THE WAY WE WERE
Very little has changed in this fine stone town since this picture was taken – except the traffiffic, of course
Richard Gunn shows how little things have changed in Stamford, Lincolnshire.
Imagine an enthusiast of architectural history happening upon this scene in 1978. He’d be absolutely mortified. Having just contentedly strolled past the 13th-century All Saint’s Church – outside of which this picture was taken – he’d be rudely confronted by the modern world of transport in all its intrusive glory invading Stamford’s largely Georgian Red Lion Square.
The dogleg formed by the square in Stamford had created a major bottleneck along the Great North Road between London, York and Edinburgh since Anglo-Saxon times. In 1960, the town was bypassed by the modern A1. While this may have lessened the cars stationary in traffific jams, it just made it easier for cars to be stationary in parking bays instead.
Fortunately for those of us with an appreciation of classic vehicles, what would have appalled our buildings buff back in the day is fascinating for us almost 40 years later. In this lovely shot of the town, it’s not a car that steals the show, but a van.
Outside Freeman Hardy Willis – providing ‘shoes for all the family’ from 1875 to 1996 – is an unfamiliar delivery vehicle belonging to stationery wholesaler Murfax of Luton. But what is it? The corrugated sides suggest a French connection and that’s indeed where it originates – it’s a Peugeot J7, a front-wheel drive commercial that was in production between 1965 and 1980. The mystery is why a fifirm from the heartland of Vauxhall/Bedford would be using a van that wasn’t actually sold in the UK? Answers on a postcard – just so long as it’s one originally supplied by Murfax in a load-lugging Pug.
The Peugeot has some Gallic company in the shape of a Renault 4 with a crooked front bumper. Next to that is a car with a ‘wow’ factor: a Hillman Avenger Tiger. Crikey! Um, actually, no.
The standard steel wheels, four doors and too-high body decals betray this to be a boy racer special, ‘tastefully’ modified with a rear spoiler, side-stripes and black-painted B-pillars. Classy stuff!
Next door to the faux Tiger is a Mini Clubman estate, alongside an Austin or Morris MkII or III Landcrab. Then there’s something to really get excited about: a BMW ’02 Touring
hatchback. Exotic even back in 1970s Britain, they’re still very rare and highly prized nowadays. Our go-faster Avenger owner must have been very jealous.
After a brief perusal of the Yamaha Twin 125cc and trials motorcycles, it’s over to Stamford Hi-Fi Centre where a Ford Escort MkII van of 1976 (the same year the shop opened) is presumably waiting to whisk away some Bang & Olufsen music centres. Then it’s Austin Maxi paradise outside Nelsons (a butcher’s shop since 1826 and still going strong today), with two examples keeping company with a Morris Minor Traveller. The local BMC/British Leyland dealer must have been pretty successful.
We can’t see enough of the next two cars – a sporty fastback and a square-cut estate – to identify them, but the Bedford CF pick-up is unmistakable. Presumably it belonged to the local builder on the nearby roof, working in a manner that would cause a modern Health & Safety Executive offificial to suffer apoplexy. Annoyingly, the Bedford is obscuring a sizeable estate, so we can’t make out what it is.
On the other side of the square, a 1971 Triumph 2000 MkII has slipped in behind an unloading Lyons delivery van, while the Renault 6 hatchback beyond them would rouse the wrath of any passing traffific warden – plus our imaginary architecture afificionado – by blocking the pavement outside the entrance to the perpendicular Gothic St John’s Church of 1451.
The only two vehicles actually using the road that once carried medieval cart traffic, Royal Mail stagecoaches and countless automobiles from the 19th Century onwards are a Ford Transit MkI and an M-registered small motorcycle. The learner rider’s great love of football has prompted him to broadcast to anyone following that he supports Everton. Well, it was the 1970s, times were strange. The sporting allegiances of the van driver who’s turning right into the parking area, are less apparent. Nevertheless, he probably has his fingers crossed that he’ll be able to nab the parking spot being vacated by the Maxi before anybody else nicks it.
Today, Red Lion Square is much as it was before the invention of the internal combustion engine; the surface has been cobbled and the former car park is now purely for pedestrians and market stalls. The classics may be gone, but the buildings are still there and occupied by three of the four businesses that were around in 1978. In the very transitory 21st Century, that’s something to celebrate.
RICHARD GUNN joined Classic Car Weekly in 2000. Although now a freelancer, he’s always maintained his connection with the newspaper that started his career and also writes for our sister publications Modern Classics, Practical
Classics, Classic Cars and Car Mechanics.
Transit about to funnel into one of the Great North Road’s worst pinch points. Peugeot J7 van is as out of place in this image as a Tornado jet. Why was it here? Triumph 2500 sports
a period stick-on heated rear window – remember those?
BMW Touring perfect for the man in a hurry. That’s why it wasn’t reversed in.
A pair of Austin Maxis is a welcome sight – and perfectly at home in Stamford. Unmarked Ford Escort van was the fastest way of getting from A-to-B in 1978.
Skip forward 37 years and some of the same shops are still trading.