We will remember them: Pickfords and the Great War

This weekend, as the country commemorates the end of the hostilities of World War I, we are reminded of the realities of wartime, an inseparable part of Pickfords’ history.

The First World War

The Great War changed the way people and businesses went about their daily lives, as people and companies were deployed to help the war effort. By 1915, most of Pickfords’ resources were requisitioned. Like the London buses, Pickfords vehicles carried the materials of war, as well as troops to the front in France.

The Second World War

Pickfords was again very active during the Second World War. The company sent its lighters (flat bottomed barges) between Solent ports and the Isle of Wight to join the Little Ships that made their way across the Channel to evacuate the beaches at Dunkirk.

The company also helped transport temporary portable harbours, called Mulberry harbours, from throughout the UK to the South Coast in advance of D-Day. The harbours were then shipped across the Channel and rebuilt off the D-Day beaches to allow the Allies to land supplies before they captured one of the Normandy Ports.

This weekend we remember all those who have died as a result of wars, both modern and historic. Let us never forget the sacrifices made by so many.

Where did it all start? The story of Pickfords

Pickfords has launched a new, interactive section of the website.

The digital timeline chronicles the history of the brand, from its earliest days as a carrier in the 1600s to the present day.

The history section was a year in the making and followed research from the Pickfords archive of historical documents, from existing transport books and conversations with current and previous Pickfords colleagues, some of whom spent as long as fifty years with the company. The marketing team even tracked down the original designer of Pickfords Travel leaflets to feature in the 1980s section.  

Marketing Director Lyndsey Wallbank said

Previous accounts of Pickfords’ history focused heavily on transport methods. We wanted to create a timeline that also featured the moments in history which impacted the company and the people who have influenced the direction of the brand through the centuries.”

The digital history experience features a timeline with richly designed imagery together with easy to read snippets of information. The journey through time includes Pickfords’ invention of the Fly wagon in the 17th century, a brush with Jack the Ripper and the year Pickfords specialised in elephant removals for Billy Butlin.

The contribution Pickfords made to the two world wars, when resources were requisitioned for the war effort, and the denationalisation of the company by Margaret Thatcher in 1985, are also detailed.

Managing Director Russell Start said

“We are delighted with the project, and hope this new section of the website brings the Pickfords story to life for customers, employees and transport enthusiasts alike.”

The 60-year-old promise

When Vivian Curnow was a child, his grandmother would always write in his birthday card “Pickfords to follow with a truckload of gifts”. Grandma Curnow never did contact Pickfords; this was just her wicked sense of humour!

The phrase stayed with Vivian throughout his life. He would often recount the story to his wife, Janet.

Some 60 years later, Vivian decided to find out if Pickfords would deliver on his grandmother’s promise!

Vivian called his local Pickfords branch in Truro, asking if they could surprise his wife Janet on her 68th birthday by delivering a bunch of flowers and a cake.

And as you can see, they were happy to oblige!

Pickfords Birthday Surprise.jpg

Joseph Baxendale – Transport Visionary

Many of you reading this won’t have heard of Joseph Baxendale before, but at Pickfords his name is well-known. Baxendale was arguably the most influential director at Pickfords, taking the company from a family-owned regional concern to a fully-fledged national business. Here’s how he did it…

Joseph Baxendale came to Pickfords in 1817 at a time when the company was in need of new investment with James Pickford and Matthew Pickford II withdrawing their capital from the business. Whether due to too swift an expansion – the company added more than 30 depots and wharves between 1803 and 1817 – or a downturn in trading conditions precipitated the move by James and Matthew II isn’t clear, but Baxendale’s arrival, along with Zachary Langton and Charles Inman, saw the beginning of a new era for Pickfords.

Joseph Baxendale

The new Pickford & Company, registered on 1st April 1817, was overseen by Baxendale in the Manchester office while Matthew Pickford and Langton ran operations in Southern England from London, with Inman based in Leicester.

Baxendale set about assessing the company from top to bottom, touring every company depot and the road and canal routes they used, observing every aspect of the business and making his view known in no uncertain terms. This fastidious attention to detail gave him a comprehensive overview of how the company operated, knowledge that was to be critical for the future of the company.

Shortly thereafter a new upheaval beset the carrying trade, for having negotiated the potentially damaging introduction of the canal system the newly-developed railway network introduced a new, potentially dangerous competitor to Pickfords.

Baxendale saw the newcomer similarly to the canals, wisely deciding to collaborate rather than compete. He met with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway first, and while attempts to win some of their goods traffic business were unsuccessful, he did negotiate special rates for the movement of Pickfords vans.

Other railway companies were approached with the idea of them being used for at least part of the journey for goods consigned between the major industrial centres of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. The route between Birmingham and London became particularly attractive to carriers using the railway for all or part of the journey for consignments, and Baxendale was keen to exploit such potential to the full.

He foresaw a great increase in traffic as the railway network continually expanded and became more joined up with the rest of the country, and wanted Pickfords to have a stake in this future business. He authorised the building of a vast new depot in Camden Town which would take advantage of the expected increase in rail-borne traffic.

Map of Pickfords site in Camden

The new depot included warehousing, stables and offices was built on the south side of Regent’s canal opposite to the existing Camden depot of the railway. A bridge was built over the canal to connect the two depots, and facilities installed for the easy transfer of goods between canal barges, the depot and railway loading bays.

Baxendale proudly opened the depot in 1841, but it didn’t enjoy the success he had envisaged. A long and costly legal battle between Pickfords, other carriers, and the Grand Junction Railway led to Pickfords not using that line for its traffic to and from the Manchester area, instead having to make use of longer and slower routes.

Baxendale ostensibly handed over day-to-day management of Pickfords to his children in 1847 but remained a partner and retained control of the business. He is listed in the 1871 Census, aged 85, as CEO of Pickford & Co. He died in 1872, aged 86.

A eulogy by an acquaintance of Baxendale’s reads:

“In the conduct of the business Baxendale’s energy was judgement were equal to the necessity. Night after night he traversed the roads in his special travelling carriage, on the look-out to see that none of his employees slackened in their duty, as often as not passing by by-roads so as to double back on the drivers, who in consequence never knew whether he was before or behind them; so, general vigilance thus became the rule of all.”

Has the identity of Jack the Ripper been revealed?

An interesting reference to Pickfords’ long history can be found in the Telegraph this week.

The world has speculated on the identity of the notorious murderer, Jack the Ripper for over 100 years. The perpetrator of the grizzly murders in London’s east end at the end of the century, was never caught. On the 100 year anniversary of the first murder, authors Christer Holmgren and Edward Stow have put forward the theory that Jack could have been a cart man, (a modern day driver or porter or removals man) who was found at the scene of the first murder. It is noted in the official evidence that the cart man, Charles Cross was on his way to Pickfords’ depot in Broad Street at about 3am, when he found the mutilated body of Polly Nichols – so he could have worked for Pickfords at the time. ( Branches must have opened later in those days!). Although found at the scene, Cross did not seem to come under much interrogation from the police at the time, though it is noted be provided a false name.

An interesting theory, though there have been many suggestions for the culprit over the last one hundred years including Prince Albert Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria, and Sir William Gull, the Queen’s doctor.

A fascinating article below


Pickfords searches for origin of historic photograph

Pickfords horse and cart in front of Terra Nova

Removals and storage giant Pickfords is appealing for help to identify the origins of a black and white image linking the firm to the world famous ship, Terra Nova. 

Discovered in the centenary year of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic, the black and white image apparently shows a Pickfords horse and cart delivering Shell motor spirit to the ship, which is best known for sailing under the command of Captain Scott on his mission to be the first to reach the South Pole. 

The photograph was found on a website and used as part of a presentation for a removals industry conference, however, it was only after the presentation took place that name on the ship was recognised. Despite extensive searches to find where the image was sourced, Pickfords has no idea which website the photograph came from. 

Following the find, Pickfords teamed up with the International Polar Foundation and has since embarked on a rollercoaster search to find the origins of the image. 

Michael Andrews, Area Manager for Pickfords, explains: “At first we thought the image might have been taken just before Scott’s famous British Antarctic Expedition sailed in 1910, but lengthy conversations with archivists at Shell UK, the International Polar Foundation and the Scott Polar Research Institute failed to find any evidence to support our theories.”

 Dr Liz Pasteur from the International Polar Foundation takes up the story: “After we drew a blank with the most famous of Terra Nova’s commissions, we started looking a little further afield. After speaking to Terra Nova expert and author Mike Tarver, we were informed that the ship’s name, just about visible in the picture, was not on the hull by the time it was purchased by Scott in 1909, so the photo must have been taken some time before then. 

“From what Mike has told us, the most plausible explanation is that the photo was taken at London’s West India Docks in 1905 as the ship prepared to sail on a rescue mission to reach members of the failed Ziegler polar expedition. The US party was stranded north of the Arctic Circle for two years after attempting to reach the North Pole.”

Michael continues: “After speaking to Mike our investigations have led us as far afield as the US descendant of one the Ziegler party and to the Norwegian Polar Institute, but no one can confirm when or where the image was taken; it’s a complete mystery. We’ve run out of leads, so we’re throwing it open to the public to see if we can shed any more light on one of the most interesting periods in Pickfords’ history.

Pickfords has been working closely with the International Polar Foundation throughout 2011 to transport adapted teaching tools and educational puzzles to UK schools learning about the importance of the Polar Regions and climate change.

 If anyone has any information on the origins or background of the photograph, they are urged to contact Lyndsey Daykin at Pickfords on 0203 188 2248

Pickfords’ Salisbury branch in the early 1900s

This week, Sue Piper sent us a marvellous photo of her Grandfather Frank Harfitt, who used to work for Pickfords in the early 1900s.

This heirloom was found by his grand daughter Sue, who sent it to Pickfords so we could look back in history and remember our ‘Salisbury’ branch , way back in the early part of the century.

 According to Sue, Frank Harfitt was born in 1881 on the 17th March and worked in the removals business for his entire life. He lived in Fisherton Street, Salisbury. In those days the Pickfords branch had a stable yard for the horses.

Frank had a great love of horses and was also a great racing fan. We think Frank was the ‘Branch Manager’, certainly the boss, and is third from the left, wearing the boater.Fisherton Street, Salisbury. In those days the Pickfords branch had a stable yard for the horses. Frank had a great love of horses and was also a great racing fan. We think Frank was the ‘Branch Manager’, certainly the boss, and is third from the left, wearing the boater.

Find out more about Pickfords history by visiting the Pickfords website.