It all began in 1750...
When a local Parish Constable, named Sebastian Grace, began a blacksmith business on Frogmore St. in Tring, producing mainly farming implements. Towards the early 1800's, this became an ironmongery business, producing many more household items for the larger dwellings and estates in the area. Within 50 years, the business progressed from a simple blacksmiths into an establishment employing craftsmen who could design and make almost anything from iron, copper, brass and bronze. Examples of these can still be seen around town, such as the spiral staircase in the Walter Rothschild museum in Akeman St., as well as all other ironwork in the building. Lord Rothschild was sure of what he wanted for the museum, so he personally took Mr. Grace to Paris to study the Eiffel tower, which was used as inspiration.
Ironwork was not the only speciality. By 1840, the availability of paraffin oil for lighting and cooking created the need for additional skills, such as the maintenance and repair of oil lamps and cookers. And when coal gas was being produced at Tring Gas Works in Brook St., the Grace craftsmen soon became experts at maintaining gas equipment.
Another important part of today's business is the garage. This originally started when Graces were wheelwrights, making iron tyres, and then fitting them onto the wooden wheels, all crafted on site. By the 1880's, the motor car had been invented, and Mr. Grace was the first person in Tring to own one. Soon he was providing a local service, taking Lord Rothschild to the station, and carrying a fire alarm around Tring in his car to alert the firemen. The garage officially began in 1914, delivering 2 gallon petrol cans to the few cars there were in Tring (petrol stations were not around yet). This was done on a trade bicycle, which was also ridden by the current owner, Gilbert Grace, when he was a boy. "With the weight in the front, it was easy to make the back wheel lift. That was just playing about as children do", said Mr. Gilbert Grace. Bicycles were also another skill offered by the company, with parts supplied by Humber, and then the cycles manufactured on site.
During WWII, tractors were only just coming to some farms, but they were unreliable and untrusted. The Fordson Standard had many weaknesses, but this created a new area of work for us. Clutch problems meant that we had to split the tractor in two, and wheel half away. This tractor problem-solving then lead us on to looking after more of the farmer's cars.
Gilbert's father was keen on competing with his car, a Riley RMB, bought in 1948. He was taking it to sprints and hill climbs, and the car was often taken to Silverstone. Gilbert was initially given the job of port polishing (a way of increasing the power of a vehicle). He then began to help his father with other performance improving work, and was then in charge of the metering needles (often changed to improve performance depending upon the track). Gilbert's father has won over 400 trophies whilst competing.
In 1952, Gilbert's father bought a new model Riley. The year after, the Riley won the Silverstone Grand Prix in its class, coming second overall to Stirling Moss in a Jaguar, which was an incredible achievement for the small garage. This brought in a lot of publicity for Tring, and also a lot more Riley work for the business, with Riley wanting Graces to promote their latest model, the Riley 1.5. Initially Mr. Grace was disappointed, as it was a more basic model than their last promotion, but Gilbert modified it himself, and it gave him a great sense of achievement. He still has the car to this day.
Gilbert Grace was called up for National Service, but failed motor mechanics for not knowing one word. Gilbert considered this fortunate, as he was then given sessions on aircraft electrics. He was 1 of 3 out of 60 odd men who were talented enough to be given another fitters course, giving him the ability to be in charge of a 22 fighter aircraft electrics with 4 other mechanics. He served in Cyprus and Aden during 1956 Suez crisis.
When Riley Motors finished in 1960, the company moved onto Jaguars as their main specialism. However, the company has also dealt with many other cars, such as Ferrari's, Lamborghini's, Rolls Royce's, Aston Martin's and many more over the years.
The retail side of the business has been run by various family members over the years passed from father to son of each generation with the current Victorian premises purpose built for the family and completed in 1891.
The shop has adapted and diversified over the years to best suit the needs of its customers, at one stage the need for expansion became so great 66 High Street next door was purchased and expanded into, much of the 70s and 80s were seen as the businesses most prosperous years.
However due to the growth of out of town retail parks, supermarkets and eventually the internet the industry was proving tough for small independent retailers like Graces.
66 High Street was eventually sold off and the business condensed once again into the original 68 High Street property.
With Gilbert being past retirement age and with no likely successor to take over the retail business he decided the only option was to eventually close...
However in 2020 the most recent "Son" Jordan (Gilbert's Grandson) knowing the long history of the business decided he would have a go at making it thrive again, but only on the promise it would undergo a major refurbishment.
When lockdown hit in March 2020 this seemed the perfect time to embark on the project.
Little was known about what was behind some of the fixtures and fittings in the shop, many of which had been installed over a hundred years ago which made planning the refurb diffcult.
Behind boarded up walls, glued down carpet tiles, MDF covered counter tops and a suspended ceiling lay the original Victorian features of the shop hidden away.
The refurb sort to bring these back to life with particular care and attention given to restore the original counter and wooden floor.
After 3 months and countless hours of labour including builders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and decorators the shop emerged in its former glory, with a modern twist.
The shop itself wasn't the only thing that was transformed. A new direction on stock lines and suppliers with particular focus on sustainability, quality and uniqueness was launched as a way to re-assert itself as a successful independent retail business in an evermore competitive industry.
And so today with the 10th generation of the family running it the business is thriving once more undoubtedly due to its hard working staff and loyal customer base, here's to the next 270 years!