Sunday, 5 October 2008

Childhood Reminiscences No 4 - Transport and Travel

In January I started a mini-series of reminiscences of my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s in urban Scotland which were times of immense change. Unfortunately the series has become very intermittent, this being only the fourth post. Links to the first 3 posts in the series are listed at the end of the post.

Certainly changes in transport and travel have been extraordinary!

Cars were relatively uncommon in our street. Rarely would our playing be interrupted by a car driving along the street far less a parked car causing an obstruction.

Certainly of those who lived around us we were quite early adopters buying our first car in November 1959 - a Morris Minor 1000 like this one although ours was grey.

Morris Minor 1000 1958

How basic cars were: no radio, no seatbelts, no safety equipment, purely functional only. The Minor 1000 didn't have indicators but had trafficators: one small orange arm (about 6inches long) on each side, between the front and back door windows, which flicked out horizontally. We thought they were much better than the new-fangled flashing indicators. Even in 1959 there were very few cars in our street.

Our second car - 1964 - was a dark green Morris 1100 (similar to the one below): the first model with hydrolastic suspension.


Even in these few years there had been quite an advance in design.

From the early 1960s cars lost their novelty value as more and more people could afford them and, as they became more common, they started to affect our street playing. On Friday last I drove along our old street and even at midday there was barely any pavement space available. Back then the whole street, pavement and road, was safely available to us.

This was the start of the car becoming the dominant mode of transport. However as the car became more and more important, famous makes and models started to disappear. Below is a small list, by no means comprehensive,

Baby Austin A30
Ford Prefect
Jowett Javelin
Ford Anglia
Sunbeam rapier
Singer gazelle
Hillman Minx

of names which were common but which were overtaken by time.

Before the car took over though, was the train - steam trains. When we went on holiday we went by train; we went on a Sunday school picnic by train, we went 4 miles to a football match on a football special.

Dr Beeching transformed the railways, unfortunately. Soon we had lost one of our two stations and the line going west. Dirty and grimy the steam trains were and they were on the way out but fortunately I caught the tail-end of steam. I also got the train-watching bug until steam was replaced by those incredibly boring DMUs - diesel multiple units. Trainspotting stopped dead.

Steam trains were alive in a way which no other form of transport is. The steam, smoke, whistle, hissing, spinning wheels and much more. These were the most powerful but wonderful creatures.

Prime time for spotting was 8.15ish and 13.15ish. In the morning the engine which had pulled the train from London to Edinburgh then went onto Perth with the return to Edinburgh passing us at lunchtime. This was our opportunity to see one of the stars - the A4, A3, A2 Pacifics - which didn't normally venture as far north.

The A4s - we called them "streaks" - were our favourites: so sleek, absolutely beautiful even if we only saw them dirty in their black paint-job.


This is the Union of South Africa (60009) after renovation. Gorgeous, absolutely fabulous!

As these wonderful engines were removed and replaced by purely functional diesel trains an era, a golden era ended. I must admit that my judgment that this was a golden era may not be accepted by many who travelled under steam but as a kid these were the most amazing machines and, for me, nothing will ever replace them.

Another bonus of train travel was going over the Forth Bridge. I always got a huge buzz trundling noisily over the Forth safely guarded by this magnificent bridge.

Forth Rail Bridge

Again as the car took over we travelled less and less often by train. Until the Forth Road Bridge opened in 1964 the normal way of crossing the Forth by car was by ferry. Four ferries criss-crossed the Forth from North Queensferry to South Queensferry.


How small the traffic levels must have been for four such ferries to cope. Then on the 4th September 1964 the Forth Road Bridge opened, the ferries were no more. If you look closely you'll see a steam train on the bridge.

Moving back to the road I still have to cover buses. Lorries I'm going to miss because they weren't important enough in my life. Before buses I must touch upon horse-drawn vehicles. I am far too young (yes, too young!) to remember horse-drawn carriages. Only horse and carts were around in my early days. The one I remember most clearly was a fruit and veg cart although milk too was delivered by horse and cart. This was truly the fag-end of horses being used in transport.

Most of our town buses were double-deckers and their most obvious feature was the open platform at the back. I believe these open platforms remained on London buses long after they had disappeared from our streets. We thought nothing of running after a moving bus and launching ourselves at the platform with one hand outstretched to grab the pole nor of jumping off the platform as the bus slowed down. Today's lawyers would see spinning £ signs at the sight of what went on.

I do wonder who designed some buses, though: the upper deck of one bus had rows of bench seats, each bench seating 4 people. The designer obviously never travelled by bus: getting in and out of these seats was horrendous!

The opening of the Forth Road Bridge gave bus travel a massive boost because now direct buses to Edinburgh were easy and quick and train passenger numbers fell some more.

I feel there is so much more I could have written but haven't found in my memory banks. Any additional thoughts I'll put down in a round-up post at the end of the series. At the current rate of writing that should appear around 2011!


Previous posts in this series

No1 - Household Appliances

No2 - Shops and Shopping
No3 - More Shops and Shopping


  1. You've brought back a load of memories Calum! We had TWO horse-drawn milk carts in our street. One of the milkmen let us ride along.
    We girls used to tie a length of clothes-line to a lamp-post and stretch it across the road so we could skip.
    There were three cars in our road.
    By the way - welcome back!

  2. Morris 1100 - drove one. It was a good car, by its lights.

  3. Our families first car was a morris traveller which had a wooden frame!

  4. Wonderful memories Calum. I'm glad to see you back

  5. Thank you for this great post, Calum. It has brought back so many memories. What a pretty little car the Morris Minor was, despite its lack of sophistication. I can just imagine you chasing those buses! Do keep these posts coming.

  6. Lots of memories shared for me too. Although we never had a car in our family. Not till I got married and I learned to drive in Canada.
    We always went by train, both electric but some routes were still steam in my day.
    In fact I still like to travel by train although there is no scope for it here.
    We travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa by train in 1967. It took four days. But we drove back with the new car we bought there.

    Good post Calum

  7. Wow! Those cars! You're right Welshcakes, the Moggie Thou was a pretty little thing. And I HAD A MORRIS 1100! My second car (after the cheap old A40) - it was only £150 which was a big bargain even in those days. I can even remember the reg nos. Good grief!

    Back in the days before recycling was trendy, we had the salvage men every Weds - they collected all old newspapers and cardboard...

    And then there were the 'Pig Bin Men' on Tues. Interesting that we called them 'Pig Bin Men' - as far as we were concerned they collected leftover food for the pigs. Obviously we didn't have all the waste then that we have now.

    And every other week was the rag and bone man - a real Steptoe! He shouted 'Bakebone! Bakebone!' as his horse clopped slowly along.

    I think we really rather had the recycling thing covered back then!!

    (And, eeee, I remember gazing over to North Queensferry with my soon to be young husband - funny how bridges and trains can be so wildly romantic when you're madly in love...;-)

    JMB - that Vancouver-Ottawa trip must have been so exciting - would love to do that now.

    Calum - thank you so much for bringing back so many GOOD memories. A real tonic.

  8. All

    Thank you for your positive comments. It's great that my little piece has brought you pleasant memories too.

    I will write part 5 ..... sometime :-)

  9. And then there were the hand signals we had to perform, Circling anti clockwise for right, flapping up and down for slowing down etc (try them in an early Mini with the sliding windows)Now there is just one hand or should I say finger signal
    I had an A30, 35 van, split screen Morris 1000 (TUN 51 was the number)then I bought a REAL car 250 BHP 1972 Triumph TR6 in orange
    Thanks for the memories

  10. Alyn

    Thanks for reminding me about the hand signals. I was going to put that in and about the 1-finger signal now. That was one piece that I couldn't pull up from my memory banks.

    Thanks again.

  11. Always wondered what it would be like to travel in a double decker bus. I have only ever seen them on tv.

  12. We had the Mumbles train too. Hmm, perhaps a post is called for.

    I loved the separate compartments in the old trains with the corridor along the side (where the spies could run and people could get shot and stuff). We only ever went as far as Bristol on the train - my great-auntie lived there - but that meant going through the Severn Tunnel. All the windows had to be closed before you went in the tunnel if you didn't want your compartment getting all grit and smoke-filled.

    My first car was a Moggy Traveller. EGF 347J. Wow - I can't remember why I went upstairs but I remember a number like that? My brain is too full. Needs deleting to make space.

  13. Nunyaa

    What a treat you have in store when you visit UK!

    Liz Yes the corridor - as in the harry Potter films. I'd forgotten about that and closing the windows in a tunnel.

    I'm smiling as I think about a smoke-filled (or rather a smoky) carriage cos someone didn't close the window

  14. Liz - was there a lot of spying and shooting down your way then LOL?? We never got that up our way for some reason...pity, it would have main train journeys more interesting!