A family dynasty

The history of the Hanson family’s conversion to the haulage business from their origins as Yorkshire farmers, starts with the ambition of a Yorkshire farmer’s wife, Mary Hanson, in 1846.

  • Not content with her household chores she realised there was an unsatisfied need for an organised regular transport service of wool from Huddersfield to the local cottage weavers in the Pennines and their finished textiles back to Huddersfield. She saw the profit potential and did something about it.

    A ‘first’ in so many ways. She commandeered some of her husband’s farm horses, employed her sons to handle them as pack horses and started in the transport business from the cobbled streets of Longwood, near Huddersfield.

    Her pioneering local service gradually developed to three times weekly using horses and wagons working as far afield as Manchester and Leeds. To say it was unusual for a woman to take this step at that time is an understatement, but it transpired that she was the founder 180 years ago of the Hanson family international transportation dynasty. An impressive initiative for women.

    In 1854 the business passed to Mary’s eldest son Joseph and assumed the name Joseph Hanson & Son. He ran the business from Botham Hall Farm where he bred Shire horses, reflecting the family’s growing involvement with working horses and away from farming

    With expansion, the number of working horses grew and new stables were built under the railway arches at Milnsbridge, Huddersfield to handle the general “smalls” haulage to which was added its first contract, with the Longwood Gas Company, to carry coke and coal. By 1886 when Joseph left the business to his son James William, household removals had been added.

    Of James William’s three sons Joseph (‘Joe’), Robert and Donald, it was the middle son Robert who was to play the key role in the development of the business. Joe and Robert started to buy working horses and by 1905 Robert was working with the furniture removal vans. Over the next three years they progressed from a single heavy horse van to three and four horse teams for long distance work. Following the death of James William in 1911 the firm passed to his sons and Robert took over the management.

    This change began in 1913 with the purchase of a steel-tyred Foden steam lorry for furniture removals and the following year a similar vehicle with solid rubber tyres was acquired. There was no decrease in the horse transport side as horse wagons and vans continued to be employed usefully up to 1939 when four hundred working horses were still employed.

    A further horse interest was a contract from the army to buy and train some 1200 horses a year for the annual camps of the mounted side of the Territorial Army, the volunteer Yeomanry. This association began in 1912 and was to be of considerable importance during the First World War (‘The Great War’) and up to the Second. After the annual camps, the horses were sold to local tradesmen, riding schools and the better ones as hunters.

    During the Great War Donald served with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment while Robert and Joe ran the business. In 1918, after demobilisation, Donald joined the firm, but a year later both Robert and Joe contracted pneumonia. For Joe it proved fatal but Robert recovered completely and was soon back in charge.

    With limited passenger facilities available for the public’s recreational travel during the Great War, Hanson had fitted charabanc bodies on to steam wagon ‘flats’, operating bus excursion weekend trips to the neighbouring coastal resorts. In 1919 a fleet of charabancs was purchased and a year later a full bus and coach service began.

    The haulage business flourished and soon the fleet included 6 steam wagons and 3 petrol engined lorries. A terminal warehouse, garages, workshops and offices were built in Savile Street, Milnsbridge, which remained the family business headquarters until nationalisation in 1948.

    In 1920, Thomas Darwens, wedding and funeral car hire, was acquired. Some 8 years later the old cars were replaced with Rolls Royces and the limousine service continued for 50 years. In 1935 Hanson’s Buses Ltd, was formed, based in Milnsbridge which operated the fleet of public service vehicles and limousines formerly owned by Joseph Hanson’s.

    The haulage interests specialised in textile transportation. In the ‘Twenties a Liverpool service was introduced, followed in 1926 by a twice-weekly London service. By 1929 this had increased to three times a week and in 1930 premises in Shoreditch, London, were acquired with nightly services Yorkshire to London and back using two diesel engine AEC Mammoth lorries.

    At that time Joseph Hanson amalgamated its long-distance services with I.W. Holdsworth of Halifax. Although the parent companies maintained separate autonomy, any company acquired in other cities, including property, was jointly owned. Local businesses were acquired nationwide and included: Queen Carriage Co, Blue and White, Grimshaw and Evans, William Burrill and, of great significance later, a major interest in the publicly-quoted Oswald Tillotson Ltd of Burnley in 1935, whose subsidiary transport interest was Bouts-Tillotson. Much of the initial growth was attributable to the London service and its nation-wide connections, “return loads” being the operational ethos.

  • During the Second World War, although the Ministry of Transport controlled the entire UK road and rail transport system, both Hanson and Holdsworth were able to maintain the revenue from their operations. Post-war, for the contract haulage side, a terminal was constructed at Woodland Road, Huddersfield to cater for Hanson’s contract with ICI Dyestuffs Division providing internal and external services in ICI’s own livery. Shortly after came a similar contract with Castrol.

    In 1946, with the threat of nationalisation looming. Hanson Transport was created to acquire the contract hire fleet and with it the Woodland Road site.

    The same year, Robert’s sons, James and Bill, after their release from military service, joined the family company board. Donald retired and James, who had served in the North African and Mediterranean campaigns, also became joint managing director of the Hanson and Holdsworth combine. The bus fleet was relocated to custom-built premises in St Johns Road, in the heart of Huddersfield. In 1948, with the Labour government nationalisation of long distance haulage, the Joseph Hanson Milnsbridge headquarters were taken over by the Government-owned British Transport Services and the long-distance haulage link with the Holdsworth family ended. At that time the Hanson and Holdsworth group, including Bouts-Tillotsons, operated 22 different companies, 38 depots and a fleet of 1200 vehicles. This was to form the core of the nationalised road haulage organization of which James became a director until he left for Canada in 1949.

    With limited opportunities in the private sector other than contract haulage, which had been spared from nationalisation, in 1949 the Hanson family invested in Canada buying Crawford Cartage Ltd a trucking company with 200 vehicles based in Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario. Bill Hanson was appointed joint managing director and the company re-named Hanson Transport Ltd.

    Bill Hanson, apart from a rare business ability, had also become an internationally famous horseman as a member of the British Show Jumping Team and was a Master of Foxhounds. He became terminally ill in 1954 and succumbed to cancer at the early age of 29. A family tragedy.

    Meanwhile, in the UK, with Tory privatisation of road haulage, private transport interests were expanding rapidly. The nationalisation of 1948 had moved the family transport emphasis from long-distance haulage to contract hire, but with privatisation in the early ‘Fifties’ Robert Hanson was back in the business he had pioneered. He bought a licenced fleet of vehicles from the Government and quickly moved into long-distance haulage.

    Nationwide services were reintroduced including a London service started from scratch. This section was located at a new state-of-the-art terminal in Leeds Road, Huddersfield opened in 1962, which enabled 36 vehicles to be loaded simultaneously, another first.

    It was primarily designed for the handling of textiles, light engineering products and small freight. The large office complex was the base for the air freight and shipping services, while the upper floor housed the accounts department for the whole Hanson group. New terminals followed in London and Leeds.

    Having doubled the size of the Canadian fleet and opened new terminals in Toronto and London (Ontario) concentrating on a specialised freight service, a bid for the Canadian enterprise was accepted in 1963 from Consolidated Freightways of California, one of the larger US trucking firms who were seeking a foothold in Canada. James returned permanently to Britain.

    Continuing its diversified growth, the family acquired Hanson Travel Service Limited in 1950 and Bottomleys Motors Ltd in 1951, later re-named Yorkshire Car Hire Ltd, responsible for the family’s car hire interests, limousines and filling stations. With the growth of private car ownership and popular demand for lessons, the Hanson School of Motoring was born, which shortly provided the first PSV (Public Service Vehicle) driving instruction courses in the UK.

    Jet Petroleum Ltd had been founded in 1953 by Robert Hanson and some business associates, providing the first cut-price petrol stations in the UK. Business grew rapidly and Jet was able to operate its own fleet of road tankers. Jet grew to the point where huge capital expenditure including a refinery, would be needed, beyond the family’s wish to commit such large resources, so a highly attractive take-over offer from Continental Oil of Houston, Texas was accepted.

    Contract hire expansion continued from the Woodland Road terminal with new contracts and the introduction in all fleets of Canadian-style long-distance articulated vehicles. Contract hire fleets for BP, House of Fraser and Phillips Petroleum had by this time been added to those for ICI and Castrol

    At that time, the two sides operated independently under Hanson Transport Limited and Hanson Haulage Ltd, but when Haulage was subject to a take-over in 1965, Hanson Transport Ltd continued the contract hire operations. During 1965 Hanson Transport Group Ltd was formed as parent of the various Hanson companies, Woodland Road became the headquarters of the restructured group and that property was extended.

    Hanson’s Buses had been sold in 1969, Hanson Coach Services and the limousines of Yorkshire Car Hire were spun-off in 1974. The same year Hanson Car Service was created under the management of Yorkshire Car Hire, for servicing, repair and painting of the general public’s cars. Matador Travel Agency (Hull) Ltd was added to the group in 1970 and was later sold with Hanson Travel Service Ltd to Pickfords.

    In 1968 ICI merged all its warehousing in Heywood, near Manchester. Hanson won the resultant trans-Pennine contract and built a warehouse and terminal in Heywood in 1971 when the new contract came into operation.

    In 1989 Hanson extended its service to House of Fraser by providing a dedicated home delivery service for its Midlands devision. Other developments in recent years include a major contract with ICI Wilton for the movement of benzene and nitrobenzene and a hazardous chemicals service and warehouse in Huddersfield in partnership with Avecia. Other valued contract customers include Kay Metzeler and Multiyork Furniture. Warehousing has now become an increasing contributor to Hanson’s activities.

    The signifance of the original connection with the public company Oswald Tillotson Ltd, of which the family, the Holdsworths and other close business friends, including Gordon (later Lord) White, were shareholders, becomes apparent when that company was taken over by the Wiles Group Ltd in 1964. The name was changed first to Hanson Trust, later Hanson PLC and, under the chairmanship of James Hanson, enjoyed rapid growth through takeovers of a multitude of companies. Until it was demerged into five seperate public companies in the ‘Nineties’, it was one of Btitain’s top ten companies with major interests in North America and the rest of the world.

    Sir James, as he became in 1976 (Lord Hanson in 1984) continued his chairmanship of Hanson Transport Group, but its day-to-day management had devolved to his sons, Robert, the present chairman and the late Brook. A special mention should be made of Derek Rosling CBE and Alan Hagdrup and of the late Sir Christopher Harding, all of whom were closely involved on the boards of the Hanson family interests including Hanson PLC from 1964 onwards.

  • In today’s business environment, dedicated distribution is a serious and positive alternative to the in-house fleet-owned function. It not only relieves the capital burden for the customer, but cuts labour costs because of the available pool of driving and maintenance staff, especially when sickness inevitably strikes.

    Transport, warehousing and distribution, namely “logistics”, to give the industry its modern name, is an end in itself for the Hanson family and has been since 1848. Logistics is the major forward thrust now for growth and Hanson remains a family business with a leading reputation for providing the highest standard of service and expertise. The caring philosophy fostered by Mary Hanson in the 19th century is still a cornerstone of the business today.

    Robert Hanson who died in 1973 at the age of 82 was the major influence in the success of the Hanson family enterprises. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by HM the Queen for his services to industry and to British show jumping. His standards and persistence were the role model to this day for all his associates, employees and family, not forgetting his excellent relations with his customers whom he always put first. During his life he had transformed a tiny local horse-drawn haulage business into a concern of international size and repute, seen it nationalised, then started again.