The Way We Were
1956, Poole, Dorset
‘It’s not too surprising to see two rather upmarket machines first in line’ POSH SANDBANKS RESIDENTS
At first glance, this looks like it could be some far-flung exotic colony of the Empire or newly independent Commonwealth member, still patriotically driving British. Barbados perhaps, or maybe a remote coastal part of Australia
But don’t let the sand dunes, scrubland and beachcombery bloke in sandals fool you, for this is Dorset, just across the water from the densely-populated Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch conurbation.
The location is the slipway for the Sandbanks to Shell Bay chain ferry; we’re on the Shell Bay side, looking towards Studland and Swanage. The idea of a chain ferry carrying vehicles just 400 yards across Poole Harbour might seem anachronistic, but the service, initiated in 1923, still operates successfully today. The alternative for those going to Swanage is a 25-mile road trip. Via the ferry, it’s just eight. Granted, in summer, any potential time savings will be lost by the enormous traffic queues. But there’s also something rather endearing about 48 cars at a time being shuttled back and forth from Sandbanks – now the fourth most expensive place in the world – on a noisy little vessel smelling strongly of hot oil, gulls and seaweed.
Back in 1956, the 1920s-built steam ferry had a capacity of just 18 vehicles, hence the lengthy queue for Sandbanks here. And while property prices on the Poole Harbour mouth promontory might not have been quite so silly then, it was still very desirable. Less than a decade after this photo, Beatles singer John Lennon bought his Aunt Mimi a Sandbanks bungalow overlooking this scene for £25,000. The average house price at the time was £3444.
So it’s not too surprising to see two rather upmarket machines first in line. Leading is a 1948/1949 Humber Super Snipe MkII, identifiable by its round lamps – one a fog, the other a ‘pass’ item – underneath the headlights. These were discontinued during 1949. It is followed by a newer Jaguar MkVIIM, the light 1954 facelift of Jaguar’s luxury MkVII flagship. New, it cost £1680, against an average home cost of £2003!
Partially obscured by the motorbike, whose rider’s safety concerns extend to a DIY windshield and cowling but not a helmet (only compulsory from 1973), is a Morris Minor Tourer, with the split front windscreen discontinued in 1956.
Next up is a four-door Ford 100E Prefect, fitted with the chrome-free headlamp surrounds that denoted the Basic model. Following it is a Vauxhall – its long front nameplate, rear wing stoneguards and barred grille signifying an October 1952 to 1954 Velox E-type EIPV. A Hillman Husky, based on the contemporary Minx but with nine inches lopped out of its wheelbase, is keeping it company. Then comes another 100E – this time a two-door Anglia – and is that its bigger sibling, a Consul MkII 204E, behind? It would have been brand new if it is, as it was only launched in February 1956.
Next up is a Jowett Javelin, after which it all becomes a little vague and generally pre-war, although we can see a Morris Oxford MO, Bedford CA van and Austin A40 Somerset waiting patiently.
As can be seen from our modern day shot, not much has changed; there are more trees, the telephone box near the beach is still there, as is the café, albeit modernised and no longer advertising its offerings to passing aircraft. But as for the cars, it’s one big yawn, aside from a lone MG Midget. It no longer feels like some far-flung British colony.