In today's local telephone directory there are just four companies left who appeared in the 1922 edition - BALAAM FORD, builders J R Killick, DIY shop Nottles Decor Ltd and .....We'll tell you which the fourth is at the end of this page.
When you deal with a family firm you know you'll be treated as an important visitor, almost a friend. So, in these days of impersonal multi-national companies, it's good to see such a company reach its 85th anniversary.
Managing Director, Colin Mayes, is the link going back to his chauffeur grandfather, Ellis John Balaam, who left Suffolk, with his wife Alice, to settle in the Kentish village of West Wickham.
What they started is now a fast growing Ford dealership which has invested £2.5 million in the last 10 years to serve the local area
Ellis started his company in a couple of lockup garages behind the Swan public house in West Wickham High Street. They soon added petrol to their repair services with a pump that swung out over the road. They were licensed to sell just 40 gallons of petrol - the maximum allowed on site. In more recent times Colin had over 200,000 litres (44,000 gallons) on site. Only just recently in 2004 have these pumps been removed.
The company moved to its present location in 1931, taking over some derelict farm buildings and winning planning permission to convert it to its present use. Even so they didn't finally get rid of the geese until 1962!
Soon two children, Jack and Margaret (Colin's mum) joined the business and Margaret opened a kiosk selling sweets. Perhaps the first ever forecourt shop?
During the war Margaret served in the RAF and met her future husband, John Mayes, who drove a petrol tanker in the North African campaign. After the war he married Margaret and joined the business. Sadly both Colin's parents have passed away, Margaret at the start of the 75th anniversary year (1997). But not before she saw Colin take the business forward, resulting in its rapid expansion over the last five years.
A new showroom and parts shop have been added together with three new working bays for MOTs, a computerised "rolling road" and diagnostic testing. Valeting, bodywork and mobile telephones are all part of the service.
More recent additions include an expanded used car operation.
It's all building up for the day, perhaps, when Colin's three young sons take over. They contrast with Alan Homewood, now clocking up over 40 years service, who has gone from servicing Model T Fords, while dodging the geese, up to the latest Ford model range. He is just one of the many people ready to give you the friendly attention which has kept the company in business for over 85 years.
BALAAM FORD - still family run and offering first class service after 85 years.
Balaam Ford....some things never change!
PS That fourth company still going in West Wickham since 1922? Sainsburys!