The American Auto Club UK

General Interest Articles

The 50s American Diner

John Street, Church Gresley, Swadlincote, Derbyshire

Reproduction American diners are not that uncommon in the UK, in fact there is a large chain which has nine diners across England and Wales. But genuine American eateries are a rarity, even across the pond where they have been replaced by the fast food giants. Some years ago, there was a real diner in Broad Street, Birmingham, which was sadly destroyed by fire. But now we have reason to celebrate, as another authentic diner has opened in the heart of Derbyshire. The '50's American Diner in Church Gresley, near Swadlincote, started life as Murphy's Diner in Cambridge, Massachusetts way back in 1952. Built in the early '50's in Elizabeth, New Jersey, it is typical of the railroad-car stainless steel diners of its day.

The diner closed in 1968, and was moved to Haverhill , Mass., where it sat in a field for over 20 years. It's possible that this diner has quite a chequered past, as it is rumoured that the body of a young man was found at the diner just before it was moved from 2525 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, and although this story has been confirmed by the President of the American Diner Museum in Providence, R.I., (a search of the local Cambridge newspapers of that era have drawn a blank. Fast forward to the early 1990's, when the diner was described by an author of books on American diners as being 'a real wreck - filled with mattresses and debris'. In 1995, the diner was bought by a car company from Derby and shipped across to England, where it remained at their car lot until the company closed two years later.

 In October of 2004, Jeff Laight and Trish Whitehouse saw the abandoned diner for sale on eBay. Now, I could be described as an eBay fanatic, as well as a collector of Americana, but I think even I would have thought twice about buying this! It seems that Jeff and Trish left the fine details until they had won the auction - five minutes later, Jeff asked 'How do you move a SO foot long, 42 ton steel diner?'. Thankfully, the diner was only twenty four miles from their home, but still its relocation was a huge job. You can imagine the discussions with the local council etc, before the move could even be planned, then the job of finding a company with big enough cranes and enough courage to take on this mammoth task. It took over ten hours to move the diner to its new home, and then the real work began.

As we all know, no restoration project is as easy as it first looks. Jeff and Trish have had to rebuild the back kitchen area and restore the outside walls, as well asfinding period details to ensure the diner's authenticity.

The '50's American Diner held its preview party on Tuesday 16th August 2005, and opened to the public the fo,(lowing Monday. I am sure that all those who were lucky enough to attend this speci_1 evening will agree with me that the diner is absolutely amazing! It really is a step back in time, and I have to say has a completely different feel to the reproduction diners I have been in before.

The members of the MC UK had two separate meeting places to cruise up to the diner - thanks to John Kulin for getting us from the A38 to the first meeting point, where the local members took over and lead us straight to the diner's door. It was a warm, sunny evening, and with the sun glinting off the diner's walls and the brightwork of the wonderful collection of cars on display, it was easy to forget we were in the heart of England - it could have easily have been back in Massachusetts. There were a great collection of vehicles, from '50's fins'n'chrome, pick ups, some fantastic hotrods, and thanks to a local guy called Nick, two Harleys. He arrived on his standard bike, but after talking to us for a while, we persuaded him to go and fetch his 1964 chop, which was well worth a look at. Jeff and Trish didn't seem to stop all night - the only time I saw them outside was when they were dragged out to pose for photographs! Although it was a very busy evening for them, they seemed to enjoy themselves, but must have been exhausted by the end of it!

The diner was packed to bursting point all evening, but there was plenty to do and see outside, what with dancing, eating, talking and looking at the cars. It was great to finally meet up with reps such as Alan and Georgina - good to put names to faces at long last! We only seemed to have been there about an hour when I noticed the moon rising over the roof of John's '62 Caddy - how time flies when you're having fun!

So, are the MC UK going to be a regular presence at the '50's American Diner? Seems like _oo good an opportunity to miss, so now is the time to introduce our newest area rep. Kev Farmer (who's wedding to Lynn was featured in the August edition of the magazine) has volunteered to become the Derbyshire rep, and no prizes for guessing where the monthly meets are to be held! Kev's meets start from September 1 st, and will be held the first Thursday of every month. 

As well as the area meet, the Midland areas have been talking about having regular meetings at the diner during the year, to catch up with friends old and new, and while away a few hours sitting in a piece of genuine American history. As soon as one of these is planned, I'll put it in the magazine so that everyone who wants to can attend. For those of you who are too far away for a day's run out, I really would recommend a detour to visit the diner if you are in the Midlands area. You are guaranteed a warm welcome, great food, cold beer or hot coffee you can't get much more American than that!

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