High Street Property Details

No.15, Jessamine Garage – garage providing car repairs and servicing.

The 1901 census shows Thomas Wren, aged 51, working at this location as a coachbuilder. He came from Kimpton where he had worked as a wheelwright with his father Matthew and brother John. Thomas and his first wife Louisa  moved to Wheathampstead in about 1877.  Kelly's Directory (iii) lists the Wren family business in the High Street in 1878 and the 1881 census describes him as a coachbuilder. By 1891, he and Louisa had seven children but Louisa died in 1892. Thomas married his second wife, Adela Downs, less than a year later and in 1901 they  were living with four of Thomas's children from his first marriage. 

The 1911 census describes Thomas, now aged 61, as 'Coachbuilder and Smith'. Adela (53) is a dressmaker and costumer, as are two unmarried daughters, Ella (33) and Maude May (27). Son Hubert (22) is a grocer's assistant. 

Kelly's Directories (iii) list the business as 'Thomas Wren and Co. Coach and Carriage builders' in 1911, and as Wren & Son in 1923. Thomas died in 1925 and Kelly's (1938) lists C V Wren (Thomas's son Cyril) until 1952 when the buildings were sold.  This is about the time Cyril Wren retired.

Gladys Mitchell (nee Cobb) remembers Wren Wheelwright located here in the 1920s.

It is clear that the buildings on this site were, for the first half of the twentieth century, owned by the Wren family who ran their own independent business there as coachbuilder and wheelwright. Such continuity is unusual. An early letterhead (possibly 1920s) advertises:

Memo from T. Wren & Co. Coach Builders Wheathampstead Herts:

 Agricultural machines and implements repaired

Carriages bought and sold on commission.

 Every description of carriage repaired.

Open and closed carriages let on hire.

Dealers in Antiques.

All goods to Wheathampstead Station

Telegrams: "Wren, High Street"


Amy Coburn (nee Wren), who was born in the village in 1927, wrote an article in the Parish Pump in 1987 (iv) describing the workshops as she remembered them when Cyril Wren was the owner.

"The coaches, traps and governess carts of the gentry were built, upholstered and finished on the premises. The vehicles had their many coats of varnish applied to a mirror-like finish in the all-glass paint shop. This area was completely out of bounds when varnishing was in progress; any hint of dust would have ruined days of careful work. Gold leaf was applied with great skill and artistry. The vans and turnouts of the tradesmen were decorated and lettered with the names of the businesses, together with designs and scroll work. Many of these turnouts won prizes at the Hatfield Show which was held each year."

"Farm carts were also built, repaired and painted in the traditional colours. The hubs and naves of the wheel, the spokes and felloes, were cut and shaped from elm, oak and ash. When the wheel was ready for tyring it was taken to the tyring ring in the yard and bolted down. A tyring ring is a large metal plate set in the ground. Here the wheel waited until the iron tyre was heated in the nearby pit. The tyre was then placed over the wheel and drenched with cold water to cause shrinkage, thus effecting a good bond. It was quite exciting to watch this process (as I did many times) with the ensuing smell and sizzle of scorched wood."

There is a sequence showing this process on Margaret Wright's 1948 film, "A Village Peepshow" (v)

Amy Coburn also recalled the following: (in 2013)

"I knew Cyril Wren as a child. The family had been friends for many years. Cyril used to look after the coaches at Lamer for the Cherry Garrards when the coaches needed repairing.  Cyril had been trained in London and was an expert in that sort of work. He trained at one of the big coach building firms in London. Cyril did the coach work for the Cherry Garrards when I was a child. He decorated with very artistic writing the floats for the butcher and milkman and Charlie Collins’ van, with gold leaf and lettering. It was excellent work.  Turnouts they were called. They were entered into the Hatfield Show. The Hertfordshire Show originated in Hatfield.

I was friends with Ruth Wren [Cyril's daughter]. She was born in 1926 and is still alive. We were family friends. [These two Wren families are not related to each other]

Cyril Wren and his family were Wesleyan Methodists. He was involved with the Wesleyan Methodist chapel on Wheathampstead Hill which is now offices. When that closed down for lack of members they went down to the Folly chapel. He was a lay reader. No involvement with the railway. On Christmas Day we went to the Wrens and they came to us on Boxing Day. As I played with Ruth we knew the exact layout of the workshops. You knew what you couldn’t touch. You looked but you didn’t touch. We had a nice tea and spent the evening playing silly games like 'Consequences' and just had a pleasant time together. There was no drink. They were strict teetotallers. He wouldn’t work on a Sunday. There was no Sunday work.

Cyril worked single-handed when I knew him, with no man working under him. He owned Jessamine Cottage. [Now owned by the Titmuss family and rented out.] His grandfather came there around 1870. Cyril had several siblings. One went off to be a butcher, Hubert went to Australia, William died at the age of 21. He’d cut his leg very badly in the workshops. The story goes that, rightly or wrongly, cobwebs were good to staunch the flow of blood.  Country folk believed in these old country remedies.  They collected a handful of webs but it developed into a poisoned leg and he died.  Septicaemia, I suppose. William was Cyril's brother and long before my time. [William died about 1900.] "

Cyril retired from the coachbuilding business in about 1952/53

Ken Garrett remembering the High Street in the 1940s said "In 1949, the Jessamine Garage was opened next to the Bull Inn.  It caused chaos, people sauntering down East Lane would find cars blocking the lane at the end near the High Street."

"A laundry woman worked at one of the nearby Bull cottages. When her sheets were hanging out to dry, woe betide Mr Wren if he was tyring a wheel at the fire pit and the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. The white sheets could get speckled with smuts " No doubt good relations between the laundry woman and wheelwright were a necessity. 

1956 - Kelly's Directory(iii) shows Burr L S, Jessamine Garage.   This was Ledru Burr who ran Jessamine Garage for many years.

1964 February, St Helen's Review church magazine held an advert for:


Jessamine Garage, Ltd.


Repairs new and secondhand cars

 tel. 2212


1972 Spring issue ' Wheathampstead Commentary' A Liberal Association pamphlet, back page advert:  


Jessamine Garage

High Street,


Tel. 2212,

Open 8.00 am – 6.00 pm

Sunday 9.30 am – 1.00 pm (petrol only)



In an interview in 2013 with Bruce McFarlane, who was in charge of Jessamine Garage, he said that they had had the business for about 20 years. Mr Titmuss is the landlord, as he is of many properties in East Lane, e.g. Riverside Cottages and Jessamine Cottage, and of several properties in the High Street. His hands-off approach as landlord is much appreciated. He doesn't interfere and lets them get on with it.

Bruce said that the key to the success and longevity of the Jessamine Garage business was its location in the High Street Conservation Area. This meant that the land couldn't be sold for development. (Another local garage, the Vale Garage on the Lower Luton Road was demolished for housing in about 2010.) 

Bruce has now handed over responsibility for the business to his son, Jason. Bruce’s daughter Katy (now Vowles) runs the office and manages work flow and the customers. John Robbins works there as a mechanic. 

There are usually two or three labrador dogs in the office: Buttons, a chocolate labrador, Lucy, the golden one, and Jethro, who’s black. There’s a wire cage / small enclosure to keep them safe when necessary.


Researcher:  Ruth Jeavons



·      Kelly's Directories, 1878-1956, (iii)

·      Census returns, 1881 to 1911 

·      Church magazines (various)

·      Amy Coburn - Parish Pump article, 1987 (iv)

·      Margaret Wright’s 1948 film ‘A Village Peepshow’  (v)

·      Wheathampstead Commentary – 1972 (a Liberal Association pamphlet)

·     Garage owner – interview by Ruth Jeavons, 13th November 2013 (vi)

·      Ken Garrett

·      HALS








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