It’s market day, but with so many classics around who cares about the stalls?
While the actual date of this October 1962 picture isn’t known, we can hazard an educated guess that it’s a Saturday, because the centre of Marlborough’s High Street is taken up by market traders. As the helpful foreground sign clarifies, the parking places in the hub of what was also the main A4 Great West Road from London to Bristol and Avonmouth were reserved for the market from 6am on Saturdays.
Most drivers seem to have observed the restriction, parking on the sides of the UK’s second widest High Street (after Stockton-on-Tees) and leaving the middle ground to the stallholders’ Commer FC, Morris Commercial J2 and Mini van. But just visible amid them is a Rover P4. Either one trader has done well for himself and bought an unusual choice of load-lugger, or its owner possibly enjoyed too many sherries at the scaffolding-clad Ailesbury Arms Hotel in the distance and decided it was wiser to walk home – in which case he will probably return to a parking ticket.
This road has been busy for centuries and was mentioned in 1228 as The King’s Street. It’s still hectic, despite construction of the M4. Behind the camera, the road passes the reputed burial mound of Merlin, King Arthur’s magician. Legend has it that the town name derives from ‘Merlin’s Barrow’.
There’s wizardry in this view too, in the form of the white Morris Mini-Minor parked in the row of cars on the right. ‘Wizardry on wheels’ was one of the slogans BMC used to launch the Mini in 1959. They would take over High Street vistas like this as the 1960s progressed, but only two years after their debut they have yet to make a big impression. Instead, Alec Issigonis’ other ‘people’s car’ still holds sway – heading the line of parked cars is a Series II Minor, exhibiting the split front windscreen that would disappear with the 1000 in 1956.
This evolution is handily illustrated by the later Minor just down from it. Perhaps the rather matriarchal lady in the yellow headscarf leaning on what we assume is her Ford Popular 103E between the Moggies is pondering an upgrade? Although the 103E continued to be built through until 1959, it was an ancient and asthmatic 1930s design, kept in production mainly so Ford could trumpet it offered Britain’s cheapest ‘real’ car. Bubblecars and threewheelers didn’t figure in the Blue Oval’s calculations, though, hence the stress on ‘real’.
One car probably not on her list would be the Metropolitan a little further back. The flamboyant offspring of an unlikely marriage between Nash and Austin, this yank tank in miniature would have been quite a sight in conservative Marlborough. The UK didn’t really take to its eccentric looks; only around 1200 were sold here between 1957 and 1961. Still, it was the first British car to offer a radio as standard.
Moving back, there’s a Ford Zephyr or Zephyr Zodiac MkI, then another Ford Pop’ 103E, with the Mini bringing up the rear of identifiable parked cars. Passing them is a Vauxhall Victor F Series II, followed by its successor, a Victor FB. In the far distance is the guppy grille of a primrose-painted Daimler Dart, which will no doubt make our Metropolitan occupants a little jealous when it reaches them.
On the other side of the road is the only foreign vehicle, a VW Beetle. Also visible are an Austin A30/ A35 van dwarfed by the number 17 Wilts and Dorset bus service ahead of it, operated by a Bristol K with an Eastern Coach Works (ECW) body. Also visible is the rear end of a Standard Vanguard Phase III.
The centre of Marlborough still looks much the same today, largely due to historic buildings such as the 17th century Merchant’s House (just in front of the bus) and the Victorian Town Hall at the head of the street, with St Mary’s Church – some bits of which date back to circa 1160 – in the background. And the market is still held on Saturdays, just as it has since King John granted its charter back in 1204. Some things, thankfully, don’t change.