Wednesday, April 1, 1964, was much like any other day in Ripon with lots of vehicles parked in the shadow of John Aislabie’s obelisk. For some unknown reason, a photographer from the Darlington & Stockton Times took a not-especially-good picture of a couple of the cars with the base of the obelisk behind. Nearly 60 years later, the picture was used in Looking Back to illustrate an article on the 1702 obelisk and we mentioned that the car on the left, part hidden behind the tree, must be a Ford Consul because it had the word “Consul” written on the bonnet.

“Anyone who suggest that is only half correct,” said Gordon Hatton, of Topcliffe, near Thirsk, in one of a blizzard of emails on the subject. “If you said it was a Cortina you’d be completely correct.

“The car is a Cortina Mk1, which was in production from 1962 to 1966. It replaced the Consul Mk2 which was in production from 1956 to 1962, but early Cortinas were sold as a 'Consul Cortina'.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Ripon Market Place on April 1, 1964. If anyone wishes to identify the two old cars nearest the camera, please email with your suggestions

John Aston, in Thirsk, explained: “Early versions of the Cortina were properly known as the Consul Cortina. This was for marketing reasons – ‘Consul’ was a well-established Ford name, having been used on other Fords in the 1950s.

“There were also concerns that the 'Cortina' name and its associated marketing, featuring racy Italians, was a bit too much for Britain's more conservative car-buying market and so the 'Consul' prefix was used to reassure potential Cortina buyers that this was still a properly British product and wouldn't smell of garlic (whatever that was).

“In 1961, Ford had also produced the very American looking Consul Capri – not the Capri of popular culture fame (Minder, Professionals etc) but a glitzier coupe which was a sales flop. Again, they used the Consul branding to reassure buyers they weren't getting anything too exotic.

“So there you have it: your car is a Mark 1 Ford Cortina, full title Consul Capri.”

Chris Shaw also pointed out that 430 EAJ was an early Consul Cortina. He said: “It is pre-1965 as it has no date letter at the end of the number plate. In 1963 and 1964 only some councils, which were the registering authorities, used the letters A and B at the end of the plate but for C in 1965, they became universal.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: A Ford Consul Cortina Mark I Estate with fake wood panels - 430 EAJ is also a Ford Consul Cortina Mark 1, although not an estate. Picture: Wikipedia user Charles01

Oh, no! Not the numberplate! We suggested that the letters “AJ” indicated that our Consul Cortina was registered in Middlesbrough (which was then part of North Yorkshire).

“I don’t want to set the cat among the pigeons but I have an old RAC book with all the registrations in,” said Judith Bish, “and it says 430 EAJ was registered by the North Riding of Yorkshire County Council and it doesn’t mention Middlesbrough.”

But by this point, the cat was well and truly out of the bag and causing mayhem among the pigeons.

“AJ was a North Riding (Northallerton) registration until 2001 when it transferred to Middlesbrough,” said Robert Carey. Trevor Atkinson, in Marton, agreed and said 430 EAJ was issued by Northallerton between March and July 1963.

Colin Robson said: “Growing up in the late 1950s in East Cleveland, my young friends and I would regularly look out for 'SPY' cars to amuse ourselves – cars with the letters ‘SPY’ on the plates.

“The PY letters, along with AJ and VN, were for Northallerton/North Yorkshire. Middlesbrough was DC and XG. Hartlepool EF. HN was for Darlington; PT for Durham.”

Now the cat was clawing at the vehicle beside 430 EAJ. No one disputed our identification of it as a Rover 90 or 110, but we said its plate, JXG 402, suggested it came from Hartlepool.

“Sorry,” said Trevor Atkinson, with Julien Brown and David Moreton echoing his sentiments, “XG plates were issued by Middlesbrough Borough Council, not Hartlepool council, and JXG was specifically issued between November 1958 and June 1959.”

With some relief, other emailers took the focus away from the two vehicles at the front of the picture and started identifying the four other Fords that can be seen.

“The one to the right of the Morris Minor is definitely a Zephyr, which was a fine car in its time with a six-cylinder engine, bench front seat and column gear change,” said Nick Rees. “Our neighbours in Great Missenden in the 1960s were dentists from Australia and had one – a lovely car.

“The Ford behind the Rover is a Prefect – you can tell by the radiator grille that it is not a Popular or Anglia as they all used the same body but with different trim. Popular was cheapest and the Prefect most expensive. My Dad had the Popular version.

“The Ford behind the Minor is an earlier Popular known as a 'sit up and beg' model. One can forget how primitive they were – you paid extra for a heater and the wipers were vacuum-operated which meant they were rather erratic especially when it rained heavily. Ours used to take a family of five plus luggage 300 miles to Cornwall – in first gear up a lot of the hills – a ten-hour journey.

“My Dad liked his Fords and bought a new one every three years. The best by far was the Mk 1 Cortina 1500.”

But David Seex in Thirsk adds: “The real puzzle in your picture is the car partly visible on the extreme left behind the tree. From what we can see of the grill and headlight surround suggests that it might be a rare French import: a Simca Aronde.”

Many thanks to everyone who has been in touch. If you have anything to add about Simca Arondes, Consul Cortinas or registration plates, please email

Just when we thought the blizzard of emails was easing, another arrival was heralded by that four-note Microsoft trill.

“Your registration information is way out,” said Jim Ackrill, of Picton. “As an ex-cop this sort of thing was bread and butter.

“430 EAJ was registered at Northallerton and AJ1 was famously registered to Major Sir Robert Bower, the Chief Constable of the North Riding.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: PC Jack Parkman at the wheel of Chief Constable Robert Bower's Argyll car, which was the first AJ1

Sir Robert was a remarkable fellow. He came from a wealthy family near Malton, went to Harrow and enjoyed a stirring military career in Egypt and Sudan before, in 1893, becoming “British resident” – or chief government official – in Ibadan, Nigeria. Ibadan is now a city with a population of 3.5m, but then it was a lawless area on which Sir Robert successfully imposed a degree of lawfulness, although he was seriously burned in a rocket explosion.

In 1898, he was appointed as the North Riding’s second chief constable, and he immediately began modernising the force, buying the first typewriter, installing the first electricity in police stations and trialling the telephone.

In 1902, there were many complaints in the North Riding of reckless driving so he purchased ten stop watches and placed his constables in key positions to time vehicles. The result was 42 prosecutions for speeding, of which 41 were successful – including one of an unfortunate cyclist – with fines totalling £152 12s imposed.

This opened his eyes to the potential of motor cars, and in 1903, he persuaded the police standing committee to give him £300 to buy an “official car” (to go with his “official” chief constable residence, of West House at Thirsk). With it, he bought a one cylinder Argyll, made in West Dumbartonshire in Scotland, which was dark green with red highlights.

On December 6, 1907, it became the first car to be registered in the North Riding.

Therefore, it was AJ1.

Sir Robert found it so useful that as well as introducing the police radio and building the new headquarters in Racecourse Lane, Northallerton, he bought the North Riding’s first patrol car, a 1911 Vulcan.

He died in 1929. There’s a memorial plaque to him in Thirsk church and in Ibadan, a 60ft viewing platform – Bower’s Tower – was opened in 1936 by his children. The plaque on it says that he “was a fine character, won the universal and lasting esteem of the Yarubas and firmly established the loyalty of the people to the Imperial Crown. THIS WAS A MAN”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Bower's Tower in Ibadan, Nigeria, erected in honour of the North Riding chief constable. Picture: Oginni Temidayo, via wikipedia

After Sir Robert, AJ1 stayed on chief constables’ vehicles – a Humber Snipe, Rover 3.0 V8, Rover 2000TC, Jaguar XJ6, Ford Granada, Vauxhall Senator and a Volvo 850 – until in 2007, when it became a community vehicle.

In November 2020, the force auctioned the plate, raising £243,000 which was spent on the memorial garden at Alverton Court and on the AJ1 Fund which gave grants to more than 90 road safety projects across the county.

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