Founded by James Sumner, (who inherited a small foundry at Leyland), as the Lancashire Steam Motor Company following the 1896 Act which removed the legal requirement for mechanically propelled vehicles to be led by a man on foot with a red flag. The firm’s first big sellers were steam lawnmowers, at £85 each. The engine from one of these went into a tri-car ordered by Theodore Carr, the Carlisle biscuit manufacturer. Members of the Spurrier family joined as partners and the first oil-fired 30cwt steam van left the works the same year. In 1897 it was driven to the trials of steam vehicles organized by the Royal Agricultural Society at Manchester, where it won a silver medal. The event was only marred by an ill-judged clearance at Congleton on the homeward journey, causing the demolition of a drinking fountain. A prototype steam lorry won three prizes the following year, causing Mr. Spurrier, never a man to mince his words to remark “If we don’t make this firm a success now, we deserve to be kicked. We’ve got the world by the pants and a downhill pull!”
The first petrol engine vehicle appeared in 1903, while sales of steam lorries and busses increased apace. (The last steam vehicle seems to have left the works in 1914) Over 2,000 petrol vehicles were built prior to WWI, development of petrol lorries reaching a peak with the Leyland 3-tonner which became famous as the RAF type after selection by the War Office for use initially by the Royal Flying Corps.
Apart from other munitions work, nearly 6, 000 were turned out during the war. Nearly 3,000 returned from active service and after overhaul, were snapped up cheaply, by ex-servicemen, who had learned how to drive in the forces. They began a (to start with) largely unregulated road haulage industry which would severely damage the railway business.
WWII Saw the astonishing achievement of 8,000 medium and heavy 4 and 6 wheeled vehicles being turned out in a few months, while at the same time the works were being adapted for full time munitions work. By the end of hostilities, they had turned out over 3,000 tanks, over 10,000 tank engines, 11 million incendiary bombs and 5 million 20mm shells. The factory was bombed twice, and page 65 has a rather chilling Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photograph, pinpointing “Werk fur Motorentelle Leyland Motor”.
Postwar production restarted slowly because of steel shortages, with permission to build a limitednumber of Titan Double Deck buses. This book is a fascinating story of British enterprise and ingenuity. One does wonder what the forthright Mr. Spurrier would have said about the British Leyland-Michael Edwardes-“Red Robbo” fiasco, let alone Rover being “Over”…