A St James resident is hoping his vintage vehicle will become a regular attraction at Shaftesbury functions this summer.
There are thought to be fewer than a dozen Morris commercial lorries like 80-year-old ‘Mavis’ still in operation in Britain. The vehicle has been in Will Clayton’s family for half a century and he considers himself her ‘custodian’, having gained her keys last year. “I don’t really own her, and hopefully I will pass her on one day,” said Will.
Mavis’ name underlines the lorry’s firm connection with Will’s family. “That’s my mum’s middle name. She bought her at auction. They picked her up in 1963 and we used her as the family camper van for weekends in Norfolk,” said Will, who has fond childhood memories of family beach trips using Mavis. “We all piled in the back with a St Bernard and headed off to Yorkshire, breaking down continuously,” said Will.
“Dad put Colman’s mustard in the radiator to try and stop it leaking so we could get up a hill. Colman’s mustard is the recommended Norfolk fix for leaky radiator,” he laughed. “Either that or coddled egg.
“She had a bunk bed and the sort of table that turned into a double bed and the sink. We had that through the 1960s and 1970s, but she got less and less reliable,” said Will. “When we all left home, she basically decomposed in the garden, gently. Then Dad decided to restore her in the year 2000.”
Will says that his father improved Mavis. “She’s better now than she’s ever been, in my memory. No more mustard!” he laughed.
Will has looked into Mavis’ previous ownership and her wartime story is interesting. “She was bought by Mr Joe Driver of Downham Market in 1939, as a small-town fire engine for the war that was just breaking out. It was a private enterprise,” said Will, who has checked the records to discover that Mavis avoided wartime fire-fighting action. “The bombs never reached Downham Market and the fire service was nationalised halfway through the war. She was requisitioned and became a mobile telephone exchange for the fire brigade in Norwich, halfway through the war. She was a telecoms lorry in case the switchboard was bombed. It wasn’t, so Mavis had a very quiet war.”
Before Mavis was restored, the family offered the vehicle to a fire engine museum but that organisation didn’t have the funds to restore her. Will is pleased that she is being used again, rather than becoming a static display. “Now she is usable, it’s nice to have her on the open road, rather than in a museum,” Will said.
Despite Mavis’ age, it is possible to source spare parts for an 80-year old lorry, when necessary. “There is the Morris commercial vehicle club, and they’re very helpful. She’s had such a beautiful restoration. It took about ten years of someone doing it part-time. Hopefully she won’t need too much for a bit,” he said.
Mavis relocated from East Anglia to North Dorset in 2018. “We drove her down from Norwich. Her top speed was 48 miles an hour on the M25. The motorway was nice and clear ahead of us but there were quite a lot of people behind us,” smiled Will.
Mavis has spent her life in famously flat Norfolk but has adapted to North Dorset’s hillier terrain. “She’s got a good strong engine in her and she can make it up any hill at a stately five miles an hour,” said Will. People don’t seem to mind driving behind this slow-moving beauty. “They’re used to being stuck behind tractors, so it’s a case of getting stuck behind something else.”
Mavis is now working as a bar at weddings and as a mobile tea and cake store at other events. “She’s kitted out beautifully as a hatch-sided, World War Two mobile canteen for turning out spam sandwiches and mugs of tea,” Will says.
He added that Mavis is not earning her keep, yet. “I wish she was because we have to garage her safely in the dry and she takes a bit of maintenance. We would like to rent out Mavis’ charms so she could earn her keep in her dotage. We’ve used her for fetes, which is nice, but there’s not much money in a fete,” said Will.
Mavis is clearly a very special vehicle and this type of Morris is rare. “There are a lot of Morris commercial vehicles about, like flat beds, because you could turn them into any sort of lorry you liked. But I don’t think there are many mobile canteens.”
Will says Mavis creates a talking point when she arrives at a function. “She’s generally loved wherever she goes, because she has a certain charm.”
Shaftesbury residents will get a chance to meet Mavis at the Rolt Millennium Green picnic at 2pm on 22nd June. If you want to book Mavis for your function, email firstname.lastname@example.org.