Beef paste and changes…
“If things don’t change, they’ll stop as they are” is a traditional North Yorkshire saying for stating the bleeding obvious. But change is irresistible and inevitable, especially when it involves cityscapes or modes of transportation.
The picture above is of the South Street Kitchen, a particularly attractive section of the Park Hill Flats complex. A little background: originally built between 1957 and 1961 as a brave new concept in urban living, Park Hill’s concrete superstructure was constructed on former cholera-ridden slums. Initially heralded as an architectural triumph, the buildings suffered vandalism and neglect for many years before finally blossoming into a colourful Sheffield living space after a major redevelopment.
My home town(1) has witnessed many changes since Park Hill was built. The estate is situated just yards from the town’s main railway station and is but a hop from a once-vast open parking area. Where the cars in the black-and-white photo below are parked now sits an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool. The bridge to the right has been replaced by one much larger, to accommodate Sheffield’s Supertram. As to the buildings, Sheffield suffered some wartime damage, but the Luftwaffe had less to answer for than the local council by the early 1970s.
To the cars then: the photo below is believed to have been taken in the mid-1970s, but the number plates prove impossible to ascertain. Luckily for us, the stark outlines of some of these jalopies are as plain as day, one of the most obvious being a VW Transporter pick-up right in the centre of the image. As there was a large fruit and vegetable market nearby, was this a trader’s vehicle temporarily at rest? To the right of the Transporter appears to be a Morris Marina saloon and a white Ford Cortina Mk3, the latter possibly a GT, with its black-painted panel between the rear lights.
In the lower right, we see an oddly positioned Ford Escort Mk1, sitting perpendicular to the roadway. Is the driver of Dagenham’s finest manoeuvring, broken down or just plain belligerent? Resting at the furthermost parking meter is a large white Datsun 260C Cedric, a perfectly charming name, albeit one guaranteed to elicit sniggers from local schoolboys. As an early Land of the Rising Sun adopter, its owner could at least confidently start the thing up and drive off in a four-star powered fug. From the early 1970s, both Japanese cars and those intimidating grey sentinels lining the pavements and demanding to be fed would be a feature of the streetscape for years to come, not necessarily for the better in the case of the sentinels.
Just behind the Datsun sits a darkly-shaded Escort Mk2 with vinyl roof, bright wheel trims and bodyside rubbing strip, signifiers of true luxury in those austere times. Next, a Mini Clubman estate with decorative wood trim appliqué back and sides, behind which sits an unburnished original Mini, presented as Issigonis intended. Last in the line-up is an original C1-generation Audi 100, noteworthy not only for its elegance and rarity, but also for its owner’s rather casual interpretation of kerbside parking.
Returning to the white fenced, allegedly hardcore surfaced area (Sheffield Council has never been the motorists’ friend) and for me the highlight is the white Renault 16 in the foreground, a somewhat avant-garde choice for this most English of places. This was a town where, as can be seen in the photos, the lion’s share of parked cars were home-grown, having travelled no further than from Luton, Dagenham, Oxford or the West Midlands. Dealers were plentiful, as would soon be rust, starting problems and other mechanical maladies, derisory part-exchange values and, on this particular surface, punctures. Happy memories!
To the left of the 16 is a saloon of unknown origin, then a BMC Farina, dark-coloured, but with a contrasting white boot and bonnet. Did the owner actually choose this duo-tone combination, rather than the alternative (and more likely) explanation, a cheap and expedient scrapyard-sourced repair job after an accident (or two) maybe? At least the owner should have no difficulty locating his bolide should the car park fill to capacity. Moving further along, we have a Morris Marina saloon with a vinyl roof and a recently-minted Vauxhall Chevette.
Like bashful teenagers in a dancehall, most of the cars cling to the perimeter of the car park but, deposited rather randomly in the centre, we have another Chevette, a Ford Anglia and, possibly, a Mazda saloon, either a conventionally-powered 818 or its more exotic sibling, the rotary-powered RX-3. Behind the Mazda sits a Ford Capri Mk1. One wonders if the Capri has survived and, if so, whether its value now equates to the deposit typically required for a decent house in the nicer suburbs?
One obvious problem with a monochromatic image being that lack of colour(2), though white seems more popular than my memory recollects from those times. One certainly remembers advice from the automotive press to avoid those albescent hues like the plague, as they would readily show the dirt and, in no time at all, the insidious oxide. Perhaps they were cheap? Darker hues predominate here, a practical choice for practical people.
Hopefully, dear reader, you will recognise here a car that your family or friends once had, one you remember fondly. Everything here appears fairly contemporary: there’s nary a running board nor large circular headlamps in sight, a distinct lack of the more mature motor, the ones we would now label vintage. But, with the gift of x-ray vision…
Behind Barclays Bank (the grey monolith in the background, now long gone) once resided a store named Marples, which obviously resembled a steel works to the Heinkels of 1940. Obliterated, rebuilt then bombed again, the resultant edifice, like much of post-war Sheffield, became a fearsome concrete brute. Luckily, just beyond and remaining perfectly intact was a more traditional building whose occupier for many years used vehicles that even in the early 1970s were classed as pensionable.
Founded in 1914, Binghams of Sheffield has produced its range of potted beef paste for over a century. Initially yeast traders, the company pedalled its wares by bicycle before the arrival of the motor. Henceforth, vans were used to transport the pots of beef paste. Binghams’ fleet of Ford 5cwt vans lasted for many years(3), although your author cannot specifically remember them.
Sheffield’s climate can be regarded as bracing even in the best of weathers. Picture the secured ceramic pots of beef paste being hauled around in the back of the vans: with the mercury low, all was safe and secure. With rising temperatures, or on longer delivery trips, those pots soon began to resemble gravy pails, with the now liquidised content sloshing around freely. One has it on good authority that, whilst the vans’ load areas were often aromatic, (pre-jet wash days, remember) their rear chassis and suspension remained squeak and rust-free for years. Did Bingham miss a trick here? Protect your car from corrosion with Binghams Bovinoyl, ideal for hardy northern climes…
Inevitably, the charming Ford 5cwt vans were supplanted by the ubiquitous Transit, just as Sheffield traded some of its character and individuality in the cause of progress, efficiency and homogeneity(4). This has brought a brave, if uncertain, future of shiny glass edifices and greener transport solutions. Yet something has still been lost. The future is irresistible, but it’s nice every now and again to reminisce.
Has that Escort moved yet?
(1) Yes, I know Sheffield is a city, but we Yorkshiremen are a modest lot, not given to getting ideas above our station and derisive of those who do.
(2) Another statement of the bleeding obvious, in recognition of my proud heritage!
(3) Yorkshiremen have also long had a reputation for thrifty ways.
(4) After more than a century of independence, Binghams was taken over by a larger food manufacturer in 2021