Crosville's Chester Headquarters

Going back to the beginning of Crosville in about 1906 when the Crosland-Taylor family decided to start an engineering business in Chester the firm occupied its first premises in this area which is marked <A> on the map and is the present Crane House. Details of this are contained in notes of Edward Crossland-Taylor that appear in the book ‘The Sowing and the Harvest’ (S&H)

Crane House and Warehouse 1908

See the last photo on this page to see how its looks now

They rented these premises from the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company. The photograph, above, that appeared in ‘S&H’ shows this building seen from the river side. This area of Chester was at one time a busy dock area with the River Dee being navigable and able to accommodate fairly large ships up to 350 tons. This area was also served by the canal that passed through the heart of Cheshire and could access places such as Shrewsbury, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. However by the beginning of the twentieth century, dock traffic had reduced considerably and it was convenient to all for the large warehouse to see a new use.

This building known as Crane House and Warehouse is the only building of those that are mentioned in this article that still stands today. It is Grade II listed and is currently mainly flats but has some commercial units including a furniture gallery.

Edward’s notes in the ‘S&H’ tell us that shortly after engineering work started in the Crane House and Warehouse, a further building was acquired which is described as being ‘across the access lane to Crane Wharf’. This is clearly the premises marked as <B> on the map. This is the building that became the main headquarters for Crosville until the 1980s and is better recognised in this photo.

Crane Wharf in the 1960s

For a period the yard behind the repair shop <B> was also used as the depot for the Chester-based buses but the main purpose of the two premises mentioned was for engineering facilities which were at that stage the most significant part of the business. In 1924 the company leased a large plot of land from the Chester Corporation for a period of seventy-five years and on this land they erected some buildings which became the new Chester depot and also further workshops. This land was known as Tower Fields and had a postal address of New Crane Street. These are marked on the map as <C>.

Three years later in 1927 the former old roller skating rink in Liverpool Road was acquired and the ‘Rink’ then became the Chester depot with the premises on New Crane Street then being used as the main workshops.

Sealand Road Works (as in the 1970s)

Sealand Road Works was acquired during the early 1930s and opened shortly afterwards as a body shop. However this split the engineering side and there are interesting reports of ‘Lister Trucks’ being used to convey bodies, chassis and other items from one site to the other. After the new bodyshop was opened in Sealand Road, the opportunity arose to expand the premises into a complete central workshop. Additional land was acquired but unfortunately during this period, just before the Second World War, there were insufficient funds available for the necessary buildings. During the war, part of the works was used by Vickers Armstrong but this ended to the company’s advantage, as it was agreed that further buildings would be erected on the extended land at a shared cost and after the war all of the buildings on the site passed back to Crosville.

A few years after the war the machine shop which had been at the Crane Wharf <B> premises was moved to Sealand Road. This enabled new offices to be provided at Crane Wharf which apparently were badly needed, as the old offices in Crane House <A> was ‘nothing better than a ‘rabbit warren’. The new offices were opened in November 1950 and in addition to the various office accommodation for typists, machine operators and managers, there was also a drawing office, publicity office, architect’s room, a large uniform store, conductors' equipment store, stationery store and two conference rooms.

Crane Wharf - offices in the 1950s

Once the old offices had been moved to Crane Wharf this enabled Crane House and the old warehouse <A> to be vacated and it was soon occupied by other businesses.

The erecting shop Crane Wharf in 1944 showing a 'Lister Truck'.

Shortly afterwards, the old erecting shop at the premises on New Crane Street <C> was also moved to Sealand Road Works, thus bringing about the long-standing ambition that all the engineering facilities being carried out in one central workshop. The last function of the premises in New Crane Street was to be a distribution centre for the new Lodekkas that were delivered during the winter of 1954. This event is described in ‘A History of Crosville Motor Services’ by R. C. Anderson, where he indicated that on one morning numerous drivers descended on the premises to collect the forty or fifty vehicles that had been been stored awaiting their collection. These premises then became occupied by the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board (MANWEB) as can be seen in the photograph.

The erecting shop which became the MANWEB Transport depot 1989

- still showing the faded Crosville name

The next change in 1989 did not occur for very many years. In fact over thirty-five years elapsed before other premises in the area was acquired by Crosville. This was the premises marked on the map as <D> and has a postal address of ‘Walls Avenue’ despite that it adjoins the former erecting shop <C>. These premises were known as the Victoria Works and had been occupied for a number of years by an engineering firm, Pratt Levick & Company Limited.

The relocation to Walls Avenue took place 65 years after the company first signed a lease on its original Walls Avenue premises now next door. The move took Crosville out of its premises at Crane Wharf. where it has been based since the formation of the company in 1906. It came after the split of Crosville and Crosville Wales at deregulation—a move which left Crosville in the oversized headquarters of the joint company. ‘The Crane Wharf premises were really too big for the 30 people employed at head office’ said managing director, Tony Harrison. ‘The move helps in cutting down overheads vital In maintaining the company's profitability. whilst at the same time giving us a neat compact unit from which to work’.

A further advantage of Walls Avenue was that the new central engineering works were to be on the same site, thus eliminating many administration difficulties. In the interest of minimising the expense of moving, many of Crane Wharf's fixtures and fittings were transferred to Walls Avenue. As Ken Bickle, Engineering Director explained, ‘One of the better features of Crane Wharf was the wood panelling in some of the offices. This was carefully removed and along with other fittings and fixed office furniture, was reinstalled across at Walls Avenue, thus constituting a substantial saving in the fitting of the new offices.’ Among items to be moved was the original Crosville boardroom table. Weighing in excess of half a tonne and the 12 feet x 5 feet table top being in just one piece, the move was quite a task. In the event if required the removal of a first floor window through which the table was then winched in.

There were plans to buy a neighbouring premises to provide a purpose built body shop but this did not materialise

The Crosville Offices and workshops in Walls Avenue in 1989. To the left is the former erecting shop now a MANWEB depot. To the rear can be seen the original Crane House and Warehouse which still stands today

So here we have the irony that Crosville started in the area of Chester known as the ‘Old Port’ area. They decided to have a central engineering works which they established a little distance away, but for a considerable period had to deal with the issue of having split premises, moving parts from the two locations, until the central site at Sealand Road was established. Some time later due to the split in the company, they downsized and occupied a new premises not very far from the very first Crosville premises. Then for a shorter period two engineering premises were run, as it took a while for the Sealand Road Works to close.

As was said earlier, of all these premises only the original Crane House and Warehouse still stands <A>. The remaining locations are all now occupied by modern housing including, of course, Sealand Road Works. The premises in Walls Avenue did not last long, as a year later Crosville was sold off as described in the Timeline <<LINK>> and there was no longer a need for a head office.

The rear of Crane House now a Grade II listed building - in 2021