A buried tank - and a too high rail platform

Peter Houghton
Peter Houghton
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Local historians are wading through a list of interviewees as they record workers’ cherished memories of life in Leyland’s bygone factories

The project is being carried out by Leyland Historical Society.

The society has already spoken to former Leyland motors employee William Hawksworth, 94, who now lives in Barnsley.

William, who worked from 1939 to 1957, has given a little insight into the Spurrier Works when it was a factory owned by the Government (Ministry of Supply) which opened in 1953.

Society chairman Peter Houghton said: “His stories cover the whole factory and will make great reading when I have fully transcribed them from the audio recordings.

“We have now interviewed over forty people, but I still have a list of over two hundred to go.”

He added; “The society would love to hear from more especially in the Bleach Works, the cotton mills and the foundry of Leyland Motors.”

This is an account from William about the Tank Factory.

“The project was initiated in January 1951 and the then Henry Spurrier was made Leyland’s chief representative with the men from the ministry.

“The site was cleared and the work began with all the building erection, and by the back end of 1952 the buildings were taking shape.

“A new bridge had to be built over the railway line and the start to finish period was about 18 months, and was believed to be a record achievement.

“The official opening was on October 23, 1953 by Right Hon Duncan Sandys MP, Minister of Supply, with many high-ranking guests, the most prominent being General AM Gunther, I think he was a four star general.

“The list of guests at the top table is very impressive.

The opening ceremony was held in one of the buildings, which was lavishly converted into a banqueting suite, complete with a very long bar.

“Part of the building contained nearly all the exhibits from the Bovington Tank Museum, including First World War tanks up to the most recent types.

“An ‘exploded exhibit’ was made of a Centurion mark seven tank, which I helped with.

“On the opening day I was drafted for duty as a guide to assist the visitors, but that’s another story.

“I am fortunate in having one of the souvenir booklets and list of visitors for the open day, which is impressive to say the least.”

He continued; “On the day a lot of VIPs were coming from London by special train, what better way as we had our own railway platform within the factory limits.

“The passengers on the train were mainly service high-ranking officers, civil servants etcetera, not the usual commuter.

“The train pulls in to the platform, reception parties there to guide them to waiting coaches - Standerwicks they were - when calamity.

“The platform was too high to allow the doors to be opened. You’ve heard the word panic, but have you seen it in action?

“Ladders and steps were produced at the other side of the train, coaches repositioned and all were disembarked.

“Panic over. I wonder if anyone remembers it, or if they dare to. I was the guide on number two coach. I was there.”

Peter has many workers’ memories to transcribe still - including one particular remarkable tank tale.

“From what I’ve heard they built these five tanks for a special order from the government,” he said. “For some reason, one wasn’t right, so they told the government they’d sent five when they’d only sent four. They later found it buried in the ground.”

Peter added; “I’ve heard this from one person so far - I’m sure I’ll hear it again.”