Car Dealers East and West Sussex


In 1782 William Tate is known to have inherited a large patch of land from his father according to local records. William was known in the Findon area primarily as a timber merchant, though he also farmed 99 acres of land leased from five different landlords! This would have helped to keep a steady income.

William Tate climbed the ladder of success, becoming a church warden at Findon's St John the Baptist Church, and by 1795 was given the right to vote in the county elections of 1798. Around this time brothers Thomas and James Tate were working as blacksmiths in the Findon area too, and census records also mention a Sarah Tate who was registered as a dressmaker.

Tates Laundry Van

In the mid 1800s the family were still based in Findon, but the main trade was as wheelwrights and master carpenters. George, and then his sons James and George Junior would work with oak in the summer, and ash, beech and elm in the winter to produce cart and coach wheels for the local area.

The census of 1871 records Thomas Tate as the landlord of the Clarendon Arms pub, which was situated on North Street in Portslade. Born in 1836, he had trained as a Sussex Brewer. He and his wife Anne had a daughter, Alice. Between 1891 and 1901 James Tate worked as both a butcher and a shop keeper.

During the late 1800s Alfred Tate started a laundry on the corner of Foredown Drive and Old Shoreham Road in Portslade. This was state of the art at the time, and its main feature was its proximity to the sun which gave a good open drying ground. Most laundries were transporting their goods by horse and cart at the time, but after a car accident in 1896 Alfred converted a Daimler to what is regarded to be the first commercial vehicle in Sussex, using the cart top of a horse drawn vehicle to achieve this conversion. When he died in 1921 he left the business to his wife Rosina, and it was ultimately taken over by his sons Albert and Fred.

It was before Alfred's death though that Tate Bros Ltd, the trading name still used by the firm today, was formed. In 1919 Albert and Fred started to operate a film transportation business, servicing the Brighton area. The brothers would travel up to London and back regularly, and were never late! The film distribution company ran until the 1950s.

To keep their film distribution vehicles in shape, the Tate brothers built a small corrugated shed alongside the Southern Cross laundry. Here they would carry out simple repairs on their vans. They were soon helping to fix others vehicles, and doing a good job of it. Word grew that there was a place you could take your vehicle to be repaired, and soon the brothers were repairing many local people's cars in their shed, and adding another arm to their business.

Tate brothers found that business grew. They expanded their workshop, adding engineering equipment such as lathes, drills and welding equipment which meant parts could be made on site.

Many customers were coming to see the Tate brothers for parts and repairs. Bert and Fred built themselves houses in the vicinity of their workshops, both living on Old Shoreham Road.

In 1929 the Brothers purchased a corner site at Southern Cross in Portslade. This was a garage with two hand operated filling pumps for fuel, a car showroom that was able to display a single car! The corrugated shed that had represented the workshop by the laundry also was rebuilt in brick.

Tates took on the Singer car franchise in their garage. Sales of Singer cars lead to the garage being rebuilt in 1934 to house a far more expansive showroom with a six car capacity, a two car workshop, and state of the art outdoor areas to deal with punctures, charge car batteries and service vehicles. One of the other features was the electrically operated petrol pumps, some of the first in the country.

The outbreak of the Second World War lead to the car business taking a back seat whilst Tates concentrated on engineering activities that would help the war effort.

Tates Laundry Horse and Cart
Tates Garage during 1930's

Being close to the coast and a port town, the Tate Brothers became actively involved in ship salvage. The engineers would work on repairing the ships.

Tate Brothers' engineering arm, now run solely by Albert continued to operate well, and held various patents, many of which related to the construction of overhead power lines. Tates' products were used all over the country.

After the war demand for cars surged, and suddenly Albert found both the engineering and the car firm very busy, so he approached his son John to see if he would run the car business. A young new member of the family coming in to an old established business brought with it pioneering changes, much like fresh look Southern Cross in the 1930s.

Tates garage had a new image. The workshop became a clean and tidy, so customers could watch their car being repaired if they wanted to. There was also a soft seated waiting area with a television, one of the first in the country.

All used cars sold from the Tates garages came with a guarantee, and the well presented new cars came with the promise that if the purchaser was unhappy with it, he could swap it for another one. If a customer was unhappy with their car, John Tate would lend them his own car, and use theirs until he was happy there was nothing wrong with it. John Tate would take on inexperienced school leavers and then allow them to go to college 2 days and 2 evenings a week, so they became skilled and, more importantly, loyal mechanics.

The success allowed John Tate to acquire the empty site between 9 and 17 Old Shoreham Road. He decided he would build a petrol filling station on the front, and a garage behind that would house a Vauxhall franchise. When the old nursery behind this site also became available, this was purchased so the site could be expanded further. This new Tates of Portslade site was to become one of the most advanced in the country, attracting publicity all over the nation.

Over the next decade the business grew, adding sites all over Sussex including Newhaven, Crawley and Pyecombe. In the 1980s Tates were selling over 7000 new and used vehicles per year.

During the 1980s John's nephew Trevor and Son Jonathan joined the business. Tates started selling conservatories and caravans, and also opened their first garden centre.

Paradise Park in Newhaven was opened in 1989, another state of the art building in its time. It gradually expanded and now features a huge visitor attraction on the side of the garden centre with botanical gardens, rare plants, a dinosaur museum and a giant indoor and outdoor play area.

In 1997 Jonathan added a second garden centre in Hassocks. South Downs Nurseries has one of the largest plant areas in Sussex, and also features a free museum detailing Sussex crafts from a bye-gone age, many of which are those the Tate ancestors carried out over the last four centuries.

In 2007 the Portslade site of Tates’ pioneering garage of the 1960s became available once more. Although they still owned the site, it had been leased to another car dealer since the 1980s. After planning consent was achieved, a third garden centre was added. Mayberry Garden Centre opened in 2010, boasting ground breaking green credentials including rainwater tanks capable of serving the whole centre, triple glazed heat retaining windows and solar panels.

The Tate Bros business will celebrate its centenary in 2019.

Paradise Park in Newhaven