Skip to content

Leonard Maloney, Garage Mechanic

December 1, 2018
by the gentle author

We celebrate Leonard Maloney, a prominent member of East End Trades Guild, on Small Business Saturday – to be launched by Paul Gardner, proprietor of Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen, & John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, at 11am in the Spitalfields Market today

Leonard Maloney

“I’ve spent my whole working life here in the arches,” Leonard Maloney admitted to me, when Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went to visit him at JC Motors in Haggerston which specialises in repair of Volkswagen cars and vans. Len spoke placidly, shook our hands in welcome and made relaxed eye contact when we arrived at his garage, and I was immediately aware how tidy and ordered the place was.

A peaceful atmosphere of mutual respect and concentration prevailed – a white camper van was up in the air undergoing maintenance beneath and the boot of a red sports car was open while repair was undertaken. Len & I sat on two car seats at the rear of the arch to chat while Sarah photographed the motor engineers at work.

JC Motors has been serving customers for more than decade at this location and earned a reputation in the neighbourhood for honest pricing and reliability, and many of his mechanics are local people who have joined through placements and schemes. Everything might appear as it should be, yet there is an air of poignancy since Len – in common with many other businesses under the railways arches – lives with uncertainty since all the arches were sold off.

“Everything is becoming coffee bars around here now,” Len informed me in regret, “and it seems our job has become seen as ‘dirty’ and we’re no longer wanted any more now that it’s become posh.”

“My dad had an old Austin Cambridge that he used to repair at weekends and that gave me a taste for this work. I’ve always loved taking things apart and putting them back together, and the smell of diesel oil has been attractive to me for as long as I can remember.

In 1981, I was sent on a day release from Danesford School to Hackney College where I met Barry Carlisle who specialised in repairing minis, and in the evenings I came to work for him in an arch here in Haggerston. Then Joe Chee came long and saw me working on a Volkswagen Camper van and he said, ‘If ever you need a job, come and see me.’

At first when I left school, I went to work for Barry but he had an accident and lost an eye, so then I had to go back to Joe Chee and we began working together in 1982. He was foreman at a Volkswagen garage in St John’s Wood. We made a great team and I learnt a lot from him. We started a body shop off the Kingsland Rd and a shop selling Volkswagen parts. That was fantastic and it carried on until 1999. He did the paperwork and sold the parts and I ran the bodyshop, and we collected lots of customers and took on three apprentices. But eventually Joe Chee got ill and passed away and I couldn’t run the whole business, so I closed the shop and continued with the garage.

I began taking on local young people through the Inspire Hackney scheme and now my son Miles is working with me. Everyone has their job to do and they know where the parts are and I have taught them what to do. Some customers bring their cars in and just tell me to repair whatever needs doing, but I also get single mums who don’t have a lot of money and I can just repair what is necessary to keep the car safe. I’ve had mums bring in their kids in prams and then the kids come back to me to ask advice when the time comes to get their first car.”

The team at J C Motors

Joe Chee is commemorated in the name of the company ‘JC Motors’, followed by Leonard’s initials

Miles Maloney

Len’s own beetle that he hopes to restore one day

Mr Bramble, Motor Engineer

Mr Singh, Motor Engineer

Hakeem Saunders – “I’ve been here since I was thirteen”

Adnan Leal

Leonard & his son Miles

Leonard Maloney

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

J C Motors LDM, 332 Stean St, Haggerston, E8 4ED

You may also like to read about

At Chu’s Garage

At Three Colts Lane

At Mansell St Garage

9 Responses leave one →
  1. December 1, 2018

    A crew of lovely, optimistic and hard working Londoners. I hope they can stay and do their worthwhile work for a long time. Good luck to them all! Valerie

  2. Claire permalink
    December 1, 2018

    I hope Leonard’s J C Motors can stay where it is and continue to thrive; railway arches seem ideal for such a business, far better than yet another coffee shop. Best wishes to all of them.

  3. Jamie S permalink
    December 1, 2018

    I do hope they and the other businesses don’t get moved out of the Stean Street arches to make way for ‘shinier’ businesses at any point. Must be so tempting for the railway company as the demographic has changed so much in the area. As a side note to TGA – Barnes Vehicle Hire, also on Stean Street, is an amazing local business. So well priced and an amazing service. I’ve always wondered what Julie that runs the place’s story is – she’s a great character!

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    December 1, 2018

    They look a good team at this garage. If I was closer I’d use them!

  5. December 1, 2018

    Having a good reliable mechanic is one of Life’s Great Blessings.
    To the hard-working, earnest, tenacious workers at the garage: Live long and prosper, gents!
    My fingers are crossed that the owners of the arches will “get it” and allow these various
    established businesses to continue. Glitzy coffee bars? — Hardly a replacement for a vibrant
    necessary business like JC Motors.

    I am going to forward this to my mechanic, Dominic, here in the Hudson River Valley.
    Thank you, GA!

  6. Bill permalink
    December 1, 2018

    Yes another sad story of a hard working man under threat from gready landlords.

  7. December 5, 2018

    I think one of the signs of a good mechanics’ is a clean and tidy garage. Mr. Maloney’s is that.

  8. Isabelle Renouard permalink
    August 23, 2019

    You have a very beautiful garage .

  9. January 15, 2021

    I hope you won’t mind me leaving a little update on Len’s story.

    On my back-street bike ride this morning I bumped into Len Maloney whose business in one of those arches looked doomed in 2017. Today Len is still in business, customers have stayed loyal, the move away from public transport has seen his car maintenance business thrive, he still has his cohort of apprentices under training and the noise raised by small business in (former) Network Rail arches has seen a change of philosophy in the owners and a change in management style. It was great to find Len and his team thriving and great to find a story of positivity in these lockdown stay home times.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS