Our Vintage Van
After several years messing about with freezers and gazebos I dreamt of being able to pull up in a van and just throwing open the hatch. No setting-up, no wind worries, and you are all snug and dry on those ‘British summer days’.
We needed something special though, no ordinary ice cream van would do, and so I spent the odd moment browsing the internet looking at vans. In spring 2011 I fell head over heels for a 1967 Morris Ambulance. She was perfect: curvy and strokeable, 100% British, with a friendly smile. In a crazy moment of ebay madness I put in a bid, at the final moment (sorry anyone I pipped at the post!, and became the proud owner of a vintage van.
I knew nothing about vintage vans, she was still an ambulance – stretchers & blankets included - needed some serious paint work, AND she was over 200 miles away. It must’ve been love!
Audrey’s (WHK 582F) Potted-History
Built in 1967 she is an authentic “Whadham Stringer” (Hampshire) dual purpose ambulance that worked in the Essex Ambulance Service. She was based for the first 2 years of her working life at Corringham (call sign Thames One) with station officer Phil Swaton, and continued in the Essex Ambulance Service until being transferred to Suffolk. Her sister vehicle was “581” and based at Thurrock, call sign ‘Rock One’.
In 1975 she was sold to The Brantham Works at Manningtree where she was the on-site ambulance. First for the British Xylonite Co. Ltd (otherwise known as celluloid) and then for British Industrial Plastics. She had her own dedicated garage, and was looked after well - we have service sheets for 25 years from 1975–2000. It is believed that she sat unused in a garage for 7 years from 2000, before being sold in 2007 to a previous employee when the site was closed down. 3 years later she was sold again and had a brief excursion west to Gloucestershire, where she sat outside for a year, before being bought by us and brought back to Suffolk.
In March 2011 we drove down to Stroud, gave her a quick look over, what we were looking for we just weren’t sure, and set off on the trip back to Suffolk.
Audrey was the name of my Grandmother from whom our cream ice recipe originally came, and also my Great Aunt who helped make the ices until 2005, when she retired at the grand age of 84. The name means ‘noble strength’ and was also the name of Saint Audrey, an East Anglian Princess, so I decided that, if she made it back from Gloucestershire in one piece, we would name her Audrey. If she didn’t, I told her, the love affair would be over, and she would become Miss Money-Pit!
After a very long drive we made it back safe and sound but, after a bit of research (yes, I know, definitely the wrong way round), we decided it was going to take just too long and too much money to have her up and running for the summer of 2011. Regretfully we parked her under the old oak tree ready to resume work in the autumn. As it turned out she provided a wonderful winter home for all sorts of creatures, including lace-wings and hornets and about a million ladybirds. The poor paint shop guys had insects all over the place for weeks when they all woke up in the spring!
We wanted to stay local and so we used a local bodywork shop to do the paintwork, put in a serving hatch and raise the roof (otherwise we would be limited to staff of under 5ft tall, and I’m not sure about the legalities of that!). We decided to keep her the original ‘county cream’ and keep the branding simple with a burgundy stripe and our logo on the side. It certainly wasn’t cheap but they did a wonderful job and I feel proud that we have brought her back to life. We used a local carpenter to fit work surfaces and cabinets, as stainless steel just wouldn’t have been right, and a local caravan shop to provide the necessary hot and cold running water.
I have been busy booking her up for events, keeping within 50miles until we know how reliable she is. We had a great day at her first outing at the Framlingham County Fair in April 2012, everyone coming over to have a look at hear, taking photos, tweeting and of course buying cream ices! We have over 50 days booked up so far, all at local county shows, food and drink festivals and farmers markets, a fully booked week over the Jubilee weekend, and we are already getting enquiries for weddings and parties into 2013.