The Great North Road

With a hat tip to Fr John of Ad Orientem, I reproduce this link to a beautiful piece of silent film. It narrates a short journey from London to Stamford (Lincolnshire) in August 1939. Colour photography in those days was expensive.

War was looming as could be seen from the anti-aircraft blimps above London. Hitler was less than a few weeks from invading Poland, which was the immediate cause of England declaring war against Germany. In this film, it all looked so peaceful and bucolic as the stately cars with their running boards made their way along the road at about forty of fifty miles per hour. My mother had my paternal grandmother’s old black Austin in the 1960’s when I was a little boy, and I remember it well, especially the sound of the pneumatically powered windscreen wipers.

I looked at people in the streets of those towns, some of whom (in their late 30’s) were contemporaries of my grandparents. In 1939, my father was eleven years old and still at preparatory school in Yorkshire. My mother was nine, living with her brother, sisters and parents in Surrey. It was twenty years before I was born. Visibly, the 1960’s were not very different, except that there was more plastic and the cars were more streamlined.

As can be seen in the link to the Great North Road, most of it is traced by the modern A1, but the modern road bypasses most of the towns. I motorcycled from London to York on the A1, return trip, in 1979 on an old Suzuki T200 – which was quite an adventure. I have some old footage from my grandfather on an outing with his bowling club, and it was from shortly after World War II and going through provincial towns untouched by the bombing.

As was testified by George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London, the 1930’s was a hard time except for the wealthy. The film probably hides as much as it shows. My father’s family was quite well off, but my mother’s family struggled, worked hard and spent money wisely. Times have indeed changed.

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1 Response to The Great North Road

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    How I enjoyed a couple visits to Stamford, in years gone by! I’ve heard tell, that if things had gone differently, we might have Stamford University instead of Oxford, and Oxford might have developed into a town more like Stamford. (A friend, with whom I have sadly lost touch, was working on an enjoyably anachronistic Arthurian novel featuring Stamford, which does not seem to have been published, yet).

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