You’d be far better off heading towards London rather than away from it on this sunny Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend
The Whitsun Bank Holiday always felt like the official start of summer until the May Day Bank Holiday was introduced to most of the UK in 1978 – a century after it had first appeared on the Scottish calendar. It usually even managed to have suitably sunny weather, until some idiot re-designated it the Late Spring Bank Holiday, whereupon the rain gods took charge, barbecues were abandoned and we started muttering about ‘typical Bank Holiday weather’ and ‘feels more like autumn’ as we took shelter in front of our TV sets.
But back in 1959, Whitsun was still Whitsun and a signal for anyone with any sort of transport to head for the coast. With more than 30% of British households now owning a car, and the opening of the country’s first motorway still some months away, there were always some impressive jams to get through, such as this one in south-west London.
Heading up the A298 towards Merton is a sidevalve Hillman Husky being easily outgunned by an Austin Hereford with its 2.2-litre four-pot engine, whose next target is an Austin A40 van. More Austins can be seen hoping to join the southbound progress – an Austin Ten of pre-WW2 vintage leading a snazzy A90 Atlantic, followed by a couple of motorbikes, an Austin Somerset and a venerable Austin Seven.
Leaving Merton with the ambition of joining the A3 towards London – assuming that anyone in the southbound lanes would be kind enough to let them through – are an E1P Vauxhall Velox, a Humber Hawk, a PA Velox or Cresta, and a Rover P3, with an EOTA Ford Consul poised to join them.
However, it’s the optimistic travellers heading south two-by-two on the A3 who are in the majority. A two-door Minor 1000 is alongside another EOTA Consul, a well-loaded (or lowered) A55 Cambridge sits beside an EIPV Velox, a Ford Zephyr MkII sits next to a topless split-screen Minor Convertible, a Saville’s 300E Thames van with what’s possibly a VW Beetle with its passenger door open to let in some cooling air, then another A55 beside a Consul MkII, a 100E Prefect with a pre-WWII Morris Minor, then an unknown motorbike, a Phase 2 Standard Vanguard, and an A30 van alongside an early Reliant Regent threewheeler van (the sort that looked as though it had half-swallowed a motorbike and which had only gone out of production in 1956).
Behind them comes a smart chap in a Jaguar XK140 fixed-head coupé towing a speedboat (we suspect he’s avoiding looking at the temperature gauge), with an equally upmarket drophead of some sort alongside. A Humber Hawk has its nose worrying close to the boat’s transom, while the Standard Ten astern of it seems to have its bonnet ajar for extra cooling (we hope they remember to shut it if the traffic looks like speeding up). A Volvo PV544 is apparently one of the few foreigners in the neighbourhood, followed by a very British Jaguar MkVIII, another Austin Somerset, a Morris 8 tourer, a Victor F-type, an Austin Princess and an MGA.
An Austin A30 seems to be the only vehicle using the A3 to get to London, although we wonder if the bus that the bloke at the request stop is waiting for is still embroiled in the southbound traffic – if so, he’ll have a long wait. Would he believe you if you suggested that, in 55 years’ time, he’d be standing in the middle of a six-lane dual carriageway and that Merton would be on a modern tramline between Wimbledon and Croydon?