A Barn find Bristol …
The Heritage Trust never rests. Our constant crusade of digging out old stuff has been going from strength to strength lately with splendid donations from the estates of Syd Lovesy, Dudley Hobbs, and Dennis Sevier. An intriguing phone call reached us by a roundabout route, via the Bristol Cars showroom. “We want to have a clear cut through our timber warehouse. We’ve got an old Bristol in the back of the shed, been there since the war. Think we’d like to restore it, who would know about this?” Fatally intrigued, the Heritage Trust set out, pausing only to draw Michael Crawford’s trusty 2 CV from our motor pool for stimulating, bouncy transport. You never know what you’ll find in a barn, and this one was the crème de la crème of sheds. Tucked away at the back of Shoplands Sawmills, a rather nice bespoke timber yard and sawmills in Clevedon, we found extensive sheddage, packed with among others wartime vehicles piled deep. Fearlessly, Trustees Cembrowicz and Crawford picked their way between and over the barnfind treasures. At the back, behind a Bedford 4×4 quad artillery tractor with a jeep or two piled on top of it, and a Champ nestling behind it we certainly found the Bristol. The familiar scroll on the radiator confirmed this. A Bristol, yes, but not as we know it. It was a 1920s Bristol lorry, which had been used as part of the family firm’s road and timber haulage fleet which went back to the days of steam in the 1890s. Much of the coachwork had disappeared and Its solid rear tires had been replaced by twin rear pneumatics for traction when acting as a wartime timber tug, off road. The truck had been abandoned during the war when the tires wore through the canvas – even in those pre-MOT days this was a bit too much.
In 1906 the Bristol Tramways Company (MD Sir George White) started to use motor buses to bring passengers to their trams. The Motor Department, initially based at the splendid tram depot in Brislington, now City of Bristol Fleet services (where I had my MOT done yesterday in historic surroundings) had first built trams and horse-drawn vehicles then charabancs. During 1907 the electric bus fleet (Sounds familiar? Yes, Bristols were making those 110 years ago…) was transferred to the tram depot at Filton.
In 1910 George White had decided to build aeroplanes, forming the Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Company. They needed the Filton sheds occupied by the Motor Department, so motor construction returned to Brislington.
The pressure was on and competition was sharp – Imperial Tramways at Middlesbrough shared chairman Sir George White, who had taken buses out of service in Bristol to send to Middlesbrough when a rival company had tried to start a competitive service.
Bristol made their own petrol engines to power their chassis. Until 1929 these were all four-cylinder, but in that year a six-cylinder model was added to the range. Such was the depth of industrial archeology on the Bristol lorry we saw that the engine was almost undistinguishable, but apparently it had been swopped for a Thornycroft unit during the war.
The family firm, Shopland Sawmills, which owns the business are very serious contenders in the Old Motor Movement. James Shopland is a historian with a passion for military vehicle restoration. Shoplands own the remarkable Shopland Collection of vehicles – see The Shopland Collection
They plan to restore the Bristol and we were able to put them in touch with the mechanicien/restorer of a very similar Bristol lorry which is part of the Bristol Aero Collection. The dust laden transport we unearthed beside (and indeed around, on top of, and behind) the Bristol lorry was just the tip of the iceberg of the family’s collection of about 50 military and wartime vehicles including jeeps, armoured cars, landing craft, artillery and other period transport which have all been restored to show ground condition. The collection includes, inter alia, a Bren Gun carrier, Bofors, 17 and 25 pdr guns, sundry Jeeps, and rare Fox and Staghound armoured cars. They can be rented out for film use (eg Halcyon, Upstairs Downstairs, the Imitation Game and Saving Private Ryan), parties or weddings (yes, the artillery does fire…) and regularly feature on historic military vehicle runs. Of particular note is the Dig for Victory day at Ashton Court, Bristol in June 2020 organised by the firm. Come with your gas mask, tin hat and jitterbug shoes. Perhaps 2020 is a little too soon to expect the Bristol lorry to be there? But the firm has extensive restoration workshops and clearly great ability with material of this period.
If any of our readers have experience of restoration of a Bristol lorry please get in touch. Oh, and before you ask, no, it’s definitely not for sale.