P.R.V. - History

Hall Lewis & Co. Ltd., the large Cardiff based company that could date its origins back to 1889, was mainly concerned with the railway industry and had several transport operations around the country.  Extending its operations even further; in the early 1920's  

it took over some of the disused army storage buildings left over from the WW1 munitions factory at Abbey Road, Park Royal and used these premises for wagon repair.  Branching out into other forms of transport, in 1924 Hall Lewis established a coachbuilding facility on the site and, apart from constructing railway carriages, the operation proved very successful; firstly in motor car bodies and later with charabancs and buses.  However, a decline in the company's railway interests, along with considerable competition in the coachbuilding business, forced the Hall Lewis company into liquidation.  During 1929, advertisements were placed in The Commercial Motor magazine by the Receiver of Hall, Lewis & Co. Ltd. in voluntary liquidation.  One such advertisement in the August 13th issue, offered "for immediate use a number of second-hand 20 and 30 seater Saloon Buses of the following makes: Thornycroft, Lancia, Dennis, Berliet, etc.." 

Entering the scene was one Harry Yager a Romanian Jew who had escaped persecution with his family and, contrary to other reports, had arrived in the UK some time before 1901 settling in Bethnal Green

where he, his father and younger siblings began their business as cabinet makers (see note[1] below). In about 1902, the twenty-four year old Harry began his own Cabinet Making business that flourished and was soon expanded into being a timber merchants.  Harry became a naturalised British Citizen in 1907 and later founded the London Plywood Manufacturing Company from which Hall Lewis sourced much of its material (see note[2] below).

 

Upon the closure of Hall Lewis, Harry, ironically (see note[3] below) now being a major creditor, negotiated the purchase of the 'Park Royal located' liquidated assets of Hall Lewis and thus on April 12th 1930 a new company, Park Royal Coachworks, was formed.  Harry became chairman, of course, and his eldest son, Solomon a director (see note[4] below). His second son  Reuben, who took a job at PRC, was given a directorship in 1932 upon his reaching the age of twenty-one.
However, after five years, in 1935 Harry & his sons, retired from the board, handing control to W. R. (Bill) Black (later Lord Black) who had joined the company as General Manager the previous year.  PRC remained in the control of the Yager family throughout the war years until Harry's death in April 1946 when the family decided to rename the business as Park Royal Vehicles and float the company in the October of the same year (see note[5] below). 

The PRV Sedan Chair logo dates from the Hall Lewis time and was also used for PRC..

Founded in 1916, the Charles H. Roe Ltd., coachbuilding company of Crossgates, Leeds, was taken over by the new PRV company in July 1947. However, the then larger PRV remained a public company for a very short period, itself being taken over during 1949 by 

Associated Commercial Vehicles Ltd.  ACV had been recently formed (in October '48) by the amalgamation of the Maudslay, Crossley and, most importantly, the AEC concern based at Southall.  So now PRV was linked with the manufacturer of the chassis that much of its production had theretofore been based upon (see note[6] below).

Whilst the Maudslay and Crossley firms remained fairly autonomous, though later they mostly badge engineered AEC/PRV designs (see PRV Royalist), the already close collaboration between AEC and PRV, that was now strengthened by their joint parentage, made a very formidable team that supported the demanding requirements of London Transport let alone many other major fleet owners and operators. However, in 1962 the beginning of the end of the ACV Group began when it merged with the newly formed Leyland Motor Corporation.

It should be noted that the ACV Group and Leyland had been bitter rivals, especially in the early days of the Routemaster and later in the early 60's when AEC had strongly opposed London Transport's suggestion that Leyland would be commissioned to supply running units for the vehicle.  AEC blocked the potential deal between LT & Leyland by forcing LT to adhere to its long held purchasing agreements with AEC.  This rivalry became a significant issue creating much antagonism between the former ACV companies and Leyland.  Leyland had promoted its Atlantean chassis as the group's main product in the commercial passenger vehicle market over anything that AEC produced, leaving the latter supporting its diminishing market for PSV chassis and Routemaster running units.  Leyland even introduced its Ergomatic cab across all its truck ranges further reducing AEC's own brand value.  

In 1968 Leyland Motor Corporation was once again renamed as the British Leyland Motor Corporation by the merger of Leyland and British Motor Holdings; the latter being an amalgamation of Austin, Morris and the Jaguar-Daimler-Guy group.  And ten years passed until the unsurprising announcement of the intended closure of AEC in 1979. With Leyland by then nationalised, and providing much of the chassis production, the London based AEC operation could no longer remain justified.

Hastened too by much industrial unrest, it was not to be many years before production of the Titan (the B15), designed and built by PRV, would be moved to Workington where less skilled staff could build the product (see note[7] below).  So, since yet another London based operation was no longer justified, the inevitable closure of PRV, that was announced as late as September 1979, finally occurred in July 1980 (see note[8] below).  So Leyland had finally got rid of the thorn in it's side that was ACV.

 Though Park Royal officially closed in July 1980 staff are seen here commemorating the closure in March.
More of this image can be seen on the PRV Farewell page.

Thus PRV really became a generic title for several companies that had operated since before 1924 on essentially the same site at Park Royal, albeit with increasing factory space and retained staff that, except for management, moved seamlessly through the organisational changes.

For more comprehensive reading please see the following two excellent publications by Alan Townsin (sadly both volumes are now out of print but copies can still be found through second-hand bookshops - Click on the ISBN to search ABE Books):

Park Royal Coachworks (Vehicles) Ltd - Part 1 (1924-1944)
ISBN 0-903839-17-2
 Transport Publishing Co. 1979

Park Royal Vehicles Ltd - Part 2  (1942-1980)
ISBN 0-903839-42-3
 Transport Publishing Co. 1980

To complete the sad tale of the British Bus & Truck industry, and indeed the British motor manufacturing industry in general, British Leyland Motor Corporation, that could date its heritage back to 1896 when the Sumner and Spurrier families founded the Lancashire Steam Motor Company at Leyland (being renamed Leyland Motors as far back as 1907), had by acquisition, at its peak, a vast number of manufacturing plants and a very diverse product list.  Its then merged motor manufacturing companies, that were previously rivals, were allowed to continue with similar (in fact virtually identical) products competing in the same marketplace across which there was considerable replication.

British Leyland (or BL as it was known) found itself unable to manage the huge and complex variety of businesses and its failure to "rightsize" (no doubt partially due to the potential for industrial action) eventually forced it into bankruptcy in 1975 when it was effectively nationalised by the then Labour Government.  Its following history was one of closures, the shedding of assets and ironically the loss of employment that might have otherwise been saved by the lost opportunity of appropriate streamlining.

In 1986 Leyland Trucks & Vans was bought by the Dutch firm DAF which in 1993 sold off what was left.  The US conglomerate PACCAR, that had acquired Foden Trucks in 1981, bought DAF in 1995 and the residue of Leyland in 1998 that it integrated with Foden.  Also in 1986 the Leyland Bus Division became the subject of a management buy-out but was eventually sold to Volvo just fifteen months later.  These two actions in 1986 thus heralded the demise of the UK Bus & Truck industry.

Note[1]: On page 15 of the book by Alan Townsin [Park Royal Coachworks (Vehicles) Ltd - Part 1 (1924-1944)] it is incorrectly stated that "Harry Yager had come over from Poland during the First World War and had built up a large and very successful timber business."  This was evidently hearsay evidence of gossip, no doubt widely considered the truth when Alan Townsin was researching for his otherwise excellent and factual book. Genealogical research proves that Harry was from Romania and arrived in the U.K. well before 1901 (see Harry Yager's immediate ancestry and descendents).

Note[2]: In 1917 Harry Yager, along with two other directors Botwright & Cook, formed the London Aviation Company Ltd. with its headquarters at 27-28 Charlotte Street, Shoreditch.  Said to be 'Manufacturers and dealers in aircraft and parts' this was a euphemism for 'plywood supply'.  Nonetheless the company supplied the timber for the very light and fast WW2 de Havilland Mosquito, apparently for which Solomon provided some design input.

Note[3]: Harry's takeover of the liquidated assets of Hall Lewis was ironic considering Harry had himself been the subject of bankruptcy proceedings many years previous from a Receiving Order made against him on July 25th 1907.  This is one of a number of instances of property transfers and voluntary liquidations that can be found; admittedly not all to be construed as inappropriate, especially the winding up of Harry's investment company in 1949 three years after his death. But in mitigation of Harry's ruthless business acumen he evidently worked hard for his community laying the foundation stone for the Willesden District Synagogue and having a hall at Stamford Hill Synagogue named after him.

Note[4]: Reported in THE TRAMWAY AND RAILWAY WORLD - May 15th 1930; Page 271
OMNIBUS AND COACH SECTION - THE PARK ROYAL COACHWORKS
Park Royal Coachworks, Ltd., which has recently been registered, has been formed to take over the coach-building business of Hall, Lewis & Co., Ltd. (in voluntary liquidation). It will carry on the business of building the same high quality passenger bodies, and there will be no change in the management.*
Mr A.T. Froggatt and Mr. B. Homfray Davies have joined the board. The other directors are Messrs. H Yager, R. Dunsmore, W.S. Grossmith, and S. Yager.
(*Except the founding board members were not given any roles.)

Note[5]: Harry Yager and his son Solomon were initially Chairman & Board Member in the newly formed Park Royal Coachworks (along with other board members', though none of the original founding Hall Lewis board remained [see note[4] above]). Later, upon his becoming twenty-one, Harry's second son Reuben joined the Board.  Whilst the Yager's were a family of exuberant characters, their expertise was not in the commercial vehicle business and Reuben, in particular, known for his excesses and playboy attitude, had an approach to a working life not conducive to the propriety essential in the dignified world of commercial vehicles.  Thus the decision was made that Harry and his sons would retire from the Board and hand full control of the day to day running of the business to Bill Black who had joined the company as General Manager the previous year. This was reported on Page 75 of "Commercial Motor" on 29th March 1935. With all their failings in the Commercial Vehicle business, the Yager family's ruthless entrepreneurialism had saved a significant part of the Hall Lewis business; and all the jobs that went with it.  Park Royal Vehicles would never have existed without Harry.

Note[6]: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ACV, AEC & PRV: A common fallacy is that PRV was a subsidiary of AEC - this was never the case. The truth is that on October 1st 1948 Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) was formed as a holding company upon the purchase of the Crossley & Maudslay concerns by the  Associated Equipment Company (AEC). Simultaneously, the manufacturing business, Associated Equipment Company (AEC), ceased to exist and became simply AEC Ltd that immediately became part of the ACV Group. In 1949 it was ACV (not AEC) that took control of PRV and thus PRV became a sibling company to AEC Ltd. under the same umbrella organisation.

Note[7]: The initial design work for the B15 had began as early as 1972 but perhaps it maybe significant that, at least later in the process, the final drawings were, unusually, being taken to extraordinary detail with all components individually drawn and microfilmed.  It might be construed from this that, whilst previously there had been a number of good reasons to consider the closure of PRV, Leyland management had been considering moving B15 production to a less skilled plant for quite some time and the "surprise" announcement of PRV's closure had possibly been a well kept secret for some years.

Note[8]: The closure of Park Royal Vehicles was debated in the House of Commons.  Click here for the text of the debate that makes for interesting reading.  Mr Laurie Pavitt (MP for Brent South at the time) certainly, in my opinion, understood the company-political environment in which PRV found itself.  Citing a then recent article in the Guardian, the sentiments of the PRV workforce regarding Leyland management are well documented and reflect precisely the views that my father held.  During the occasional unrestrained moments from his usual quiet demeanour, I can hear him now on the subject .......(Ed.).

 Graham Hill

For more reading on this site see Let's hear it for the Coachbuilders' which is my article to put the record straight about the role of the Coachbuilder.