The Way We Were
Spring 1964, Northampton
There’s an early movie by Peter Jackson – of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings directorial duties – called Meet the Feebles, in which all the vehicles are Morris Minors.
This very black comedy was filmed in New Zealand in 1989, but had Mr Jackson produced it in England in 1964 – when he’d have been three years old – then he could easily have set it in the Kingsthorpe district of Northampton. Because, as this 53-year-old scene illustrates, the place was Morris Minor Central.
In a picture where there are 11 identifiable vehicles, five of them are Minors. That’s almost the equivalent of a narrow referendum defeat, and we suspect a couple more are parked outside the premises of G Brooks and Co Ltd but obscured by the Cleveland petrol pumps. Ditch the Ford, Hillmans, Vauxhall, Mini and Rover and you’ve got a whole black comedy set right here. But just in middle England instead of Middle Earth, down under.
G Brooks and Co is a very traditional old-school garage. Or a Petrol and Diesel Agency, as the tacked-on notice under the main Cleveland branding has it. It’s more a collection of ramshackle wooden sheds and advertising hoardings that have obviously grown organically on an ‘as-needed’ basis over the decades – for example, the rather ornate ‘Cleveland Discol’ and ‘Premium’ globe-topped pumps look like 1930s/40s items.
Cleveland was established in 1920 at Trafford Park in Manchester; the first planned industrial estate in the world, and where Ford set up its first manufacturing plant outside of the USA in 1911 to build Model Ts. In 1938, the Anglo American Oil Company, later to become Esso, bought a major interest in Cleveland, took over completely in 1958 and rebranded all Cleveland garages as Esso stations in 1973.
Mr Brooks was obviously locally famed for his mechanical abilities with Minors, judging by how many have gravitated to his little corner of Welford Road and the A508 Harborough Road. But you get the impression that he’d just be good with anything – have the father and his little girl with her bike by the small middle shack turned up just to have its brakes adjusted?
But it’s not just Morrises and pedal bikes. Starting from the left are a couple of major Minor rivals. The Ford Anglia 105E is an early Deluxe, sporting two-tone grey and white in a style that would disappear when the 123E Super version was introduced in 1962. Also in two shades, albeit dark green and light green, is the neighbouring Minx Series IIIA, B or C, parked half-in and half-out of the workshop. The first Minor, a 1952-56 Series II saloon is next, in front of a Vauxhall Victor F Series I, recognisable by its porthole bumpers. The exhaust exiting through the hole in the right one didn’t exactly do wonders for the chromework.
The adjacent Minor Traveller and 1000 saloon are being separated by another Hillman Minx in the foreground, this time a blue and grey 1957 or ’58 Series II.
Out on Harborough Road, the Minors are still congregating, with a 1000 saloon being followed by an older sibling in the form of a split-windscreen Series II. They’re passing a Mini and Rover P5 MkI, parked just down from Jennifer Lawrence’s florist shop. No, not that Jennifer Lawrence – she was still 26 years away from being born. Unlike Peter Jackson.
Today, although the Harborough Road parade of shops looks much the same, the site of G Brooks and Co is occupied by the Lloyds Bank moved over from across the road (albeit with a semi-subterranean library beneath it). Well, that’s capitalism for you…
‘Mr Brooks was obviously locally famed for his mechanical abilities with Minors, judging by how many there are’
THE SPECIALIST TALENTS OF G BROOKS