John Bowman is believed to have moved to Corbridge, Northumberland, to work for the local council. He got 10 shillings a day, the driver receiving 4s 9d with an allowance given for shoes and feed for the horse, revealed his grandson, former haulier and now accomplished classic commercial restorer, Michael Bowman.
The fleet soon built up to 30 horses. Work included transporting 25-30cwt of coal from Corbridge goods station to the bigger houses of the area, where for an extra three pence; it was shovelled into the coalhouse.
Sand and gravel from the river bed at Corbridge was carried to use for building houses and roads.
“A huge project was walking 30 horses to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for a massive project which involved taking a huge pipe across the Tyne Bridge and up a steep hill to Gateshead ,” said Michael. “In all, 100 horses were involved. It was around 1910 I believe, but I've never seen a photograph of the event, though some must have been taken.”
During the First World War, Michael's father, Thomas, drove traction engines and rollers in Belgium and France . After the war, the decision was made to move into steam haulage with Foden and Sentinel wagons coming to the fore just after the war. “They used to pull two or three trailers, taking timber out of the woods,” Michael said.
Thomas stayed with his father's business in Corbridge, while brothers Norman and Fred started up on their own, at Corbridge and Hexham respectively. The latter business, running under both the J Bowman and Rock Supplies names, continued until last year. Fred's son, John took over and about three years ago, the business passed to him.
Back to the original haulage operation. During the 1920's, AEC and Leyland petrol lorries were bought. Removals were also carried out. Michael recalls:
“One day, around 1920, my father was asked to move stuff from the house of a man who had died. They started loading the furniture, and in the scullery was an Ali Baba-type basket on a hook. When the bottom fell out, it was full of half crowns!
“What had apparently happened was that every time the man had sold something for half a crown, he chucked the money up into a basket. When they counted it up, there was £900 – a fortune then. The man's daughter had never known where the money was!”
By the mid – 1930's the fleet also included the Bedford name. “We carried coal, sand and gravel, anything really on general haulage,” Michael explained. “They were all tippers, and although my father, William, took over the firm in the mid- 1930's, it was still known as John Bowman until the 1950's.”
He recalls more wonderful stories. “Once a group of the lads were taking corn into the loft of a barn. One was in the loft and a rat ran over his foot. He dropped the sack and it went clean through the floor. Another lad on the steps had such a fright he did the same and the sack destroyed the steps. The wood must have been so rotten.”
Michael Bowman has been a fine ambassador for the historic commercial vehicle movement, cutting no corners in the presentation of his superb fleet of dark green lorries and putting them on display and in road runs, especially in the North-East of England , for all of us to enjoy.
It was a pleasure to spend a day with him as he told the story of his family's long association with road transport.
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