May 7, 2009

Northumberland. North Tyne Haulage. Thompson's transport

By Dr Clive Dalton

Thompson's North Tyne Haulage
Thompson's haulage wagons were icons in the North Tyne, and the following article which Bill Charlton found in a newspaper cutting (probably the Hexham Courant) in ??? when the late Tommy Thompson retired gives a good account of the company's history. There is no name of the journalist on the piece.

'End of road for haulier
'A successful Bellingham business has reached the end of the road after 75 years.
When James “Pimmer” Irving parked up his articulated lorry after his daily drive to the Iggesund factory at Workington last Thursday, he jumped down from the cab into retirement. And with his retirement came the announcement that his boss Tommy Thompson was also calling it a day.

'The name of Thompson has been synonymous with haulage in the North Tyne for most of this century, starting when Mr Thompson’s grandfather, Tom Thompson, carried goods form his Greenhaugh home by horse and cart.

'The haulage business proper was started by his son Hugh, who used a Model T Ford to carry goods around the North Tyne and beyond, gradually bringing in more modern Ford A wagons and early Bedfords.

'The business was doing well, but in 1941, tragedy struck when Hugh died at the early age of 42. His widow Elizabeth somehow managed to keep the business going during the war years, when the Army had requestioned most roadway lorries, and hauliers had to bring back into service vehicles which had been destined for the scrap yard.

'Tommy Thompson recalled: “I was 13 when my father died and I never got to sit my exams at school because I had to leave to help my mother run the business.”

'He was then called up for his National Service, so it wasn’t until he was 21 that he was able to take full part in the running of the business.

'Although he concentrated on the technical side of the business, Tommy often used to take wagons out himself, occasionally with unusual loads such as a party of prisoners of war from Raylees at Otterburn to Netherwitton.

'The Forestry Commission has been Thompson’s customer of over 50 years, starting when they used to take up men to drain the moors and plant trees, going on through the making of the roads within the Kielder forest, and continuing with the leading of timber all over the country. Thompson’s had the first hydraulic timber crane in England to load their wagons.

'The Commission was by no means the only customer, however, with much work done for British Gypsum, the Cement Marketing Board, British Ropes, Northumberland County Council, and local farmers.

'The business blossomed so that by the late 1960s and 70s, Thompson’s had 14 wagons on the road and they engendered great loyalty among the drivers.

'When Pimmer Irving retired, he had been with Thompson’s for 35 years and another driver Walter Nevin had done 41 years.

'Away from the cut and thrust of the business world, Tommy Thompson has always taken a full role in community life, serving on the former Bellingham Rural District Council and the Parish Council, as well as a 12-year stint as the only Independent candidate on Tynedale Council. He was also secretary of Bellingham Golf Club for 20 years and special constable for 25.

'A major heart attack four years ago persuaded him to take life a little easier, and he now enjoys making working model steam engine in the workshop at his home.

'There’s also a 1914 Matchless motor cycle he has been intending to restore for some time, and although he has bowed out of the haulage business at the age of 60, he still has property and farming interests to keep him occupied.

'There were mixed feelings for Tommy when he and Pimmer were invited along to Iggesund factory last week for a meal with the directors, and a special presentation for they had been going there ever since the factory opened.

'He said “I have been running the business down for some time and Pimmer was the only driver I had left. It seemed sensible that when he went, I should go too.

“ It’s been a very interesting life, but I don’t think I would like to be starting in business again now.

“When we started, we were carrying loads of three to five tons, but now it’s 20-25 tonnes, and there is so much paperwork it’s unbelievable.

“I’m pleased to say that all the time I was involved with the firm, we covered hundreds of thousands of miles and none of our drivers was ever involved in a serious accident.”

'Pimmer Irving marked his retirement with a memorable celebration in the Rose and Crown in Bellingham on Saturday.


Bill Charlton has obtained the following photos from the family . Bill says that the wagons were mainly Bedfords. Some had petrol engines of about 115 HP while others had older type Perkins Diesel engines.

Thompson wagon fleet taken at Charlton in the late 1950s. The caption at the bottom names the drivers from left to right as:
Jake Cowan, Alan Waite, Walter Nevin, Billy Charlton, Tommy Smith, Alec Wood, Billy Scott, Jim Forster.
The wagons with the covers on are loaded with plaster sheets from Cocklakes in Cumbria heading to building sites on Tyneside.

Thompson wagon fleet taken at Charlton in the late 1950s. The load of timber for
pit props from Kielder forest to go to pits in Ashington and county Durham.

The one cattle wagon in the Thompson fleet. The body on this R series Bedford was built by Bob Charlton at the Croft in Bellingham with help from his son Bill in 1948. Apart from carrying cattle and sheep, this wagon had the other key role of moving farm workers' furniture and personal effects each May when they changed jobs.

Photo of the cattle wagon crate under construction in 1945.
Lilian Charlton (left) and Alma Young.

Driver Alec (Hec) Wood beside his Austin petrol wagon
at Thompson's garage in Bellingham.

Jim Bell (left) and Walter Nevin, posing by a car in Thompson's yard that
has come to grief - details unknown!

Walter Niven (left) and Tommy Smith working on a Volvo articulate rig used to haul timber from Kielder to Whitehaven paper mills.
Photo taken by Bill Charlton in 1992.

Hugh Thompson – Bellingham haulage contractor
Memories from Eileen Walton (nee Thompson)

Hugh Thompson worked at a small coal pit at Shilburnhaugh in 1926, while at that time living in part of a rented farmhouse with Nan and Will Waite, (my aunt and uncle) and their three sons Alan, Victor, and Thompson. I was just a few month’s old then. Then in 1927 a fall in the pit meant it had to be closed down. Our family then moved back to Bellingham and rented the Bridge-End cottage from Hesleyside estate.

My father, Hugh Thompson was now driving his own wagon, and we nearly moved to Scotland as dad was awarded a contract for his wagon, making a road between Fort William and Fort Augustus, but it was all canceled due probably to the 1926/27 crash.

In 1928, my brother Tom was born at the Bridge-End cottage. However, my father went on with his work and by the 1930s had a couple of wagons, and he employed his brothers Harry and Bill for a new contract working on the road improvement scheme at Starward. They lived in a caravan during the week and on weekends came home, leaving a local chap to look after the caravan.

By 1932/33 my father had developed TB which was a killer in those days. When the first Council houses were built in Bellingham along Reedsmouth Road, we moved from the Bridge End cottage to one of the new houses. We also had a baby brother called Kenneth by then, but he died at 18m months of age in July 1934 of tubercular meningitis.

In 1936, dad went into Wooley Sanatorium but was their for only 3 months before returning home to look after the business, as November and May were very busy times as farm hands and their belongings moved from farm to farm. The cattle wagon was used to do all the moving of the farm hands’ furniture and personal effects, while the other wagons were working out of quarries and on local council work.

The business was going quite well by then, and my father had five wagons employing his two brothers along with Jake Cowan, Tommy Smith, and Noel Scott. Later on when Noel left to become an engine driver on the railways, his brother Cyril took his place, They all worked for Dad for quite a number of years before retiring.

The year 1939 saw the beginning of the war and the military took over our only new wagon and the next best one that we had, so we were once again left with older type wagons. The best one we had was converted into the cattle wagon, but it was involved in an accident at the Knot-of-the-Gate in Scotland and was written off. It had been transporting sheep from Catcleugh Farm to Carlisle when it ran off the road and down a steep embankment. No one was hurt as the two occupants bailed out.

By then my father was pretty ill and he died in May 1941 aged 42. My Mother kept the business going right up into her eighties.

In 1948 my brother Tom was demobilised from his National Service and became part of the business where he had a few idea’s of his own such as going to army surplus sales to acquire one or two wagons. By then Alan Waitt a cousin was a new driver, and a guiding hand too where he helped to arrange new contracts with a cement marketing company and British Gypsum at Cocklakes Carlisle. He also got work for the Forestry Commission transporting timber and did quite well right up into the late 1980s.

No comments:

Post a Comment