If you were to conjure up an image of a typical English country scene, it would probably look a little like this.
A picture-postcard Suffolk house surrounded by lush lawns and towering trees, bantams roaming free, the gurgle of a garden pond, and a Morris Minor Traveller nestled alongside stables with matching green doors.
For Charles and Ann Barrington, this beautiful country idyll has been home for more than 40 years, and the Morris, affectionately named Lilly after her LLY number plate, has been part of the family for nearly half a century.
It came with them when the couple moved from London to East Anglia in 1972, it was used to bring new-born daughter Elizabeth – known as Buffy – home from hospital the following year, and to carry her to church when she was married 35 years later.
And the couple hope it will be around for many years yet, remaining with Charles and Ann before one day passing to Buffy.
“I could not get rid of her”
“I’m just praying that she will keep her,” says Ann. “I have asked her ‘what will you do about Lilly?’ and she’s said ‘I could not get rid of her’ so I think she will look after her.”
There was a time, back in the late 1970s, when Charles thought maybe it was time to replace the Traveller, but Ann blocked the sale in no uncertain terms.
“Charles wanted to get rid of her, but I said ‘over my dead body’, so he said ‘OK, you can have her’,” says Ann.
The possibility of parting with the car has never been discussed since, with Charles, now retired from a career in the City, equally devoted to the wood-framed Traveller.
“Back then, Charles didn’t feel it so much, but he does now,” says Ann, the couple’s three dogs weaving in and out of the table legs in a pretty, sun-kissed courtyard.
“It would be like selling your dog, and we can’t do that. She’s an old friend and she’s had such a big part in our life.”
“She’s a member of the family”
“She’s a member of the family,” adds Charles. “It’s the fact she’s got this history – she’s been around for all the major family events.”
The couple met in 1967, when Ann was a student at the University of East Anglia and needed a partner for a hunt ball.
“I made the trip to Norwich by train for this blind date,” says Charles, who was working as an articled clerk in London for a firm of accountants. “I subsequently commuted to Norwich up the A11 in my old Austin A35 van called Clemmy.”
Once Ann left university, she worked in London as an art historian for the Paul Mellon Foundation and a picture researcher for Phaidon Press, while Charles qualified as a chartered accountant after they were married in 1969.
After selling the A35, Charles bought an unreliable Hillman Imp which suffered one breakdown too many, followed by a Triumph Herald which, he says, “turned out to be absolute rubbish and also fell apart”.
That’s when, in 1970, they saw the green, four-year-old Traveller for sale at a dealer in Putney, and parted with £400 to bring her home to Battersea.
“I had always loved woodies,” says Ann. “I was brought up in Oxford and a lot of people there had that sort of car, probably because they had lots of children.
“One family had a great big ‘woodie’ shooting brake; it might have been a Daimler. We all used to pile into the back of this thing – I used to love it and this was our smaller version of that I suppose.”
Four years after they were married, the couple moved to the country, with Charles commuting to work in London by train each day.
“That was our family car”
“That was our family car, and we drove it all over the place,” says Charles, “to my parents in Surrey, friends in the New Forest, and down to Oxford.”
Closer to home, Ann used the Morris to drive to and from Ipswich hospital when she was pregnant with Buffy.
“Then when she was born she came home in Lilly,” says Ann, whose parents also used the Morris after they moved up from Oxford to live with their daughter and son-in-law.
“Once Charles had another car he would drive that to the station for his commute, because he didn’t want Lilly getting bashed up in the station car park.
“So during the week she was my shopping car, and used for school runs. My parents also used her for shopping and outings.”
On the whole, the old Minor was utterly reliable, apart from once in the 1980s, when Ann had something of a scare on a trip into nearby Woodbridge.
“I was driving along and I realised one of the front wheels had disappeared into a hedge,” she recalls, the result of a broken front wishbone.
“There were no mobile phones in those days so I walked to a nearby hotel and phoned the local garage, who came and picked her up.
“She sat there on the breakdown lorry looking very sorry for herself.”
Two bouts of surgery
Over the years, the car has undergone two bouts of surgery, first to replace rusty wings and one side of the timber where it had begun to rot, and then a couple of years ago a full engine stripdown and rebuild.
The original seats, which had collapsed, leaving Ann virtually sitting on the floor and unable to see over the steering wheel, now have bespoke replacements with headrests and levers for greater adjustability.
In 2008, Lilly played a starring role in Buffy’s wedding to husband Simon, donning ribbons and carrying her to church.
“We asked her if she wanted us to hire something, but she said ‘no, no, I want Lilly’,” says Ann. “Lilly was all dressed up and looked frightfully pleased with herself.”
Ann’s obvious love of Lilly has led to people buying her a collection of mini Minors in a variety of sizes, including a made-to-order soft toy complete with number plate.
“Charles saw an advert for someone who made stuffed toys of people’s cars, and one Christmas this just appeared in my stocking,” she says. “He just thought it was funny.”
A Sun Star model, in the correct shade of green, was dropped and partly broken by a visiting child.
“I nearly killed him!’ she says, still annoyed all these years later that the boy’s mother just said ‘oh dear’. I do have another one in a box, though, unopened.”
“She hates the big lorries”
These days, the Traveller is used in the summer months for sedate drives in the country, the couple generally avoiding the dual carriageways, where Ann says Lilly gets “pushed around a little bit – she hates the big lorries”.
“She harks back to an earlier, rather more civilised and gentle age,” says Charles, who enjoys the reaction Lilly provokes in other motorists and passers-by.
“I get huge pleasure from the way other people respond to her. Everybody who sees her grins, it’s an astonishing reaction that she causes in people. It’s lovely.
“She just gives pleasure when you are with her,” adds Ann. “She makes you smile and she looks smiley. She’s just a friendly looking car.
“You drive her into Woodbridge and people come over and say ‘I used to have one of those, I wish I had not got rid of it.’ We’ve made lots of acquaintances just from driving Lilly around.”
In 2020, Lilly will clock up 50 years with Charles and Ann, a golden anniversary for a car that harks back to a golden age of British motoring.
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