David Brown goes car spotting in the suburban streets he pounded in his days as a cub reporter
In those magic days before the wholesale spread of yellow lines, clamps and parking ticket machines, why leave your car in an official car park when you could park down a side street at no cost and stroll to the nearby railway station?
That looks to be the case in this view of the junction of Masons Hill in Woolwich, just around the corner from Woolwich Arsenal station. The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, was an Army and Royal Naval ordnance depot that closed in 1994. In 1886 Woolwich munitions workers founded a football club that in 1913 moved to the other side of the River Thames to Arsenal stadium in Highgate. I understand that the team has done quite well in the intervening years, but the only time I have been to its current Emirates Stadium was to see Bruce Springsteen.
Woolwich Arsenal station opened in 1849 and was rebuilt in 1906. Today’s station was built in 1996 and, from 2009, passengers were able to travel on an extension of the Docklands Light Railway in addition to trains between London and north Kent. There is now talk of a Crossrail station nearby too.
It is certainly prime commuter territory and demand for spaces close to the station must be even more precious than when our 1991 view was taken.
There’s an interesting mix of UK, European and Japanese vehicles to be seen with a June 1990 Nissan Bluebird GS 1796cc four-door saloon in your face in the right foreground. They are quite a rarity on UK roads today and it is doubtful this one is a survivor as records show its last MoT expired in July 2006 and its tax was due the following month.
Just visible on the opposite side of the road (bottom left) parked within the dotted white lines, is another Japanese car, a Hyundai Stellar in familiar cab form. With its big boot and spacious rear legroom, the rear-wheel drive Stellar was popular with the suburban cabbies, before giving way to Skoda cabs in the ‘90s. Waving the flag for the UK cars is a ubiquitous Metro, and there is another example parked in Ashlar Place, the first turning on the left. Metros were still a very popular choice and the recently introduced Rover Metro (see separate piece on the right) had a great year in 1991.
A potential contender for the Brown collection is the 1969 Volkswagen Beetle though the script on the engine lid is too indistinct in this view to determine if it is a 1300 or a 1500. The driver might have hoped for a bit more space between its neighbours when it comes to departing its tight slot, while that running board looks overdue for attention.
Just as the Beetle represents Volkswagen’s traditional rear-engined era, the Scirocco in the background represents the company’s newer front-wheel drive generation.
As you might expect, there are a fair few Fords dotted throughout this scene with a pair of MkV Cortinas parked on opposite sides of the street. Further back you will see Escorts, an Orion and a Sierra, while a light brown Cortina with a darker vinyl roof suggests something upmarket like a Ghia.
You would also expect to see – and not be disappointed – that family and fleet favourite at the time, the Vauxhall Cavalier hatchback. A lady is either getting in or out her compact Nova on the right, while the car beyond the Bluebird looks to be a Mercedes-Benz W115. A Rover SD1 adds a touch of class with its very presence, while a first generation Renault first generation Master van and a delightful Citroën Visa remind us of France. Because of Renault vans’ later links with Nissan, it is appropriate that beyond it is parked a Micra K10.
To someone of my advanced years, 1991 seems like just a few years ago but then I remember that I have a 25-year-old son!