Continuing our special look book at a golden age for Leyland Motors

Image from 'The Way We Worked' exhibition at the South Ribble Museum and Exhibition Centre, courtesy of Winter & Kidson Multi-Media and the Harris Museum, Preston
Image from 'The Way We Worked' exhibition at the South Ribble Museum and Exhibition Centre, courtesy of Winter & Kidson Multi-Media and the Harris Museum, Preston
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The management at Leyland Motors around the turn of the 20th century was very forward thinking and tried to look after the staff.

One of the ways in which this manifested itself came when it organised the first Leyland works trip, an outing to Windermere for the workers and their partners.

The money for this came after winning a trial organised by the Royal Agricultural Society, and the company continued to enter and win trials – the publicity was good and their reputation continued to grow.

Soon orders began to flow in, and the range of vehicles increased, with passenger carrying vehicles being offered for sale in 1899.

A year later, the first Leyland bus was delivered to the Dundee Motor Omnibus Co.

By 1901 the chassis bore the name ‘Leyland’ and the vehicles soon became known as Leyland Wagons. 1901 was also the year of the first exports, a shipment of three mail vans to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

The company expanded and had to move to larger premises in Hough Lane.

Despite the growth of motorised transport, there was still a need to convince some that mechanical was better than horse transport. The Lancashire Steam Motor Company published figures obtained from Ley & Sons, millers of Preston, showing their steamer cost them £6 10s a week to run, and the same work undertaken by horses would have cost £10 4s 2d.

Leyland developed their first petrol-engined vehicle in 1904; it was known as the ‘Pig’ as it was slow to start and emitted ‘bestial grunts’.

Luckily, it was not adopted for manufacture and it was a few years later that the first successful petrol wagons the
X and U types were introduced.

The petrol vehicles were much lighter that the steamers, and could be fitted with solid rubber tyres instead of steel.

The London and Suburban Omnibus Company were the first to order a petrol-engined double decker bus, and by the end of the year they had six vehicles in service.

By 1908 sales of petrol engined vehicles exceeded steam, but it wasn’t until 1926 that the production of steam vehicles ceased.

In 1907, Coulthard’s were bought out of the company and the name was changed to Leyland Motors Limited. The company continued to expand, and a second factory was built in Chorley.

The first purpose-designed and built fire engine appeared in 1910 and was delivered personally to Dublin by Henry Spurrier. During the official handover ceremony, a fire-call came in and Spurrier, still in his suit, drove the machine to the fire.

This vehicle was given a new lease of life when it was converted to pneumatic tyres during the Second World War.

In 1912, with rumours of a forthcoming war, the War Office ran vehicle trials to determine which would qualify for a war subsidy.

Leyland Motors entered a vehicle in the 30cwt and three-ton class; they were the only ones to earn certificates.

This resulted in an order from the War Office for 88 chassis, and set the seal on Leyland’s fame and reputation.

Later, the three-ton vehicle became a standard – it could still be seen in operation in India 50 years later.

As the business grew, land was purchased in Farington and a new factory was built, the workforce now numbered more than 1,500 and more than 2,000 petrol engined vehicles, in addition to steam wagons, were produced in the decade up to the outbreak of the First World War.

At the outbreak of the war, all civilian deliveries were stopped and vehicles in the factory, buses, vans and platform lorries were stripped of their bodies and converted to War Department standards.

During the first two years of the war, all civilian production at Leyland ceased, and the three-ton subsidy vehicle became the main product.

In 1915, the entire production of lorries was allocated to the Royal Flying Corp, and the three-tonner become known as the ‘RAF-type’.

Almost 6,000 RAF-types were produced during the war, equipped for different uses – from bomb carriers, radio transmitting vehicles, antiaircraft gun carriers to mobile dentists.

But many were heavy tender intended for general service.

Travelling workshops were also produced, with sides that opened to form a canopy.

They carried petrol driven electricity generators to run equipment and lighting.

Production dropped from 1917 due to lack of raw materials and manpower.

In a change from trucks, a fleet of special heavy armoured cars fitted with quick firing guns and searchlight equipment were manufactured for Sir John Willoughby’s 1st Armoured Battery, as a privately subscribed gift to the nation.  

By the end of the war, the payroll had doubled and output had trebled, land had been purchased and the factories extended.

Farington now had steel works and a power plant that supplied the furnace and works, while at the Chorley site steam wagons continued to be produced.

Post-war looked rosy for vehicle manufacturers, as restrictive legislation had been lifted and industry was clamouring for vehicles.

Leyland were anxious to stop ‘worn out’ ex-military vehicles flooding into the market and marring their reputation for quality, so they bought up all the Leyland war stock that could be traced.

The former aircraft factory in Kingston-upon-Thames was purchased and put to work reconditioning these ex-WD RAF-types. These were then offered for sale to the public, and this continued until 1926.

After the war, many applications for training and employment were received from demobbed men.

Leyland set up training programmes and hundreds of ex-servicemen were taught to drive. A residential hostel, Wellington House, was opened to house apprentices.

After the First World War, Leyland Motors expanded sales home and abroad, and the town of Leyland grew rapidly as well.

New products continued to be developed, and the production of steam wagons ceased.

The 1920s saw Leyland Motors emerge as a leader in the world market for commercial vehicles.