THE WAY WE WERE
Station car parks were ideal for 1980s commuters – and classic spotters today
More nostalgic car spotting, this time while wandering around Huntingdon's railway station car parks in the 1980s.
As the demand for local rail freight services declined at many of our railway stations throughout the 1980s, it was perhaps fortunate that the need for more car parking spaces grew. Today, many acres of land that were once occupied by railway sidings are taken up by sprawling car parks reflecting the growth in car ownership and the emergence of the long-distance commuter.
Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire is a good example of this. The market town expanded as a result of a growth spurt in the 1960s as homes were provided under a London overspill campaign. Prior to 1960, Huntingdon could boast two railway stations. The station on the former Great Northern Railway’s East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh was called Huntingdon North, while almost on its doorstep was Huntingdon East, built by the Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway. Trains on the former Midland Railway line from Kettering served East station, along with GN&GE trains to Godmanchester and St Ives. Following the closure of East station to regular passenger services in 1959, the other station lost its ‘North’ suffix.
Today, no main line trains call at Huntingdon, but it is well served by Great Northern Thameslink trains plying between Peterborough and King’s Cross.
There were goods facilities located on both sides of the main line at Huntingdon and household coal was one of the last commodities to be handled there on a regular basis.
As we can see in the bigger of our two photos by Allan Mott, coal businesses continued to be based at the station even though the sidings that once served them had been lifted. This meant that your car could gain a little coal dust on a windy day.
Our view from the summer of 1987 is firmly dated by a Vauxhall Cavalier SRi on the bottom right that was registered in May that year. Its next-door neighbour is a 1982 Talbot Horizon in LS trim, while beyond them, by the collapsing coalyard fence, a Ford Escort MkII is risking the coal dust effect.
The owner of the 1984 Montego L looks to have braved taking it to foreign parts judging by the GB sticker, which may also be why it is cosying up to a 1977 Renault 4TL. There’s another UK/France pairing to the left of them, with a MG Metro alongside a Renault 14TS.
That splendid 1950s cabriolet parked near to the lamppost was kindly identified by reader Neil Bircher as a Sunbeam Talbot 90. Neil also spotted the Toyota Supra to the left.
The smaller of Allan Mott’s photographs (see below) was taken the following April in the same car park but taken at a different angle with Huntingdon’s northbound platform in visible the background.
The 1971 Austin Mini in the foreground of the 1988 photo vanished from the DVLA’s records the year after this picture was taken, so it’s fair to assume from the rot along its door bottoms and the cracking paintwork around the front wheelarch that this 850 model was already on its last legs.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI MkII would make a good addition to the David Brown fleet, being a long-term favourite. Beyond it are a couple of Fords: a Fiesta MkII and a Granada. It’s always good to see a Morris Traveller represented and this traditional gem contrasts sharply with the more modern profile of a BMW 5-Series. Different strokes.
The daily parking fee of £1 offers further nostalgia – ah, those were the days! – but it must be said that it didn’t stop people from trying to avoid paying it. Huntingdon’s thriving Conservative Club was situated just a brisk walk from the station and some folk came up with the bright idea of taking up annual membership, enabling them to park there and be quids-in. However, the club cottoned on to this ploy and nipped it in the bud.
The car park charges at Huntingdon are still a lot less than along the line at Peterborough.
John Major served as the Conservative MP for Huntingdon from 1979-2001 and was Prime Minister from 1990-1997. It was during his period in office that British Rail was privatised... which brings us just about full circle.
Rampaging rust meant this Mini disappeared from the roads a year
after this picture. The bumpers ending under the indicators mark this out as a pre-1981
facelift Granada MkII. This BMW E28 5-series was an unusual boss’s car in 1987 – Granadas and Carltons were preferred. Golf GTI probably bagged such a good spot because it was fastest to the station. Oragami design marks this out as the A60 (1981-1986) Toyota
Celica or Supra. The roly-poly Renault 14’s launch advertising
likened it to a pear. Rotten pear, more like. Renault and Citroën were well served by main dealers in the Huntingdon area. Metro’s ‘pepperpot’ alloys and tailgate spoiler identify it as the more potent MG.