Bradley Engineering Works, Bilston
The early history of this company is not known at
present. The best clue we have so far is this advertisement from a
trade directory of 1896:
||Note that in this advert the company claims to
have been founded in 1810. In Victorian times companies sometimes
made what we would think are dubious claims about their foundation
- they guessed at a date or they took the earliest foundation date
of any firm they had taken over or with which members of the
controlling family had been associated. So we cannot be sure who
founded what in 1810 but it may be that some brothers called
Thompson founded this company then. The Thompson family certainly
were in control of the company during the first half of the
twentieth century; and their cousins ran John Thompson Ltd. of
In 1896 they certainly give the impression of being quite a
large company and well established. The advert leads on
"galvanizing baths". Galvanising was a thriving industry
at the time, especially in Wolverhampton. But the advert
also mentions various sorts of tubs and tanks, steam boilers and
even iron boats (which may have been canal boats).
So it seems that even at this stage they were set on
their course of making boilers, tanks and the like.
|It seems worthwhile giving this enlargement of the
picture in the advert. It is probably a wood cut and was probably
made from a photograph. It provides an early view of a Bilston
factory, albeit not a very clear or detailed one.
During the early part of the twentieth century Thompson
Brothers continued on this course, making tanks and boilers of all
sorts. During the first world war they established an aviation department
which made parts for aircraft. For this purpose they erected three
interconnected buildings with Belfast roofs, housing sheet metal shops, a
wood mill and machine shops.
The picture above, showing their Bradley Engineering works, probably dates
from around 1945.
This aerial photo (courtesy of Keith Timmins) shows the
works at a somewhat later date and from a different angle.
Great Bridge Road runs across the right hand side; the Bentley canal
runs across the bottom and the railway line, now the Metro, runs across
the top right hand corner.
This second photo shows the works at their largest extent.
In 1918, when the war ended and with it their government contracts for
aircraft parts, there was little to occupy their existing buildings with
and the company was in trouble. To counter this they made a
foray in to making cars.
That foray was short lived but succesful, at least in the sense that
they made a very well regarded vehicle and in that it seems to have been
the development that got them into transport. Certainly they seem
to have got into motor transport sometime during the 1920s, not making
chassis and engines themselves but making and fitting all sorts of
bodies, especially tankers. Some of the earliest, and most
successful of these, were aircraft refuellers.
||This photo comes from a 1931 magazine. It shows a
tanker, designed by Scammel and built by Thompsons, with the
unusual feature of having no rear chassis frame, the tank itself
connecting the turntable to the rear wheels. Also the rearmost
section could be removed when not needed.
By courtesy of Peter Slater we have some pictures of later
Thompson Products. We do not have details of exactly what all of
these items are but they seem to have been photographed in the 1940s or
|This is an example of one of Thompson Brothers
specialities - special bodies. But what this one was for is far
from clear. Another photo of the interior seems to show a small
generator at one end and nothing else.
||This view from a window shows another special
trailer; but again its use is not known.
|This trailer is clearly for transporting liquids
and is therefore much more in line with what Thompson Brothers
became best known for.
||But other aspects of transport did not escape the
company's attention. Here is an "Indian Pattern" scotch and
|The notice seen in the photo announces that this
is stainless steel work by Thompson Brothers. They seem to be
some kind of pressure vessel, possibly associated with brewery or
dairy work, with which Thompson Brothers were concerned. But the
grey mist is not steam - it was added to the photo (by Bennett
Clark) to make the items stand out.
||This seems to be a generator. The greater part of
it is taken up by the Villiers stationery engine.
|This advert (by courtesy of Ian Beach) comes from the
Aeroplane in 1944 and shows aircraft refuellers lined up
outside the works, with Great Bridge Road to the right.
The advertisement to the left is of uncertain date but seems to
be from the 1950s. In it Thompson Brothers say they are
specialists in the production of: welded plate steel work, welded
steel tanks for transport and storage pf petrol, oils, acids,
alkalies (sic) and all liquids, chemical plant in mild steel,
Staybrite stainless alloys, aluminium, etc. etc, galvanising plant
of all classes, annealing covers and heat treatment equipment.
What the illustrations show they do not say.