Memories : Colchester High Street, 1985

Another one from times gone by in full picture postcard glory because it is indeed a picture postcard. 

Colchester – England’s oldest recorded town.

Colchester, Essex, England’s oldest recorded town, is a far cry away from the hubbub of the County town of Chelmsford or the new money vulgarity of places like Brentwood. I lived in a far corner of Suffolk for a couple of years way back in the mid-1980s and, if you threw a stone hard enough from our front garden, it would literally land in Essex.

If you wanted to do some serious shopping beyond the constraints of Sainsburys or the East Anglian Co-Op, me mam and dad would hurl us into the back of the Montego to either Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds or my favourite – Colchester. My reasons (that still exist) for a soft spot for the Garrison town of Colchester revolve around a few industrial or motor industry-related themes.

It felt like a proper town with its own proud municipal bus company – as can be seen above the Colchester Borough Transport (CBT) Bristol VRT double decker in the photograph above, the James Belcher-designed Town Hall features a searing baroque tower, while the clock was a gift from a local Engineer and Industrialist, James Paxman, in 1902. The locally-based Davy-Paxman company became famous for its diesel engines, which found homes for example in the BR Class 43 High Speed Train.

So, tell us about the vehicles

As you would expect for an image taken almost 35 years ago, there is plenty of hot BMC>Rover action going on for your delectation. Furthest away on the right we have a Mk1 Leyland National of the NBC-operated, Norwich-based Eastern Counties company, a CBT-owned Bristol VRT and an unidentified Bristol RE single decker all plying their trade. Readers of taste will appreciate the brace of Austin Allegros divided by a Morris Marina Mk1 not to mention the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 Estate just going out of shot in the front left foreground.

Behind that, we see a recently launched, all-new Renault 5 being admired by the couple heading into The George for a swift half – what was yours called by the way?

Keith, bless him, is kept happy by the noting of a Citroën CX (below) behind the Renault. Oh… hello… what’s that I spot with an eagle eye behind the buses? It’s only a Nissan Sunny learner driver with a Honda Quintet bringing up the rear and, as for that Mercedes L811 Luton box van, when did you last see one of those babies, eh?

Someone build me a time machine please!

Citroen CX 2000

Mike Humble


  1. I remember the Bristol single deckers as a school boy in Ipswich – they sounded phenomenal! Plenty of Mercedes 811’s are still working in my adopted home, Morocco, as recovery trucks.

  2. Ah yes – Colchester. To any soldier it meant the Military Corrective Training Centre or Colly/Collie – two syllables to send the shivers through the bones. I once had to escort an AWOL fellow soldier there.
    And I’ve a Sapper mate still living in the town.
    As for the Mercedes 811 Luton van, in the 1990s I drove a Luton bodied Sprinter, and its predecessor, the 127 was it?

  3. Never been a big fan of Colchester even if it is not far up the road. Living in the South of Essex it is congested, but nothing like Colchester which is a nightmare to get around during rush hour. I am a regular visitor with work, where I would try and get out before 3 to miss the awful snare ups, My last personal visit was back in December when the missus and I went up to do a bit of xmas shopping instead of our usual haunts of Basildon or Chelmsford. It is such a rabbit warren is so hard a nightmare to walk around, especially when the Christmas market was in the High Street. It is also not the same since Fenwicks took over the good old higglety picklety that was Williams and Griffin.

    Good old Eastern National National bus (what a mouthful), remember them with great fondness back as a child on Canvey. No.3 was run by Eastern and the National was the choice of bus, with Southend Borough Transport running Daimler Fleetlines on the 3A. I can still remember the windows shaking and a rattling! That was until dereg, and we got those horrid Mercedes minibuses on the 3 from the now renamed Thamesway, while Southend Transport now ran old routemasters which I loved..

    Looking at the brace of Allegros, one of them has an issue with the hydragas. The white one is sitting quite low, while the reddy orange one looks like someone has jacked it up!

  4. You can tell it’s not south Essex, as this would be full of Fords due to Dagenham being nearby, and in north Essex the choice of cars is more diverse. Rarely seen now, but the Citroen CX was a popular choice for someone who wanted a radical alternative to a Granada.

    • I remember the Bristol RE type single deckers. South Shields Corporation had a small fleet of these which were the first one man operated buses in town. (1967). It was a few years later when Leyland Nationals took over from them.

      I might be in a minority when I say I liked the Honda Quintet, that I regarded as a five door Accord.

    • North Essex did have a few less Ford’s, mainly due to it being an old trek to Dagenham back in the 80s, but this pic is not the norm. My Uncle had a Ford Escort estate back then living in Tiptree and even what was a tiny village then had its own Ford garage. Essex had loads of BL dealers until the mid 80s (Southend alone had 3 Henlys and one SMAC (Southend marine and autobile company)) , and BL motors were just as poplar, with my Aunt driving a couple of Allegros. Vauxhall only started to be appear more during the 80s. Fiat also became poplar during the eighties due to local dealers H W Stones.

  5. Just a minor point: SMAC stood for Southend Motor and Aeroplane Company. Otherwise, great thread.

    • Apologies – its been a long time since they existed. The funny thing about SMAC was that their dealership at Westcliff for BL was about 900 yards up the road from Henlys at Chalkwell! Remember wanting to go and look in the window when I visited my grandparents at Chalkwell, until Blackwells model shop opened and that became my focus of attention! I always remember SMAC’s Mercedes dealership building on Southchurch Road which was a rather modern looking and imposing building.

    • I have to agree with Mike, that definitely looks like a VRT to me – Essex only seem to have them or Daimler Fleetliners running as Double Deckers. Don’t remember ever seeing a Atlantean on an Essex service.

  6. The front dash headlamp and trafficator arrangements confirm it is an Atlantean. VRTs had a very different layout with radiator grille.

  7. Sorry @daveh you’re wrong in your opinion. The rear end is hard to pick out owing to blending with the surroundings but rest assured it is an atlantean. A VRT would have a grille mid way up at the rear and Colchester never had VRTs.

  8. My mum had an Allegro, it was yellow and the roof used to leak, I think it had to have a new gear box as well, we sold it and got a Volvo 240.

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