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1646 – 1817

A carrier is born

  • 1646: Pickfords’ earliest recorded mention; Thomas Pickford using packhorses for carrying goods in Cheshire
  • The original Pickford family mended roads using packhorses
  • Thomas spotted the opportunity to generate income from the return journey and carried goods for other parties.

Transport pioneers

  • James Pickford pioneered transport by wagon; the company expanded to reach London by 1740.
  • Matthew and Thomas Pickford invented the ‘Fly wagon’, cutting travelling time from Manchester to London down to four and a half days.

Good times and bad

  • 1780: Matthew Pickford began to route traffic over the new canal system
  • By 1803, Pickfords owned a fleet of canal boats, wagons and horses and had built its own canal connected facilities.
  • The Napoleonic Wars lead to a boom in business and subsequent expansion, though by 1817 the good times were followed by a period of decline.
  • The Pickfords family withdrew and Pickfords was acquired by Joseph Baxendale in 1817.

1817 – 1932

Baxendale: a transport visionary

  • Joseph Baxendale was the driving force in the new Pickford & Company, set up in 1817.
  • Rebuilt the company through the following decade.
  • Embraced the railway network as a method of transportation.
  • His family continued to serve the company until 1932 when L H Baxendale resigned from the board.

The Jack the Ripper connection

  • In 1888 a series of murders took place in London’s East End; the perpetrator was never caught.
  • It was theorised that Jack could have been a Pickfords cart man called Charles Cross, found at the scene of the first murder.
  • Cross was on his way to Pickfords’ Broad Street depot when he found the body of Polly Nichols.
  • Cross gave a false name under interrogation - Charles Latchmere.
  • Charles never charged and the identity of Jack the Ripper remains a subject of fascination.

1901 – 2000

The motor age begins

  • Pickfords was one of the first carriers to use motor vehicles.
  • Started running 20 traction engines in 1903.
  • Between 1918 and 1921, Pickfords’ national fleet included 1,580 horses, 1,900 horse vehicles and 46 motor vehicles.
  • In 1910 Pickfords entered the travel business, investing in a fleet of motor coaches and ran “Seeing Britain” tours to Devon and Cornwall and later the Continent.

The first world war

  • Most of Pickfords’ resources were requisitioned for the Great War from 1914 to 1918.
  • Pickfords vehicles carried the materials of war as well as troops to the front in France.
  • In circa 1920, Pickfords was sold to the Hayes Wharf Cartage Company Limited.

The second world war

  • Pickfords was very active during WWII.
  • Sent lighters between the Solent ports and the Isle of Wight to evacuate the beaches at Dunkirk.
  • Also helped transport the sections of the Mulberry Harbours from throughout the UK to the South Coast in advance of D-Day.
  • Fuel rationing, air raids, bomb damage, shortages of timber, steel and rubber, government directives and the collapse of many established markets all challenged Pickfords’ ability to operate its business.


  • The Hays Wharf Cartage Company Ltd, of which Pickfords was a part, was acquired by the British Transport Commission
  • In 1947 the public operating company BRS (Pickfords) was established.
  • By this time the fleet had reached over 5,000 vehicles.
  • During this period removal teams wore formal jackets and ties, aprons and sturdy working boots.

Heavy haulage

  • Pickfords’ Heavy Haulage Division estd. 1907.
  • Quickly built a reputation for being able to move any type of heavy industrial load.
  • Became one of the leading providers of industrial haulage.
  • The decline of manufacturing compelled Pickfords to close the division in the 1990s.

The bad tempered load

  • In 1957 Billy Butlin offered £1,000 for the safe transport of Charlie, the largest elephant in captivity, from Ayr to Yorkshire.
  • Pickfords Glasgow selected to provide a low loader and a purpose built crate.
  • The journey took three days and Charlie proved to be notoriously bad tempered and dangerous.
  • Charlie’s move was the subject of a book which was serialised on BBC Radio 4 in 2008.

A national treasure

  • In 1963 BRS (Pickfords) Ltd became part of the National Freight Consortium (NFC).
  • In 1982 Thatcher announced that NFC was to be denationalised, the first privatisation of a state owned industry.
  • Pickfords’ MD Geoff Pygall was instrumental in facilitating the purchase from the government.
  • Employees were encouraged to invest in shares of the company and the subsequent growth fuelled by acquisition and investment ensured that some employees became financially secure for life.

1980 – today

The housing boom

  • Through the housing boom of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Pickfords grew to 120 branches.
  • The company enjoyed high street presence via its ‘Pickfords Travel’ business of travel agents.
  • Added Pickfords Records Management to its portfolio of business services.
  • The first international acquisition was Downards in Australia in 1984, rebranded Downard Pickfords.

Pickfords around the world

  • NFC acquired Allied Van Lines in 1988, the largest USA removal network.
  • The Allied Pickfords brand was licensed in all major relocation markets and became recognised across the globe.
  • Pickfords became the largest moving company in the world by 1989.

Into the new millenium

  • 1999: Pickfords was acquired by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and became part of SIRVA Inc.
  • SIRVA’s relocation arm went on to become one of the largest relocation companies in the world.
  • SIRVA experienced difficulties during the US recession sold Pickfords’ moving operations in the UK in 2008 to Yogesh Mehta.
  • MD Kevin Pickford was instrumental in steering the company through the change of ownership.

Pickfords on the box

  • In 2011, production company Tiger Aspect approached Pickfords to make a TV programme
  • Channel 5’s ‘The Removal Men’ was commissioned as an observational documentary about the removal men, their daily challenges and the customers they served.
  • Pickfords returned in 2012 for a second series, reaching over 1 million viewers per episode.

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