ and ‘How to Cook On AGAs’, ‘How to Convert AGAs’ and (probably!) ‘How to Convert you into Liking AGAs’ if you didn’t already do so! The AGA has been part of our way of life for fractionally longer than the Anglepoise Light (helpful to see what you’re cooking!). On arrival in Britain it was greeted by nearly three million unemployed and faced competition from established Electric and Gas Stove manufacturers.
Eighty two years later they have experienced something of a revival and their adverts have seldom been absent from the glossy type of magazine - often seen in Doctors’ and Dentists’ Surgeries!
The adjacent photograph (courtesy the ISCA Collection) dates either from 1932 or just possibly early 1933 (click the image for a closer view). The Sale notices that would appear not only in Garton & King’s shop but also in Pinder & Tuckwell’s at 191 High Street have not yet been posted, and by 1934 F. W. Woolworths & Co would be operating from this location. The posters that are displayed in G & K’s window, actually state that AGA Demonstrations are being held and although I cannot make out the smallest of print there are comparisons being made in the prices of Anthracite and Coke and the conclusion that Fuel Costs not exceeding £4 per annum could be achieved.
Another indication of G & K’s AGA involvement comes in the form of an Advertisement in Exeter’s daily paper, the Express and Echo on the 17th December 1932 and even then the purpose of the advert was to inform the public of the closure of the large Retail Ironmongery Shop at 190 High Street, Exeter. Quite what brought about the closure of the premises one cannot say for certain. Henry Holladay had joined the business in 1932 but his Uncle, Hugo Holladay, retired in 1933 and it was he that had been involved in the Ironmongery Retail Outlet since joining the company in 1898. One thing that G & K definitely did not do a great deal of in the 20s and 30s was advertise in newspapers - Exonians will recognise all the ironmongers names like Munk, Wippell Bros & Rowe, Ottons etc etc. who would regularly hawk their wares and offer varied inducements to the public to enter their doors, G & K were most noticeable by their absence; and this applied not only to the Express & Echo but to the Western Times & Gazette and Street & Trade Directories. Perhaps they tended to rest a little too much on their laurels and failed to face up to the inevitable competition in those lean years of the depression.
I have reproduced Express & Echo adverts in these columns. They are not particularly good quality and are only Photocopies. The new Foundry at Tan Lane was still being built - it didn’t come on stream until August 1939 so the first advert (right) still refers to the Foundry as being located at Waterbeer Street. A mystery is the reference to ‘Our Café at 4 St Martin’s Lane where an AGA can be seen working’. I have never heard any mention of this so I’d be interested if anyone knows anything about ‘Our Café’!
The second advert (below) dated 1948 refers to the Central Station Showroom, which must have only been open a short while. The one thing it does confirm is the connection with AGA which, having researched the matter fairly thoroughly, makes them one of the earliest AGA Agents in the UK, and this last advert seems to suggest a connection (even if not a formal agency) extending back as far as “about 1928”.
There is a tale that is often spread about that there were originally appointed just five AGA Agents - I can find nothing to substantiate this and although there are a handful of pre WW2 Agents still in business, some of which on their websites lay claim to be appointed in the very early 1930s, none of the very early ones (BLADES is an exception) have been able to provide Black & White confirmation of their believed year of appointment.
Of course, over a period of time there could have been ten or fifteen or more Agents appointed within the UK and there would naturally be the first five but this number seems to have gained a sort of Magic Status but as yet I haven’t seen the evidence. Some even suggest that Garton & King Ltd were amongst that Magic Number - I would like to be able to substantiate this but so far I can’t - what I can show is three Black & White Photos.
Although Spillers of Chard are still agents to this day, Hill Sawtell of Yeovil and Pople & Sons of Burnham on Sea are long gone. Garton King Appliances continue to trade at Darts Farm, Topsham and 19 North Street, Exeter.
The third shows the Central Station Showroom that opened in 1939, again the Agency Sign makes a return appearance and, of course, AGAs are on display in the showroom
My first personal recollection of an AGA takes me back to where I was born in Spicer Road, Exeter. From a very early age I remember a solid fuel AGA in the kitchen and it seems it survived new ownership and remained in situ up until 2007. In this year the property became vacant and was put up for sale - I was fortunate in persuading the Estate Agent to give me an opportunity to view the house and gardens and I was amazed to find that the interior hadn’t changed all that much with the passing of time - the colour picture (a bit fuzzy I’m afraid) is of the AGA some sixty years or so from when I first recall it - the only modification was that it had been converted, I believe, to operate on Mains Gas. It may still be there.
1946 saw the introduction of the AGA CB Model (CB standing for Cooker, Boiler). It proved to be the best selling domestic model of the era. Further facts about this model is that it was the first AGA to have a proper internal boiler that allowed heating water in, say, a cylinder such as found in an airing cupboard.
As a consequence of the hot water facility sales experienced a massive upturn, even though the addition of the hot water facility increased the annual fuel consumption by a ton to about three and a half tons per year. Back in the 1950s Coke, one of the three recommended fuels – the others being Anthracite and Phurnacite - was available at about £5.11.6d per ton (Imperial, not metric!) – approximately 1/- a day! (£5.50 a tonne, 5p a day).
Even nowadays there are CB AGA models happily burning solid fuel as they were designed to do. In Cornwood in Devon a CB Model AGA which was installed in the vicarage about 1947 and which has never left (though has been moved within the property) still radiates its warmth in the kitchen and provides the cooking facilities one expects from an AGA.
Renovated by the owner with the able assistance of Garton King Appliances of Exeter (successors to Garton & King Ltd, see Chapter 11 of our story), this AGA pictured here soldiers on. In the words of the current owners who, dare I say, are the same age as the AGA! - “We will not have it converted as long as the aptly named Mr Coker can continue to supply us with fuel!” Whatever fuel it burns, Coke, Anthracite or Phurnacite, it is likely to cost a tad more per ton than the 1950s price of £5.11.6d!
(December 2020) Thanks to Richard Maggs for AGA facts.
These next four images were professionally taken on behalf of Garton & King, possibly intended for publicity purposes. The owner of the property (somewhere in Devon) was a Mr Sharland and the photos show his two daughters. The farm is still in the ownership of Mr Sharland’s family.
The AGA shown here has been identified by Richard Maggs, cookery expert and AGA Historian as...
“A Standard Aga (1941-1972) Model E, which is a four-oven non-boiler solid fuel model.
I would date this installation as being circa 1951-1953, as it has the black enamelled with chrome dome lids. For many years after its introduction to this period they had to resort to enamelled cream cast iron lids (found on the smaller 2-oven models) due to World War II and post war chrome supply problems. Also the handrail brackets are not the early type (which were enamelled cream fitted to the cream front plate) – these are black and fitted to the black enamelled top plate.”
The two irons heating up on the AGA hotplate (third image) are flat irons, was also known as the ‘sad’ (meaning solid) iron. As the name suggests, these irons were made from solid cast iron. Flat irons were used in pairs so that whilst one was being used the other could be heated up. The two saucepans and the large 6 pint aluminium kettle are typical AGA utensils of that era.
I think the image of the cake coming out of the baking oven (second image) is a posed shot as the cake tin would definitely be too hot to handle!
The Advertisement (left) comes from the Country Life Magazine of 1950. “Hoppins” is actual located at Clapham, near Shillingford to the west of Exeter. A few enquiries and we discover the property is still known by this name and the smallholding is much the size as described. Although the present owner knew the Colwills and could identify the location of the AGA it has, unfortunately, long gone. There is no evidence that Garton & King either supplied or installed the AGA back in 1950 but there is a real possibility that they did. A Model CB AGA Cooker back in those days would have cost around £101.10s.0d and delivery and erection in the region of £11 plus a few quid for the flue pipes, bends etc etc.
Garton King Appliances was formed in 1973, when it was decided to separate the heating and domestic appliance activities from the foundry side of G & K, and the image on the right is of the two of the initial three Directors – Henry Holladay being the third.
Alec Holladay is seen on the left together with his son Michael who joined the family business in 1970.
Michael was in fact an ex AGA Heat employee and had trained as a Sales Representative at Ketley, Telford in 1961, and at the time of this image, 1979, held the post of Sales Director for AGA Cookers. The image appeared in AGA Cooker News No 10, Winter 1979 / 80 edition. Michael ceased working for the business on the retirement of his father and the sale of the business to certain employees in 1990.
At the time of this AGA Cooker News Article Michael’s team was six strong. Arthur Venn was Service Manager (see below). Bill Tarr, to the right of Michael in this image, was appointed Showroom Manager and is seen in the upstairs Showroom of the 19 North Street premises - he joined G & K in 1946 and moved into Sales in 1951. The rest of the team consisted of four AGA Fitters led by Derek Pollard and Cecil Lee each of whom had at the time (1979) 25 years AGA experience with the Company. Also at this time the Company had a fleet of Ford Transit and Escort vehicles and were able to offer a very fast service for breakdown and follow up calls. It was also around this period that brown, black, red, dark blue and green coloured AGAs were introduced to the range. Pewter was top of the popular colours in one poll in 2020, but I imagine the greater colour choices can add to production complications & costs.
Arthur G Venn joined Garton & King as a Clerk in 1936; his wartime service was with the Royal Navy. He served as a navigator on one vessel that was sunk and was one of very few from that ship’s company that survived. He returned to employment with G & K at the end of his service and took charge of the foundry office, managing the contracts and sales of all the products of the foundry and machine shop. On the final closure of the foundry at Tan Lane in late 1979, he was appointed Service Manager with Garton King Appliances.
As stated above, Garton King Appliances were formed in 1973 when the operations of the Company were split into two. However, it was not until the closure of the Tan Lane Foundry in 1980 did it become necessary to find an alternative base for the workshop and stores. A site was found in the former Goods Yard near Richmond Road off Queen Street in premises once occupied by the Devon Trading Company. This aerial view taken in 2002 shows, outlined in red, the property I believe Garton King Appliances rented. Some idea of the layout of the area is shown in the next 3 images.
After the tracks in the goods yard were removed much of the area was turned into a Car Park, some of the former buildings, however, continued to be utilised. The archway (also seen in the third image) is pointed out here with an arrow as is the large BT Exchange building, the Queen Street Railway Bridge and part of the Central Station buildings. This image was taken from the entrance to the car park on St David’s Hill.
A close up of the premises occupied by Garton King Appliances. The extended predominately red brick building is connected at 1st floor level with the premises on the right of the picture. I think I only ever visited the site once and so I am unfamiliar of the layout or exactly which other buildings in the vicinity were used by the Company.
Whilst it is obvious from the signage on the left hand building in this last image – see enlargement – that the brick building was used by Garton King Appliances, I am uncertain as to whether the two large sheds to the right were also used by them. When the buy-out of GKA took place in May 1990 the new management continued to operate the business from this location in addition to 19 North St. Eventually, in about October 2004, a new facility opened at Darts Farm near Topsham and the company moved out of these premises. Nowadays (2021) the site is totally unrecognisable as all that can be seen now are many new housing blocks where these premises and the car park once were.
NOTE: The business that now trades as GARTON KING APPLIANCES Ltd from 19 North Street, Exeter and from Darts Farm Shopping Village, Topsham was formed as a result of a buy-out of the Company by certain employees in 1990. They continue to trade under the sign of The Golden Hammer and maintain the Company’s long association with AGA (and now Rayburn) Cookers. From 1990 the Holladay family ceased to have any financial involvement with the business. The original Golden Hammer is currently loaned to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.
Well, that’s about it for this Chapter - once again any comments or criticisms or contributions (photos, memorabilia and the like) are always welcome - I am always on the lookout for early AGA Advertising Material, or Cookbooks - particularly pre - war and wartime.
If you belong to a Club or Society in the Exeter Area and would like me to give a Talk on the History of Garton & King Ltd then please contact me - Contact details are here. Details of other available Talks are on the Booklets & Talks page.
More about the history of Aga can be found here.
Updated January 2021
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