Memories : Bury St Edmunds, 1974

Angel Hill Bury St Edmunds

It’s 8 August 1974 and we’re in the ancient market town of Bury St Edmunds in the beautiful county of Suffolk. We’re standing in the first floor of the Athenaeum overlooking the car park of the Angel Hotel, and are a hop, skip and a jump away from the beautiful Abbey Gardens. The birds are singing, the sky is deep blue, we can just hear the burble of a Morris 2200’s exhaust in the background, and all is peaceful. As days and locations go, there aren’t many better right now.

It all seems a million miles away from political turmoil that’s happening in Westminster. We’d undergone a General Election in February, which left Harold Wilson in charge of a minority Government – and it has been proving troublesome getting anything through Parliament. That’s nothing compared with the situation in Washington DC, where president Richard Nixon (below) has just announced he’s quitting the role – the first time in US history.

Nixon initially said he had believed it was his duty to complete his term of office despite the Watergate charges. ‘In the past days, however, it has become evident that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As President I must put the interests of America first.’ So it’s goodbye from Nixon and hello to Gerald Ford.

President Richard Nixon

So, tell us about the cars

This one’s a veritable feast, and there’s no point naming them all. It’s a nice selection and clearly driven by an affluent and diverse slice of society. Yes, there are the usual British Leyland and Ford entries in the car park – if nothing else, it’s heaven for fans of the BMC 1100 and Ford Cortina, just like anywhere else in the UK. In the first row in full view, we see a Simca 1100 on the far left parked nose-to-nose with an Austin Allegro Super with fetching red vinyl roof. The latter hadn’t long since left the showroom, and would have cut quite a dash at the time.

Two cars along and we see a delectable Fiat 124 Coupe next to the Rover P6. Lovely… And did you spot the bright orange Datsun Violet 140J (710) next to the Allegro? Hard to miss that one.  In front of the Vauxhall Viva HA we can just see the bright red Citroën GS facing away from the camera –  almost opposite a white Datsun 120Y (B210) with the obligatory 1970s black vinyl roof.

Look further beyond, and you’ll also see a BMW 5 Series (E12) cutting a dash, and looking a million years newer than the black Austin A55 van towards the right of the picture. There are a couple of two-tone American cars further back, but they’re not quite sharp enough for a positive ID. Why the Americans? We’re not that far from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall and both bases have a significant number of US servicemen and women stationed on them.

If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below. Below is how it looks today, according to Google Streetview.

What’s it like today?

Keith Adams


  1. “There are a couple of two-tone American cars further back, but they’re not quite sharp enough for a positive ID. Why the Americans? We’re not that far from RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath, both of which see a significant number of US servicemen and women posted there.”

    Let’s hope they were taught to drive on the correct side of the road! And did so.

    The creeper-clad building reminds me of the 1880 country house in Devon that was my main childhood home. It had Virginia Creeper over its front face, creeper that turned a georgous reddish-orange in the autumn. I expect the Bury St Edmund’s building’s creeper is the same. Regrettably the Devon creeper was all removed because it was damaging the wall.

  2. Looks like people in Suffolk seem keener on imports than in other parts of the country, where British cars were still dominant. Yet it is a sign, with Britain joining the EEC the previous year and Japanese cars gaining ground, of what would happen in the rest of the decade as imports soared in popularity. Interesting as well to see the BMW, as these were rare and expensive in 1974, and wouldn’t really take off until the eighties.

  3. After blowing up the photo to the maximum size, the “two-tone American cars,” while still very fuzzy, to this Yank look an awful lot like a typical early-to-mid 70s American full-size station wagon with woodgrain vinyl siding (and it could be from just about any American make, save for Lincoln and Cadillac), and a Chevrolet pickup truck with a camper shell or a Chevrolet Suburban. The two-tone pattern and that particular shade of green was typical of Chevy trucks and Suburbans from 1973 to about 1979 or 1980. Even with Uncle Sam footing the bill to ship cars to/from the UK, I wouldn’t have wanted to try and flog full-size 1970s-era American iron around British roads – or worse, deal with low double-digit (at best) MPG in Britain at the time of the first oil embargo.

  4. Bury is a loverly place to visit when the covid 19 thing is over. It has beautiful old streets and the Abbey gardens with the ruins are great to wander around. Was back there in November on remembrance Sunday which was a very emotional, but very cold! Also it has an Adnams shop which is always good.

    • I was there the weekend before the lockdown. I really like the town, as it’s a wonderful blend of old and new, it’s easy to get to and it’s very dog-friendly.

  5. That Hillman Hunter near the front looks surprisingly narrow for a family car when compared to some of the newer designs in that photo. It would be fascinating to see it next to a modern equivalent!

  6. Considering how narrow most cars were back then, there is some atrocious parking on display here – that green Vauxhall Viva is properly wedged in!

    What’s nice is the array of bright coloured cars – would be a sea of greyed-off metallics these days.

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