Umbrella? Check. Pipe? Check. You’re ready for the post-war charms of ‘Brizzle’
Some CCW readers may remember that a computer called ‘True Knowledge’ identified Sunday 11 April 1954 as ‘the most boring day in history’ back in 2010, but this surely would not have applied to this street scene – just look at the cars.
Anyone familiar with the West Country will recognise the location as the Horsefair district of Bristol. Almost 90,000 of the city’s buildings were destroyed during World War Two, and the construction site in the background is of Lewis’ department store. These motorists wouldn’t recognise such terms as ‘motorway’, ‘underpass or ‘breathalyser’ and would associate ‘seatbelts’ with aircraft. They would, however, be instantly familiar with ‘crank starting’ and ‘double de-clutching’, even if one particular car here is a harbinger of the future.
One post-war innovation is the zebra crossing. Belisha beacons were introduced in 1934 but horizontal stripes didn’t appear until 1951. Another period detail is the British Road Services logo on the door of the Austin lorry edging into the left of the shot (though it could be a Bedford). One really can imagine Nick Larkin leaping joyfully into this picture, given the number of buses on view, but this would have changed by the end of the decade – the Bristol Tramway Company carried 325 million passengers in 1952, but this figure fell to 244 million 11 years later.
Passing the crossing nearest to the camera – where a cyclist is apparently studiously ignoring a pedestrian, thereby anticipating 21st century behaviour – is what looks like an Austin 12. Production continued until 1947 so the Longbridge car may have been only seven years old but its coachwork harks back to a 1930s of Bakelite and Neville Chamberlain rather than a future of television and Formica kitchen furniture. Its driver is evidently trying to find a gap between a bus and the pale Standard 8 saloon, and it is possible that the latter may have been someone’s first new car.
In front of it is an early example of the Morris Minor, while further ahead is another Austin – a 16/6 Norfolk that was often used as official transport in the late 1930s and still employed as a hire car well into the 1950s.
Following the bus advertising Typhoo tea is a new-looking Ford Consul MkI, the first British production car with MacPherson independent front suspension and one of the few vehicles here that did not have provision for a starting handle. Ahead of the No 2 doubledecker TyPhoo tea bus is another Nuffield product – this one appears to be an MO series Oxford. It is following its chief Austin rival in the form of the A40 Devon with its rather attractive 1938 Chevrolet-inspired lines.
After a further brace of buses, we see another Longbridge offering – this one seems to be a pre-war Windsor 18 – and another omnibus along, there is a diminutive Austin Seven van. In fact, the entre shot is a reminder of how ubiquitous the Austin name was. Just imagine the reaction if you informed the drivers of these vehicles that the badge would cease to adorn motor cars 33 years in the future.
Behind the double-decker emblazoned with the Ediswan electric light advert is a car with the cuboid lines of an early Daimler 15 Sportsman saloon, which in the first half of the 1930s was the company’s entry-level model. On the right of the picture, a Morgan V-Twin is approaching the zebra crossing, followed by two box vans and a Sunbeam-Talbot, the headlamps denoting an early 80.
Entering the roundabout at the top right of the frame is a jaunty looking MG, although the lack of virtually any form of road markings cannot have made this an easy task. Other signs of a distant world are sensible overcoats to ward off the spring chill, the motorcyclists sans crash helmets (not a legal requirement until 1973) and the fact that the Morgan driver appears to be giving the Highway Code-approved ‘slowing down’ signal, still a common sight during the 1950s.
The early 1950s really was another world, but judging by this picture, a far from boring one.