The business of W&M Thompson was founded on 1st January, 1948, as a simple husband and wife partnership. It became W&M Thompson Limited in 1952 and as the business developed into a group of companies, it became colloquially known as “Thompsons of Prudhoe”. As the business developed further and the separate group companies were put into a formal parent/subsidiary structure in 1995, the parent company was called Thompsons of Prudhoe Ltd. The company was named after its founders William and Margaret Thompson, though they were known as ‘Bill’ and ‘Madge. Both were from an agricultural background in Cumbria. Before starting the business Bill was a farm labourer. He then moved to Lancashire working huge Clydesdale horses pulling barges on the Manchester Ship canal.
The business began by hauling agricultural lime, manure, hay, straw and slag (a beneficial fertiliser by-product from steelworks). To begin with there was just Bill and Madge: staff numbers would however eventually grow to over 250 employees today. Flat-bedded trucks were first used for hauling then and all loading and unloading of the materials that Thompsons hauled and supplied was done by hand with shovels. The first truck cost £494 17s 4d in 1947. (By contrast a modern Thompson’s truck costs c£90,000).
In 1948 the business was based at 151, Manchester Road, Astley. In 1950 it moved to 49, West Road, Prudhoe and operated from there until the mid-1960s. In 1965, a five-acre site at Priestclose, Prudhoe became the business’ depot. That in turn was outgrown, and in 1987 a purpose-built depot and Head Office was constructed at the Low Prudhoe Industrial Estate where the business is still run from. Bill and Madge’s sons, Billy and John, joined the business full-time as soon as they left school (though both helped in the business long before then). Aged 17 years, one month and sixteen days, Billy Thompson passed his driving test on 6th August 1956, and took his first load out that same night, all the way to Inverness. John Thompson left school in 1957 aged only 15 and he too was soon driving the spreader, working in the office at West Road, and driving wagons and excavators as soon as he was old enough. The ethos of hard work was embedded.
Bill and Madge set up the business and gave it a firm footing, but it was Billy and John Thompson who really drove the business through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to expand from hauliers and suppliers of agricultural products such as hay, straw and lime to a multi-million pound regional heavyweight in the construction and industrial contracting services sector, encompassing demolition, bulk excavation & earthworks, waste management and quarrying.
John’s son, John Jnr, and his eldest daughter, Helen, joined the business when they left school in the 1980s, and today are Directors of the business with their father. After leaving school in 1983, John Thompson Jnr served his apprenticeship across all parts of the business, working in the quarries, waste management sites and on earthworks contracts, but it was the demolition side of the business that he found the greatest excitement, and challenges. John Thompson Jnr has led, developed and refined the demolition side of the business to become one of the UK’s most prominent and respected demolition and industrial dismantling companies. He has twice been the North East Regional Chairman of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors and sits on its National Executive Board. The business has always been primarily a service company, even where that service is supplying products such as agricultural lime. Through the decades a commitment and actual practice of hard work and giving value for money has never changed. One aspect that has changed however, and where the company has led the way, was the promotion and use of recycled aggregate, as well as virgin aggregate, in construction projects. This came from a (self-interested) commitment to landfill avoidance. Thompsons was crushing and recycling concrete and bricks in the 1970s and 1980s, long before it became the norm with the advent of Landfill Tax in 1996. As it owned its own landfills – why would it fill them up with material that could be re-used as a bulk fill, if put through the crushers that it already owned in its quarries? As the company developed and refined this, the quality was to become (as with many industry competitors) such that recycled concrete is often preferred to virgin aggregates from a practical point of view, as well as a cost and environmental one.
With a focus on safety, training and a passionate commitment to long-term local direct employment, rather than ‘hire and fire’, or use agency labour, the professional management team of family and non-family members at Thompsons have maintained its reputation for hard work, value and fairness developed by Billy and John. One of the biggest challenges the firm faced however, was in April 1999 when Billy Thompson died suddenly at the age of just 59. John (now known as John Thompson Snr) still plays an active role as Chairman of the Group, offering his huge wealth of experience and advice to John Thompson Jnr and Helen Hillary (the third generation) who run the business with four other Directors who are long-standing, non-family, members of staff: John Burdon, Kevin Robson, Frank Hurst and Nick Shilling. Today, demolition and dismantling (including asbestos removal) is carried out nationally, in addition to earthmoving and supplying aggregates from North Yorkshire to the Borders, and ready-mix concrete around Tyneside. Agricultural Lime is even exported to Europe thanks to the unique quality of the Lime at the Bishop Middleham Quarry in Durham. A recent geographical expansion is a reclamation project delivering half a million tonnes of pure recycled aggregate from a single source in West Yorkshire over the next four years.
Clients include major construction companies, local authorities, petrochemical plants, housebuilders, commercial landlords, utility companies, power companies, utility companies and industrial estate operators.
Thompsons have been involved in some of the most high-profile construction and skyline changing projects in the North including the Tyne & Wear Metro system in the late 1970s, site reclamation and earthworks for the Metro Centre, in the early 1980s, the inaugural National Garden Festival in 1986, the last explosive blowdown of a block of flats in the North East - Hebburn in 1999 – and the demolition of the iconic “Get Carter” Car Park in 2011.
Thompsons have always invested in the best equipment for the job – whether spreaders, trucks or machines. For many years, Thompsons owned the largest dozer in the UK – the CAT D11 – which was only retired a few years ago having ripped rock at the quarries from 1988 for over 20 years. The D11 had replaced the D10 which had, until then, been the largest in the UK since its purchase in 1979.
We pride ourselves on being early adopters of leading-edge technology in our sectors, taking delivery of the first “High-Reach” demolition excavator in the North, (and one of the first in the UK) in 1997 – the CAT350. We purchased our own fleet of remote demolition machines in the mid 2000s, and in 2015, a biomass boiler has been commissioned to produce renewable heat for the extensive offices and workshops at the Group Head Office. The fuel savings and productivity from our new hybrid crushers and Euro 6 engines in our HGV fleet are already justifying our policy to buy the best, not the cheapest.
Continuous improvement and meeting the best standards of service and technical ability we reflected in the Group achieving the ISO9001 accreditation for Quality Management in 1998, ISO14001 accreditation for Environmental Management in 2002, ISO50001 for Energy Management and OHSAS18001 for Health & Safety Management in 2015.
For the future, investment in training, apprenticeships and the most up to date technology & equipment will continue whilst we maintain our quality service to clients, and win new ones through the consistent quality of our work. Looking back and looking ahead, our philosophy remains constant - “The aim is to finish a job, without any accidents or incidents, on time, for the price we have given, so that clients will want to invite us to tender again.”