The Bus Up the Dale

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Lodge Percival (1860–1948) was one of the younger sons of James and Mary Ann Percival of Gunnerside Mill. Mary Ann’s father, James Peacock, had been the miller at Gunnerside for several decades by the time of his death in the 1860s. Mary Ann herself was widowed in 1870 when James Percival died of typhoid fever. Local directories from the 1870s to the 1890s describe Mary Ann Percival as a grocer, miller and farmer. Doubtless her children, including Lodge in due course, helped her to keep these family enterprises going.

In 1884 Lodge Percival married Elizabeth Maragaret Heseltine, the daughter of a Gunnerside flour dealer, grocer and carrier, and they had nine children, of whom one died in infancy. The eight who lived to grow up were:–
Mary Ann (1885–1951)
William Heseltine (1886–1945) m. Lizzie Rutter, 1916
Margaret (1888–1948)
Dorothy Jane (1891–1972) m. Albert Newman, 1921
James (1893–1951) m. Elsie Bearpark, 1923
Eleanor Grace (1896–1952) m. Ambrose Harker Thompson, 1930
Elizabeth (1898–1983)
John Lodge (1902–1971) m. Lena Tipping, 1952

The 1901 Census describes Lodge Percival as a grocer and farmer: it is clear that he took on the running of the family farm and shop, and although the mill was by this time no longer working as such the Percivals still owned the mill premises they had inherited from James Peacock, and were able to put the buildings to good use.

Lodge Percival’s wife died in 1915, and his mother died the following year at the age of 84 just a few weeks before his eldest son, William Heseltine Percival, married Lizzie Rutter of Shoregill Head. William and Lizzie kept a small greengrocery at Croft View, just across the road from the larger grocery stores which the Percivals already had at the bottom of High Green. These two establishments were known, conveniently enough, as the Little Shop and the Big Shop respectively.

1916 was also the year in which Lodge’s second son, James Percival, joined the Yorkshire Regiment to fight in the Great War. He was to see three years’ military service abroad. The third and youngest son, John Lodge Percival, was at school in Richmond, but is said to have left and come home in order to help with the family business.

New detail, October 2021—
On the County Record Office website, under ref. NRCC/CL 9/1/1573, you can see Lodge Percival in September 2016 appealed against James’s call-up, deposing that James worked 15-17 hours a day “carting flour, grain, and provisions from Richmond station to Gunnerside and onward into [Upper] Swaledale, returning with coal from Tan Hill colliery to Gunnerside and district.” The premise of the appeal was that without James there would be “great difficulty in supplying farmers and householders.”

This is an eye-opener on several counts! It gives a vivid idea of the nature of the business, and indeed of the length of a Dalesman’s working day. It also highlights the importance of Tan Hill coal, which was not terribly good coal but was of course nearer, and cheaper, than the “station coal” available from the railhead down at Richmond—and probably in greater demand, now, than in the years immediately prior to 1914, because the War had caused a national shortage of coal for domestic use (Tan Hill coal would be in high demand again during the coal strikes of 1919 and 1926).

By 1920 the Percivals of Gunnerside were very well established as local farmers, hay and livestock dealers, carters, carriers and grocers. With James home again, all three of Lodge Percival’s sons were now active in the business. The idea of augmenting their existing horse-drawn Richmond run with a motor vehicle is said to have been William’s, and a Ford was duly acquired in or around May 1921. Family tradition has it that this vehicle could carry 14 passengers or a ton of meal. If so, it may have been what was then known as a “convertible” model like that purchased by John Robert Stubbs of Arkengarthdale around the same time.

A second motor-bus, this time a substantial Selden with a roofed charabanc body seating 20 passengers, was acquired in the Summer of 1922. Given that Percival’s buses later became practically a part of Swaledale, it’s interesting to note that the Percivals were by no means the first nor the most significant motor-proprietors in the Dale when they started. In May 1921 the Scratcherds of Reeth had a fleet of three motors on the road. The Percivals did not buy their third bus—a brand-new Ford 14-seater—until August 1924, and it may be that this was actually a replacement for their earlier Ford rather than an additional vehicle.

In the first half of the 1920s, motor vehicles were merely a novel sideline for the already well-established business of Lodge Percival & Sons.

This sideline presently took on an identity of its own, as William and James and John Lodge Percival began trading in the name of Percival Brothers. Many transport enthusiasts—and many former passengers—will recall the firm of Percival Brothers (Coaches), Ltd, which was established in June 1937 with its Registered Office in Richmond. But it is worth noting that this widely remembered bus company had its beginnings in a time and place where horsepower was still provided mainly by horses.

The Percivals who ran the firm never forgot its Swaledale roots—indeed it was arguably to the detriment of the business that John Lodge Percival later could not or would not do so: for, by the 1960s, running buses up and down Swaledale all day every day was no way to make money. “Why keep up services which are clearly uneconomic?” asked Northern Echo journalist Valerie Knox in a 1962 article—“Mrs Percival gave me her answer: ‘Sentiment.’ ” But we anticipate . . .

In the first half of the Twentieth Century, the firm of Lodge Percival & Sons served customers practically from cradle to grave. Provisions, tobacco, and groceries could be bought at the Big Shop in Gunnerside, where it was also possible to order coal, hay and farm supplies. Parcels and goods could be brought up from other retailers and tradesmen in Richmond, or collected from Richmond railway station, as could larger consignments from bedsteads to building materials. Rabbits and eggs were routinely taken down to Richmond—initially by Lodge Percival’s wagonette, and later by his sons’ motor-buses—to be sold at the market or consigned to the L. N. E. R. at the station.

Gunnerside tradesmen relied on Percival’s to convey their tools and materials to jobs outside the village, and indeed to lead sand from the bed of the River Swale for use in construction. Starting around 1930, the Percivals also generated electricity for lighting houses in Gunnerside, using a Lister 5 h.p. engine housed at the old mill; the same engine was also used for grinding animal meal, and was notoriously past its best by the time the National Grid reached Gunnerside at the beginning of the 1950s. And when at last you got beyond such earthly delights as these, the local undertaker might well send your coffin by Percival’s cart or even, on occasion, in the back of a Percival’s bus.

Most customers paid their bills at the Big Shop in cash, but some farming families would also credit home-made cheeses and even calves and pigs against their grocery accounts. The Percivals themselves kept pigs, up at the mill; thus from Lodge Percival & Sons it was possible, in the days when many families habitually kept a pig, to purchase a piglet, order the meal on which to rear it and then, at the appropriate time, buy the salt and saltpetre with which to cure the meat.

If you’re partial to a bacon sandwich, consider this: in the 1930s the Percivals could have sold you some of their own home-reared bacon, or else a pig and the meal with which to fatten it, and possibly even brought you a dietary supplement for it from Osmond’s of Grimsby, which would have been sent by rail to Richmond and collected from there by the next Percival’s bus; not only could they have sold you the salt and saltpetre you needed at pig-killing time, if you had found yourself short of meat-hooks in your pantry you could also have ordered a couple from Spence & Co. in Richmond to be sent up on the next bus; then the Percivals could have sold you the flour and yeast with which to make your bread, and the coal to heat your oven for baking, or else they could have delivered you a loaf from the baker’s in Reeth; and the Percivals could also have sold you some butter or, if you made your own butter, they could have sold you butter-colouring and butter-paper with which to make and wrap it. Had you then found yourself surfeited with bacon sandwiches, Dr Speirs of Reeth could have made up a prescription for you and sent it on the next Percival’s bus—and had you wanted some light entertainment to ease your suffering, Lodge Percival & Sons could have charged the accumulator for your wireless set at the mill.

On paper, ownership of Gunnerside Mill passed from Lodge Percival to the newer firm, Percival Brothers, in February 1938 but he was still often to be seen behind the counter of the Big Shop for some time after that. By this stage, the Percivals had at least half a dozen motor-buses on the road, as well as a hire car and one or two motor-lorries; they had established a bus garage at Barnard Castle in 1934 and taken over Albert Morton’s bus depot in Richmond around 1936; and they were shortly to buy the Reeth Motor Service bus operation from Tim Scratcherd with whom the Swaledale service had been run jointly since the end of the 1920s. For those who may be interested, we have compiled a Fleet List of Percival’s buses from 1921 to 1971.

Lodge Percival outisde the Big Shop in 1934 with granddaughter Betty Newman (now Betty Taylor)—note advertising for Capstan cigarettes, Wills’s cigarettes, Bovril, Chivers’ jellies, Zebo, Oxo, Kensitas cigarettes, Reeth Show. Photograph: Betty Pike collection.

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