Memories : Keswick, 1972


It’s August 1972, and we’re in the pretty Cumberland (now Cumbria) tourist hot spot of Keswick. The skies are blue, and the tourists are wandering up and down Main Street, walking in and out of the shops, cafes and restaurants. On the right is the Skiddaw Hotel, where you can have afternoon tea, on the left is Boots, where you’re able to some after-sun lotion to ease the pain on sun-parched skin. However, for most people, this beautiful market town is a base for exploring the nearby lakes and fells (hills to everyone outside of Cumberland).

We’re not sure how many of the tourists who are spending time here will have travelled up from the West Midlands. Maybe fewer than normal, as pay packets will have been squeezed in the previous few weeks. We’ve just come off the back off a number of torrid, strike-torn weeks across British Leyland’s plants. Jaguar’s Brown’s Lane factory was at a standstill just at the moment the new XJ12 went on sale. Shop Stewards were pushing for a £6 per week piecework-related pay rise, but management weren’t forthcoming.

The dispute has cost Jaguar more than £5 million in lost production at the rate of £450,000 a day. It has also caused a nationwide bottleneck in Jaguar repairs because nothing is moving in or out of the factory. Says a company spokesperson: ‘This is a quite disastrous strike for us particularly since between 50-60% of our production goes for export.’ Jaguar wasn’t the only part of BLMC to be strike-torn, Cowley and Longbridge have also been affected.

Right now, in the height of the summer, a mass strike is being called be the unions to stop all BL factories from working at all. The unions don’t want piecework – whereas the management does. It wouldn’t be until September that the issue was sorted, costing more than a 200,000 loss of production for BL for the year, just as the economy was booming, and car sales correspondingly exploded. It would prove disastrous for the company – and it would never recover from this setback.

So, tell us about the cars

Although it’s a timeless photograph, you couldn’t repeat it today, as Keswick Main Street is now pedestrianised. The Skiddaw Hotel is still there, but the Boots is now on other side of the road. Where the cars are in our photo, market stalls reside today. And it’s a whole lot more crowded at the height of the season. You can thank improvements to the A66 for this, as getting to Keswick back then was tougher than it is now – especially if you’re in a Ford Cortina Mk1 packed with all the family and towing a caravan.

The cars are certainly a mixed bunch. To the left and heading uphill is a Ford Corsair, while parked in the central reservation (from nearest) is a Vauxhall Viva HC, a Hillman Superminx, a Ford Escort Mk1, an Austin Cambridge and a bright orange NSU Ro80. This latter car looks like it dropped in from outer space in the context of this image! Further back are a Mini Van, Mini Clubman, Morris Marina estate and an Austin 1300 and BMC Landcrab of indeterminate variety.

On the right, in front of the Skiddaw Hotel, is a Triumph Herald, a Hillman Hunter estate, a Morris Marina, a Hillman Minx, another Vauxhall Viva HC, a Hillman Hunter saloon and a white Ford Transit, which we’ll bet transported a bunch of walkers up to the Lakes. Other notables are the Bedford HA van and the Mini Countryman. It’s a very typically British line-up of cars at a typically British holiday resort, with just one imported car on show!

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.

Keith Adams
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  1. That market place has been pedesrianused for years, and looking at it now you’d never think there’d be room for so many cars! Is that Landcrab a 3 litre? The boot looks quite long but I guess it’s really hard to be sure

  2. Good Friday 2020 and this scene in Keswick is absolutely deserted due to Social distancing. Almost unbelievable.

  3. Just had a look on Google Maps – and, yes, the whole street cluttered with stalls selling who-knows-what. What is the wording on the yellow banner on the clock tower in the 1972 photo? Not a Land Rover in sight.

  4. Someone must know what the bike was. The side car could be a Watsonian (but that’s the only name I know without googling sidecars!) Happy Easter everyone!

  5. Especially interesting as I was born & bred in Cumberland/Cumbria. Moved away in 1996.
    I spotted the NSU Ro80 instantly. One of my teachers used to have one, but his was green

  6. NSU Ro80 – had to zoom in but you are right. Like a spacecraft compared to the other cars. I love these Englsh towns, this one reminds me of Westerham

  7. My first ever car (bought used in January 75) was a Vauxhall Viva HC in exactly that shade of green. I now think the styling on those models has aged well compared to many others of the time.

  8. Keswick is 25 miles from me and I often visit in summer. Interestinlgly while the A66 has long since by passed the town and the Market Place is pedestrianised, it’s full of people walking dogs in summer and you have to watch out not to trip over them.
    1972 was also the year Keswick’s railway station and connection to the WCML at Penrith closed, so this would have put more pressure on the A66 and probably brought forward plans for a by pass of the town, which opened in 1976.

  9. Can anyone make out what the car is next to the red van at the back of the picture? Zooming in I think it might be an opel but not sure?

  10. The white building at the back of the street is The Old Keswickian, a fish and chip restaurant, that has been popular for decades due to its reasonable prices and large portions. I have used it several times in Keswick.

  11. Fantastic picture! We got married at the Skiddaw Hotel in August 1998 ( one of its first civil weddings) and return to Keswick regularly from the Midlands as the town has a special place in our hearts. It’s amazing to see how it looked back in August 1972 with such a wide array of cars! Have only ever seen it pedestrianised and buzzing on market days especially in the square with locals, tourists, walkers and lots of dogs.! Keswick is one of the most beautiful and friendly places to visit!

  12. I went there with my family in 1990s for a walking weekend, on an unseasonally cold & wet weekend in April – May 1990.

  13. One business in a side street behind the Market Place that is still around from the seventies is Keswick Motor Company, one of the few remaining town centre car dealerships, who sell Fiats from their cramped showroom and service them in a pair of bays next to the showroom. Also explains why Fiats are plentiful in the town.

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