Bromley driving school reaches 100th birthday
PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 April 2014
A driving school that instructed troops how to drive in the First World War has celebrated its 100th birthday.
Events that have occurred since the driving school’s inception
1918: When the business is just four years old the nation celebrates the end of the First World War
1928: Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin
1939: The Second World War begins and runs through to 1945
1963: US President John F Kennedy is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald
1989: Tim Berners-Lee invents the world wide web
1991: The Soviet Union officialy disbands, marking the end of the Cold War
2001: The 9/11 terrorist attacks rock America
2012: The Olympics comes to London
Lanes School of Driving, in Hayes Lane, Bromley, was established by Fred Lane in 1914.
He was an early car and motorbike enthusiast who started selling motors in the early 20th century.
However, if you are to sell cars you need customers – so Fred’s ingenious plan was to train up potential customers himself.
“He had to teach people to drive so he started the driving school,” said Mark Benningfield, the current owner.
Fred’s business went from strength to strength, creating a positive feedback of new drivers needing new cars – and he was all too happy to supply them.
In the 50s, Fred handed over the business he had built from scratch to his son, who ran it until 1976.
It was then that the company switched hands from the Lanes to the Paines, as Keith Paine took over the business.
“From there he went from four cars to more than 100 and from one small office to five offices and where we are today – covering all of the south east of England and Surrey,” said Mark, who took over from his father-in-law Keith 10 years ago.
Lanes Driving School currently has 45 driving instructors and trains many more how to teach.
Keith said: “We teach people that may have been made redundant and are coming here as a career change.”
Fred may have marvelled at those figures back in 1914, but this is in fact a downsizing from previous years.
The company had a recent battle with the recession – prior to that it employed about 1,000 driving instructors.
With the nation cash-strapped, fewer people were able to set aside the funds to learn to drive. National competitors also moved into the area, making times tougher still.
“There were fewer people learning to drive and Red came along. It’s a tough industry,” Mark said.
“When it’s busy it’s great but when it’s quiet it’s very hard.
“Like everyone else we reduced our costs. Drivers either went out on their own or went to other employment.”
But, unlike the national companies, Lanes has something different to offer.
“We’re a family-run business from the local area and have been for a very long time,” Mark said.
The local drivers also build a rapport with their pupils, meaning the students don’t often cancel their appointments.
“Unfortunately that does happen but they build a relationship with their instructors so they stick by them,” added Mark.
The company has served the community for a century now while remaining in one family or another and it looks to stay this way as Mark hopes that one day he will hand it down the family line once again, to his two daughters.