Garage was key part of Caton

Historian David Kenyon looks at the history of a well known garage set up after the First World War by three engineers

Friday, 4th June 2021, 3:45 pm
T.N.T garage around 1955. Parked on the garage forecourt is a B.S.A three-wheeler, this belonged to Michael Bruce, Bernard's son, who because he only had a motor cycle licence had to blank off the reverse gear with a metal plate.

This week we take a look at the history of the many small village garages which started to appear around Caton after the First World War, run largely by men who had learned their trade in the army of the Royal Flying Corps. Between 1919 and 1924 the number of cars and motorcycles on the road in Britain multiplied by fourfold, these cars and motorcycles needed fuel and repairs from the many local garages started in business after the war. The first garage we look at is the TNT garage, situated on the outskirts of Caton on Hornby Road. The first building on this site was a building used by the contractors constructing the nearby Thirlmere Aqueduct. This would be used to store materials, and probably had a blacksmiths workshop for the sharpening of tools used by the navvies digging the conduit.

The Thirlmere Aqueduct takes water from Thirlmere in the Lake District to the Audenshaw reservoirs on the east side of Manchester, a distance of 102 miles.

The conduit section which runs through Caton district has a concrete floor brickwork walls and a concrete arched roof, with inside dimensions, seven feet wide and seven feet high.

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A busy T.N.T garage around the middle fifties, showing a Standard Eight just inside the garage. The car with the raised bonnet we think is an A40. The white car could be a 1940s Austin, on the right of the photograph is a 1930s Austin, and on the extreme right is possibly a Standard Flying 12. Note how close to the road the long arm petrol pumps were in the 1950s.

The longest continuous length of conduit on the Aqueduct is between the rivers Lune and Wyre and is nearly four and a half miles long.

The Aqueduct and dam was started in 1885 and completed in 1895. On the left of the workshop building next to Artlebeck Bridge was another building connected to the construction of the Thirlmere Aqueduct, this was made of timber and was used for offices and canteen, this building was later converted into living accommodation. The name of the TNT garage came fromthe surnames of three men who were engineers and had worked at the projectile factory on White Lund during the First World War, their names were Thompson, Newton and Tallon and they did general engineering work.

It was said many of the machines used by the engineers had been made in America, probably supplied to help with the war effort. It is uncertain if the original building erected by the aqueduct builders was used by the partnership or if a new building was brought from White Lund.

When the partnership some years later dissolved, Mr Newton moved to Lancaster and carried on the business of general engineers in Hewitsons yard, off Cable Street, in Lancaster. They later moved to a workshop behind the Lile Tool Shop on North Road. Mr Thompson, who was a talented engineer, also moved to Lancaster and started a workshop in the Castle area, where he made steam engines for use in small boats. The TNT engineers workshop now became an automobile garage, the proprietor being Jack H Bryan who was running the garage in 1939 at the start of the Second World War.

Photograph taken somewhere in Quernmore of the interior of the Thirlmere Aqueduct when repairs were taking place. The people inside the aqueduct are the late Mr and Mrs Fred Downham from Galgate. When the Downhams went down into the aqueduct, health and safety would not be important, they probably went down when the workmen had finished work for the day.

Running a garage during war was not easy, petrol was rationed and, with very few vehicles on the road, not many repairs were required. To keep going the garage diversified into electrical work, they also sold and repaired bicycles and even radios.

Around 1943 the government introduced a taxi service to transport children from outlying farms to their village schools, this was a service Jack Bryan was happy to provide.

The next person to run the TNT garage at Caton was Bernard Bruce who had served an apprenticeship with Jack Bryan. Bernard came from Low Bentham and after learning the trade of motor mechanic was called up for military service with the RAF. After being demobbed Bernard returned to work at the TNT garage. I remember calling with my motorcycle around 1953 when the engine timing had slipped, Bernard soon had it fixed, I remember how friendly and helpful he was. Bernard had a penchant for large American cars, these he used for the school taxi service, it must have been quite exciting for local children to ride in these monster automobiles. Around the mid-1950s, when Jack Bryan retired, Bernard Bruce formed a partnership with Alan Stephenson from Wray. The partnership came to an end in 1959 when the TNT garage was sold to SJ Bargh Ltd which was expanding its milk collection and tanker business. SJ Bargh soon realised that the existing TNT garage was inadequate for its needs, and plans were put in place to build a new modern garage on the same site.

The new garage was built around the existing garage by one of SJ Bargh’s employees named Foster Nelson, ably assisted by other members of the workforce.

The new T.N.T garage built by S.J.Bargh Ltd nearing completion in 1960-61.

Foster Nelson drove a milk collection lorry in the morning and then worked on building the garage in the afternoon.

When the new garage walls were completed the old TNT garage was demolished. SJ Bargh moved into the new TNT garage in Caton in late 1960. Keith Poulton, who started work at the garage in 1962, remembers they did general vehicle repairs and MOTs for a few years, but as the milk tanker and general haulage business grew they concentrated on SJ Bargh transport. Keith Poulton was repairing a lorry in the TNT garage on Tuesday, August 8, 1967, the day of the great flood of Wray, when many houses were destroyed in Wray village. The flooding also affected the becks at Farleton, Brookhouse and Con. Keith remembers working on a lorry when suddenly a huge surge of water came rushing in to the garage from the flooded Artlebeck.

Keith and fellow mechanic David Rosier managed to switch off the electricity supply, they then opened the rear doors, allowing the water to flow right through the garage, the resultant debris, sand and gravel took many days to clean up.

Bernard Bruce continued to work for SJ Bargh throughout the many changes that took place at the TNT garage on Hornby Road , Caton.

After working part time for a few years, Bernard Bruce finally took a well earned retirement around the year 2000. SJ Bargh used the TNT garage on Hornby Road, Caton, for almost 50 years to maintain its fleet of milk tankers, general haulage trucks and trailers. Despite running shifts to use the workshop, by 2009 SJ Bargh had outgrown the Caton facilities.

The business then acquired five acres of land from Lancaster based Dennison Trailers, they then moved into a 12 bay workshop four miles from Caton in 2010.

SJ Bargh continued to use the TNT garage and lorry park for a couple more years, before obtaining planning permission for housing development. After nearly 100 years of a building with the name TNT on its frontage, the garage was demolished and houses built on the land. Thanks to John Robinson and the Bargh family for the loan of the photographs of the TNT garage. Also thanks to the many people who gave me information regarding the history of the TNT garage.