BOOK REVIEW by Peter Boon

by Richard Wildman & Alan Crawley

Sutton Publishing. £12.99.ISBN 0-7509-3222-8
Reproduced by permission from the Eagle News
(The Old Bedford Modernians' Club magazine)

If Bedfordshire folk were asked to name the town that best embodies the county’s motoring heritage, most would surely say, Luton. For that town has had a long association with the mass production of vehicles by GM Vauxhall/Bedford and (for a time) Commer. Yet Bedford, the county town, can also boast a worthy motoring inheritance.

This book describes the town’s association with cars and other vehicles from the earliest days of motoring to modern times. The narrative is illustrated by a host of excellent photographs and informative captions, many of them depicting unusual scenes of Bedford. The subjects range from car makers to garages and from police cars to the Bedford Motor Club. The car makers were small in scale and relatively short-lived, though their very existence will come as a surprise to many. As for the garages and motor dealers, most were family businesses. Almost all the old names have now passed into history but will be remembered by people over the age of 40!

On a personal note the book struck two chords with me. First, my paternal grandfather worked, for a short time, at one of the car makers, Saundersons, and, secondly, my father was employed in the 1930s by Wilson Bros & Humphreys (WB&H) in St Mary’s, Bedford. In those days, a major overhaul of a car might mean the virtual re-manufacture of certain parts, so the good garages employed skilled craftsmen with a sound knowledge of engineering principles. A little known fact about WB&H (not recorded in the book) is that they carried out development work on gearboxes. (Their adaptation of a Standard Motor Company’s four-speed gearbox, which allowed the driver to pre-select the next gear change, was featured in the technical press and demonstrated to various bodies).

Judging from several of the book’s photos, even in the 1930s and 1940s the streets of Bedford were crowded with vehicles, suggesting that the love affair with the car is not confined to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The book is a good read for anyone interested in local history and, of course, motoring.

Illustration of book cover