A fascinating view of Robertshaw Brothers’ premises at Hebden Bridge. The vehicles are probably deliberately posed for the camera and from them we can deduce the date to be sometime after 1931 but prior to the Second World War. The Robertshaw name was, and still is, common in what is now West Yorkshire. The photograph shows an aspect of railway operation which is now confined to history; carting agents. Whilst most railway companies possessed their own road vehicle fleets, the use of carting agents on contract to the railways was commonplace and such contracts gave the agents the right to advertise themselves as agents for the relevant railway company, as seen here. In urban and industrial areas, carting agents would have a large fleet of vehicles but in rural areas an agent might be a much smaller affair with just a couple of staff and vehicles.
The line-up of road vehicles is a history lesson in itself. Only one of the vehicles seen here can be said to have had a truly British origin. The vehicles are described from left to right. At far left is a Ford AA. In the USA Ford developed the Model A and the larger and heavier Model AA as replacements for the famous Model T and its derivatives. In the days of the British Empire, imports were regulated by a system known as 'Imperial Preference'. American vehicles had to be imported via Canada and, in the case of goods vehicles in particular, were often in rolling chassis form. In a method still familiar today with foreign manufacturers, Ford got around this by opening a British plant at Dagenham in 1931 and a Model AA was the first vehicle to roll off Dagenham's production line. The Model AA seen here was a Dagenham product, recognisable by the position of its side lamps (on American versions they were mounted on the 'A' pillar). It lacks the roof nameboard and has a van body with the Robertshaw name painted on it. Its registration number is illegible.
The next two vehicles are Chevrolet LQ models. Originally exports of these to Britain were manufactured in Brazil as kits of parts and sent to Canada for assembly prior to shipment. The first, registration number DK 7826, has a roof nameboard and probably a flatbed body. The second, registration number DK 8486, lacks a roof nameboard and appears to have a pick-up body.
Again, the history of Chevrolet vehicles in Britain is complex but, conveniently, is directly related to the next three vehicles which are Bedfords, probably WHG models, with registration numbers DK 8166, DK 7578 and RJ 1486. Apart from details such as radiator shell and badging, these Bedfords were identical to the aforementioned Chevrolets. The latter had been known as 'British Chevrolet' and as a result of the General Motors (GM) takeover of Vauxhall Motors in 1925 came to known as 'Chevrolet Bedford', with 'Bedford' at this stage being a reference to the Luton factory being located in Bedfordshire. From this was ultimately born the very well-known GM subsidiary 'Bedford Vehicles'. Of the three Bedfords seen here, all would appear to have flatbed bodies.
The next vehicle, starting handle in position and registered VH 6619, is the only one which could be called truly British. It is a Commer and possibly a 'Centaur' model although the Centaur usually had a bar between the headlamps and passing across the front of the radiator. The number plate was usually mounted on this bar. The Commer has a flatbed body and differs from all other vehicles in the line-up in that it is of 'semi forward control' layout, all others being 'normal control', meaning the driving position is behind the engine.
The final vehicle in the line-up, registration number HG 3885, is of particular interest. It is an International of American origin and probably of that company's C-series. International were better known as International Harvester (IH) and famous for their range of tractors and other farming equipment which also appeared under such names as Titan, Farmall and McCormick to name just three. Less well known outside the USA and Canada was their range of conventional road vehicles. IH had London offices trading as International Harvester of Great Britain Ltd, incorporated as early as December 1906 and following a number of moves was latterly located at 259 City Road, EC1. Products were imported via the usual, for the time, Canadian route (IH had a plant in Ontario) in kit form for assembly in Great Britain. The 'C-series' referred to here was a pre-war range of trucks and should not be confused with the IH post-war C-series and agricultural plant also using the same designation. The example seen at Hebden Bridge has a flatbed body which would have been constructed in Britain, the majority of American and Canadian domestic production being pick-ups. As was once common in the USA, IH vehicles bore distinctive bonnet-side badges in addition to the universally-used radiator badges. One such badge is just visible in this view and such adornments would have been included in the kits of parts sent to Britain.
Registration numbers deserve a mention. The old British system was totally different from the current (post-2001) system and was much more locally orientated. Of those visible here, DK was Rochdale, RJ was Salford, VH was Huddersfield and HG was Burnley. Unfortunately it is not possible to date vehicles precisely from the old one- or two-letter system; this became much easier when the three-letter system was introduced after all numbers between 1 and 9999 had been exhausted under the original system. The reverse system, eg 3885 HG, was not introduced until much later and preceded the year letter suffix system introduced in 1963 which was confined initially to Middlesex before being rolled-out nationwide with the 1964 'B' registration. Nevertheless it is interesting to note that in areas where new vehicle registrations were slow, the original system continued to be used well into the 1960s.
from Jim Lake
collection and Photo from Pennine Horizons Digital Archive