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Thornycroft lorries 1919-1926

The Thornycroft era started when John I Thornycroft (later Sir John) designed a steam road vehicle in 1862. Two years later, he formed the Steam Carriage and Wagon Company, with works at Chiswick, London. However, the project was brought to a halt by over-zealous road vehicle legislation, so Thornycroft turned to shipbuilding, and for the next 31 years, he concentrated on building up a successful marine business. John Thornycroft took up road vehicle work again in 1895, also continuing with his shipbuilding and marine engineering business, and built his first steam vehicle at the Chiswick works. The Thornycroft Steam Wagon Company of Chiswick put steam lorries and vans into production, and a new factory was set up at Basingstoke, Hampshire, to meet demand. The War Office was one of Thornycroft's vehicle customers.

In 1902, Thornycroft introduced IC-engined (i.e. motor) vehicles, and the firm went on to become a noted manufacturer of commercial motor vehicles. In 1903, the firm entered car manufacturing and produced upmarket cars, but high demand for its commercial and other heavy vehicles meant that manufacturing facilities had to be concentrated on them, and car production was stopped in 1912. Thornycroft expanded its heavy vehicle range, and its 4 ton (4,064kg) Type J lorry became a famous workhorse in WW1, during which around 5,000 were delivered for military use. The war ended in 1918, and by 1919 Thornycroft's Basingstoke works employed some 1,500 people and produced heavy IC-engined vehicles and IC marine engines. Thornycroft's product range, manufactured in Basingstoke and Southampton, went on to include motor vehicles for goods, passenger transport and municipal service, various types of boat and ship, marine power plant, etc. Thornycroft also had depots and branches both at home and overseas.

Among other things, this website gives extensive details of Thornycroft's lorries for the period 1919 to 1926. Also given are details of the Basingstoke factory and the production process, feats of endurance, customers and the subsidy scheme. The social impact of road haulage is examined, driving impressions of one of several surviving lorries are recorded, and the story behind the restoration of a Thornycroft lorry is told. Contemporary reference sources have been used, and archive photographs and colour plates are reproduced as well as current photographs of some of the preserved vehicles.

These pages provide a timeline history of the Thornycroft company's lorry-building activities, supported by other sections relevant to lorry operations during the period 1919 to 1926. A description is given of the Basingstoke factory in 1919, divided into products, site layout, numbers of employees and an item-by-item description of the factory processes, supporting facilities and services. Road haulage developed rapidly from the turn of the century onwards, denying railways their former transport monopoly, and the resulting social impact of road transport in terms of goods distribution, manufacturing, employment and road-building is examined. The conditions under which operators received government financial help for lorry purchase are explained in the subsidy scheme section. Thornycroft lorry sales news items are summarised, spread over a wide spread of operators both at home and overseas, and stories of notable feats of endurance, impressive even nowadays, are also told.

Information for these pages comes from contemporary Thornycroft technical data and other sources, as well as contemporary copies of The Commercial Motor.



  • bhp brake horsepower
  • CMUA Commercial Vehicle Users Association
  • CO Commanding Officer
  • Co Ltd Company Limited
  • CV Constant velocity
  • FD Final drive
  • F.R.S. Fellow of the Royal Society
  • HMAS Hampshire Museums and Archive Service
  • HMS His/Her Majesty's Ship
  • hp horse power
  • HT high tension
  • IC internal combustion
  • ioe inlet over exhaust (valves)
  • kt knot (nautical mile per hour)
  • kw kilowatt
  • L-head side inlet and exhaust valves on the same side of the engine
  • LL. D. Doctor of Laws
  • Ltd Limited (as in Company Limited)
  • mpg miles per gallon
  • mph miles per hour
  • RAC Royal Automobile Club
  • rpm revolutions per minute
  • RSW Rigid six-wheeler
  • Sgt Sergeant
  • sv side valve
  • T-head side inlet and exhaust valves on opposite sides of the engine
  • v volt
  • WD War Department
  • WO War Office


A Type BT serving Thomas Martin Ltd of Fulham Cross