Welcome to the world of furniture removal, early 1900s-style.

The photographs on these pages - most, but not all, from the collection of transport historian and retired British Rail mechanical engineer Derek Rayner - show various removal wagons in York in the early decades of the 20th century.

There were at least two York removals firms operating under the name Bowman at the time, Derek says: Thomas Bowman, based in Aldwark and New Street; and James Bowman & Sons of Monk Bar. There was presumably some family connection between the two, though precisely what it was is lost in the mists of time.

Derek, who lives in Acomb, admits he was unaware of the existence of Thomas Bowman until he saw a photograph posted online by Audrey Hostey, whose grandfather's business it was.

The photograph shows three Sentinel waggons belonging to Thomas Bowman parked next to York Minster some time in the 1920s. The firm, Derek says, "provided furniture removal and storage facilities to the city's residents in the early years of last century."

York Press:

The three Sentinel waggons belonging to Thomas Bowman near York Minster in the 1920s. Pic: Audrey Hosty

More is known about the firm of James Bowman, which was also in the removals business. The firm had started out in about 1760, originally as cabinet makers and undertakers. By about 1920, Derek says, it was being run by Charles Bowman and his brother William, who lived at 24 Monkgate and 10 Brunswick Place respectively.

Before the arrival of mechanised transport, the company used horse-drawn wagons. At one point, Derek says, 'some 40 horses were stabled close to their Monk Bar premises.'

York Press:

A York-built Sheppee steam wagon with a Bowman's van on the back

J. Bowman & Sons ordered their first steam-powered vehicle in 1909: a Foster ‘Wellington’ tractor which could be used to pull their existing fleet of horse-drawn vans. In addition to the old horse-drawn vans, the firm also had a ‘mammoth van’ built entirely of sheet steel but with wooden wheels – and the tractor was also able to haul this load around without problem (see photograph top).

The company was apparently very satisfied with its first steam tractor. There is a testimony in a Foster catalogue of February 1911 which reads: “It has done just on 5000 miles without a mechanical hitch”. In 1914, however, the company took delivery of a Foden 5-ton wagon, and then alternated between tractors and wagons for several years before motor transport completely took over.

One removal job carried out by the firm was at Whitwell Hall, near Whitwell Hill on the main Scarborough road, about 12 miles east of York.

York Press:

Bowman wagons outside Whitwell Hall

At various times the company also moved furniture for three Archbishops of York – Dr. Cosmo Gordon Lang, Dr. William Temple and Dr. William Thomson – when they became Archbishops of Canterbury. They also moved Dr. Cyril Garbett from Winchester when he was appointed to the role of Archbishop of York.

When Charles and William Bowman died, the business passed to William’s son James - and eventually to his son Phillip who, in the course of time, sold it out of the family’s hands.

Derek, who is president of the Leeds & District Traction Engine Club, has in his collection a testimonial for a Bowman’s employee, Thomas Petch. In late 1926, Mr Petch was seeking the job of Transport Manager with the North Riding County Council. He was one of the sons of haulage contractor Robert Petch & Sons of Huntingdon Road, York, who himself had a fleet of six steam wagons between 1918 and the early 1930s.

York Press:

A Foden wagon belonging to Robert Petch & Sons

Rowntree’s also at one time owned a Foden wagon: a 4-ton Foden model bought by the chocolate firm from James Wallis of Darlington some time before 1921. This left Sandbach with vermilion underwork, and was edged black and lined in yellow. It was sold to York Autowreckers in February 1933 and subsequently sold on by them to Robert Petch, possibly for use as spares.

  • This feature is based on an article Derek Rayner published last year in the Journal of the Road Locomotive Society. Derek is keen to hear from anyone who has further information about removals firms in York in the early 1900s, or about either of the Bowman companies. He can be contacted at derek@invicta1915.freeserve.co.uk