When I was a young lad growing up in the nineteen- fifties, my father was a baker in the small Warwickshire town of Southam. In 1947 he had purchased the old windmill and the bakery business that went with it and my two brothers and I moved in to the small cottage that went with the mill and the bakehouse.
One of the things that most excited us when we moved there in 1948 , was the fact that for the very first time in our lives, we as a family, were the proud owners of a vehicle. The vehicle in question was a pre-war, royal blue Ford with a registration number I still remember sixty years on, EAC 698. Lest you should think that this was a rather ‘flashy’ piece of transport for the post-war years, I ought perhaps to make it clear that the vehicle in question played a fundamental part in my father’s life. It was in fact the bread van in which each day he did his round delivering bread and cakes door-to-door in Southam and the surrounding villages.The ten hundredweight van had several slatted and removable wooden trays in the back on which the bread and cakes were stacked for the daily delivery round. There were a number of other things about the van that I clearly remember. The most noteworthy feature of the van’s interior was the fact that it had only one seat, for the driver. There was no seat for a passenger and no footwell either on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. I am also pretty sure that the accelerator pedal was placed centrally between the clutch and the brake pedal although that didn’t strike me as unduly exceptional at the time.
My father was quick to realise that the blue van could be easily adapted as a conveyance for the whole family when the occasion demanded. The most pressing need was for a seat for the principal passenger, my mother. An old Edwardian upholstered chair had its legs sawn off just beneath the seat and this was placed in the front of the van. Here my mother sat in some style but little comfort with her knees drawn up and pressed close up against the dashboard.In a short space of time, three more old decrepit, wooden chairs were deprived of their legs, and with the wooden trays removed from the back of the van we three boys were ushered in to ‘our’ space through the van’s rear doors. The layout of the seating was infinitely flexible since none of the seats were secured to the vehicle in any way. The dismembered chairs had to be placed against the sides so that we could stretch our legs across the width of the van. The only way we could see out was to look through the small rear windows or kneel directly behind my dad to look out through the windscreen.
Since the baking was a seven day a week job and dough had to be mixed on Sunday evenings for the Monday batch, we never had a family holiday as such. What we did have were days out visiting relatives, a number of whom lived in Oxfordshire villages south of Banbury. and well within range of the blue van. I remember that the trips were invariably on a Sunday to fit in with dad’s baking. In time he acquired an old upholstered double bus seat which when the legs were cut down made a great replacement for two of the old chairs but which also led to countless arguments as to which of us were to occupy these prestigious seats on forays into rural Oxfordshire.Fortunately we never had any accidents. Quite what would have happened if my father had had to brake sharply with four unsecured seats in the vehicle doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t think we ever did think about it but I have no doubt my mother did.
In these days of preoccupation with health & safety, it is easy to ridicule such Heath Robinson solutions but I feel sure that in days gone by people generally were far more resourceful and inventive than they are today. In the austere post-war years of which I speak, we were still motivated by the philosophy of make-do-and-mend and making best use of the limited resources that were then available. My brothers and I still have fond memories of EAC698and the many trips we had as kids in the back of the bread van. Dad’s very own People Carrier.