Bowker name still going strong after 100 years

One of the best-known names in Lancashire business celebrates its centenary this year.

By David Nowell
Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 2:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 2:39 pm
William, Bill, Ken, Neil, and Paul Bowker today
William, Bill, Ken, Neil, and Paul Bowker today

The Bowker Group is synonymous with luxury cars and motorbikes and has one of the biggest haulage companies in the country.

Now the Bamber Bridge-based firm is celebrating 100 years in business.

W H Bowker Ltd was formed in 1919 when when William Henry Bowker used his war gratuity to buy his first vehicle.

W H Bowker was launched in 1919

He bought an ex-army lorry – and began making local deliveries in Lancashire from his Blackburn base, earning a reputation for a pioneering spirit and an innovative approach to industry’s needs. It wasn’t long before he’d assembled one of the largest fleets in the area.

In 1926 the General Strike brought the country to a halt.

William saw a gap in the market and started to send trucks overnight to London carrying record consignments of fruit from Liverpool Docks to the markets of Covent Garden.

In 1949 there was a major setback when all UK transport assets were nationalised.

Bowkers continued to operate – but the trucks were owned by the Government.

In 1954 British Road Services was de-nationalised and Bowkers bought back a number of vehicles and re-established the business. Mr Bowker died in 1955 and his son, also William, took the reins aged just 19.

In December 1961, Bowker took its first steps into Europe moving a ready-assembled carpet tufting machine to Holland, which attracted a lot of interest from UK manufacturers in the process.

The new service led to unprecedented levels of freight being moved by road to the continent and with business booming, Bowker opened its depots in Hull in 1973 and Zeebrugge in 1976.

Bowkers diversified its activities in 1984, buying Clock Garage in Accrington – the authorised BMW dealership for East Lancashire.

Today, it has the BMW and Mini dealerships in Preston and Blackburn, Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership in Preston, Maserati dealership in Ribble Valley and the BMW Motorad dealership in Southport, which has relocated to its new purpose-built site in Preston.

A new Porsche dealership is also on the way.

In November 2016, Bowker completed the purchase of Potter Logistics’ warehousing and distribution operations at Ripon, York, Selby, Knowsley and Droitwich and is now a shareholder member of Palletline.

The company now has 450 employees and 160 vehicles and has more than one million square feet of warehousing.

Director Bill Bowker, who followed his father and grandfather into the business, said the centenary was a marvellous achievement – particularly in such a competitve industry – and a testimony to its valued employees.

He said the firm had many long-serving employees and the average length of service for its drivers was 12 years.

Bill said: “Our staff are key. We pride ourselves on how we treat our staff and our relationships with our customer.

“We treat everyone the way we would like to be treated ourselves.”

It was never in doubt that the young Bill would follow his father into the family business.

He said: “I have been around the business since the age of three or four.

“To me, I never wanted to do anything else. I used to come in here with my dad and by six or seven I was going in the lorries to to Liverpool docks.”

He left school and joined Bowker’s accounts department, became a qualified driver and learned all about the business.

In 1995 he took over the UK transport operation.

Now the thriving haulage company is preparing for Brexit.

Bill said the firm, which transports large amounts of food and chemicals in particular, was definitely seeing companies stockpiling supplies.

Firms fear a no-deal Brexit – but Bowkers will certainly adapt, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.