THE WAY WE WERE
Classics in a street close to the River Avon – changed beyond recognition today
Nick Larkin takes you on a guided tour through Bristol. You lucky people.
Few scenes we’ve ever featured in The Way We Were have changed as much as this Bristol vista. No longer can a pint of Simonds’ pale ale be enjoyed in The George and Dragon, though strangely there are still several pubs in the Bristol area sharing that name. This hostelry, once a landmark on the corner of Redcliff Hill and Commercial Road, was demolished in 1960 to become the car park of an enormous block of flats. Simonds of Reading amalgamated with Courage in 1960, losing its identity 10 years later.
Redcliff Hill is now a dual carriageway, and all our 1958 time traveller would recognise from the foreground of the picture are the bridge railings and abutments. Thankfully, the Gothic masterpiece that is the St Mary Redcliffe (the ‘e’ on the end is correct in this instance) church, in the background, avoided being flattened both by the notorious wartime bombing raids – which did mean the loss of some medieval glass – and the excesses of 1960s planners. The oldest bits of the building date back to 1185. The spire, at 292 feet, is the third highest in Britain.
The church is thus a fine backdrop for the joyful selection of classic vehicles seen here. We’ll start with those coming towards us. OHU 381 is an Austin K8 van of which 26,590 were built between 1947 and 1954, using the 2199cc engine from the Austin 16. Also bearing a Bristol registration is the more modern but much smaller Ford Thames 400E van behind the lady on her scooter. We’re not quite as expert on two-wheeled machines as we are on those with four, but the position of the script on the front cowling suggests it’s a Vespa. Behind the van is a Phase 1 Standard Vanguard, and an early one at that, because it’s not sporting any rear wheel spats. Despite dating from the late 1940s, it’s still one of the more modern-looking vehicles here.
A Morris Minor, possibly a Lanchester, and then a Morris PV van follow prior to a Leyland lorry which for some reason has parts of its front grille missing. The operator, British Road Services (BRS) resulted from the post-war Labour Government nationalising much of the road haulage industry in 1948, along with the railways and some bus companies. These included Bristol Tramways, which changed its name to the Bristol Omnibus Company in 1957 and operated the Bristol K-Type vehicles also seen here, the chassis of which were built in the city. BRS was, however, denationalised in 1952. Behind the buses are a Morris Minor and a BMC LD van, and just identifiable parked further up the road, a MkI Ford Consul.
Heading away from us are, firstly, two Fords: a rather careworn 103E Popular and a 300E van. Both have received some modifications, with the Pop having roof-mounted indicators in the style of the Austin FX4 taxi, launched this year. The 300E has side windows, a common conversion as a way of getting around purchase tax. We then have a Morris J-type van, in the olive green Post Office Telephones livery of the period, a glimpse of Vauxhall F-Type Victor and a Standard 10 being overtaken by a locally registered Ford 100E, with a further example ahead. Note the two lorries with most interesting loads. In front of the bus is an Austin A30 or A35 van and, we think, a Bedford CA ahead of that.
We are stuck on the identity of the car visible further up the hill on the left, but hope it’s a Wolseley. The ageing car parked under the government health warning-free ‘Woodbine the great little cigarette’ advert on what is obviously a bombsite is, we think, a Buick. Another J-type van also shares the patch of ground.
Finally, exiting Commercial Road are a just visible ‘Beetle Back’ Standard Vanguard, two unidentifiable lorries and a gleaming new Series Hillman Minx. What a wonderful collection of vehicles.
Standard Post Office vans were red, but those in the service of the telephone section, like this were a less vibrant green.
With windows fitted, the also made a handy budget estate for anyone unable to run to a 100E Squire or Escort. MORRIS J-TYPE FORD THAMES 300E