Memories : Winkleigh, Devon, 1997

Winkleigh 1997

It’s 2 May 1997 and we’re in the beautiful Devon village of Winkleigh. It’s an unremarkable day, and it’s a village centre like so many others in this part of the country. Being drawn into the image, you can almost smell the freshness of the crisp spring air mid-morning. In the distance, a blackbird sings his merry tune, and the villagers take their morning stroll along the wonderfully quiet Fore Street. It’s like any other day in rural Devon in the late 1990s.

Well, it’s an unremarkable day in many ways, except that on the day before, the UK bore witness to a seismic political change – the biggest landslide in a generation. New Labour swept into power, unseating the fag-end of a Conservative Government which had been in power since 1979, after causing its own political earthquake back in 1979. By the time all the ballot papers had been counted on this sunny morning, 418 seats had fallen to Tony Blair’s party, with the Conservative Party pushed into opposition with its Westminster representation reduced to 165 seats. The number one song on this day was Blood on The Dancefloor by Michael Jackson. There was certainly blood on the floor of the Houses of Parliament…

Down here in Devon, we were in the heartlands of the Liberal Democrats, which at the time were led by Paddy Ashdown – it was a very different political landscape to today’s. Back in London, Tony Blair was the youngest British Prime Minister of the 20th century, and promised he would deliver, ‘unity and purpose for the future’. John Major resigned as Conservative leader, saying, ‘When the curtain falls it’s time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do.’ We’ll let history decide whether the United Kingdom of New Labour ended up being a success or not – but, as Major bowed out of front-line politics after his rout at the hands the electorate, we can say this, the carscape of Britain was a very different place to what it is today.

So, tell us about the cars

When I say different, I can’t help but think more varied. This typical village scene is notable for one major absence: no SUVs. Back then, there was a mix of saloons, hatchbacks and sports cars. Nearest our photographer Andrew Freeman’s camera is a low-spec XJ6-variety Jaguar XJ40, with a late-1980s Honda Prelude alongside. Wonder if these belonged to the vets?  Certainly, the Honda would be useful for tight four-wheel-assisted turns in cramped farmyards, and then great fun in the lanes on the way back to base. The Ford Escort XR3i alongside stands out for its sharp styling now – but they were still oh-so popular in 1997, despite being out of production since 1990.

Behind that we have a Vauxhall Belmont and an Austin Metro (with typical rust on the front wing where the inner wing joins it and the front valance) and a Ford Fiesta Mk2. The Peugeot 505 estate behind that is a joy to behold, as is the high-top Renault Trafic tucked away in the background. Over the road is an AROnline favourite, a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2. This one’s a 1.6GL with red pinstriping (not a good match with the Champagne paint), a factory-fit sunroof and stick-on door protectors. Nice…

There isn’t really much to tell you we’re in the late-1990s in this image, but the Ford Ford Fiesta Mk3 further up the road could be anything up to a 1995-registered example (although it looks older), while the Metro L behind that is rooted in the early 1980s and the Mini Clubman behind that is a up to a decade older again. Finally, the Nissan Sunny hatch over the road from the Fiesta was a proper late-1980s street-view staple. Now they’re all gone…

If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line by any of the links below.

Photograph: Andrew Freeman

Keith Adams
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17 Comments

  1. Do I spot a red FSO Polenz behind that Big Old Peugeot lump?

    On another matter didn’t Tony promise things would only get better? mmmm I think that was all a d Ream.

  2. The Jag would be a low spec XJ40. The black rather than chrome window surrounds identify it as an XJ6, rather than the fully loaded Sovereign.

  3. cars back then in the 1980’s as thats where this pic must have come from, as there are no Corsa’s Vectra’s, Clio’s, Golfs or Polo’s where is the ROver 200/400/600/800 and so on from the 90’s…. not even the bubble Micra, the mainstay of sleepy towns.

    But that’s by the by, the 80’s was when i was ending my schooling and starting to enter the working world, i am not retired and very happy (or as happy as anyone can be this year so far), but these cars had style, you knew the difference between one car and another, from brand to another, and so on, today, they all look the same, with some exempted examples, now you have to wait until the car is virtually on top of you to determine what it is, and trying to determine whether the latest C-Class is in fact an E-Class or S-Class is daft, and seriously lazy design, bring back the 190-16 now that was a car you knew what it was.

  4. Visited this location in Google streetview (what a great resource that is). 2009, 2010 and 2011 views available but no more exciting on the car scene – Keith’s pic does at least have the Prelude and the XR3i to dream about!

  5. For some reason the photo reminded me of the poem Adlestrop:

    Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
    The name, because one afternoon
    Of heat the express-train drew up there
    Unwontedly. It was late June.

    The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
    No one left and no one came
    On the bare platform. What I saw
    Was Adlestrop—only the name……….

  6. I was in Cornwall in 1993 and the amount of cars at least a decade old was far higher than anywhere else. The pub landlord had an 11 year old Jaguar XJ 6 3.4 with cloth seats, even new these never sold in big numbers and a nice surprise as I was expecting a 4.2, and a high percentage of Morris Marina/ Itals, Cortinas and first generation Austin Metros on the road. As rust isn’t such an issue in the South West and people kept their cars longer, it was a nice surprise to see cars that were becoming very rare elsewhere.

    • A cheap and reliable used car then, so ideal for rural Devon, as would something like an eighties Nissan Sunny.

  7. In smaller rural communities in Devon, you will often find there is a higher proportion of older cars. Owners tend to hold onto their vehicles longer than the average car owner living in urban areas and they will often buy something being advertised for sale locally which is cheap to buy and won’t worry them if it gets a few dings or scrapes in a narrow country lane.

    Areas such as mid Devon, Dartmoor and towards North Devon are some of the best places to spot old ‘treasures’.

    A few years ago I spotted on an industrial unit in East Devon seven examples of the A Series Metro, all in various states of decay. Three weeks ago I found a similar yard full of old Citroens such as a DS estate and various GSs, again, all in various states of decay.

    • Also many of these areas have large numbers of retired people, farmers and seasonal workers, who tend to keep their cars longer. I suppose nowadays something like a 15 year old Ford Focus, so long as it’s serviced and MOTd every year, will be generally reliable and cheap to buy.

    • A mk1 cortina estate in the film parked up – blimey that was rare even then. I love those who couldn’t resist looking at the camera as it scrolled past. Otley is not a film I have ever seen – any good?

      • Very much so. Clements and La Frenais if I remember. Story is almost incidental(innocent dupe caught up in International spy stuff),instead enjoy it for the nostalgia and great performances from a host of well loved British actors.Perfect for the Covid-19 shut-in.

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