Joseph Baxendale – Transport Visionary

Many of you reading this won’t have heard of Joseph Baxendale before, but at Pickfords his name is well-known. Baxendale was arguably the most influential director at Pickfords, taking the company from a family-owned regional concern to a fully-fledged national business. Here’s how he did it…

Joseph Baxendale came to Pickfords in 1817 at a time when the company was in need of new investment with James Pickford and Matthew Pickford II withdrawing their capital from the business. Whether due to too swift an expansion – the company added more than 30 depots and wharves between 1803 and 1817 – or a downturn in trading conditions precipitated the move by James and Matthew II isn’t clear, but Baxendale’s arrival, along with Zachary Langton and Charles Inman, saw the beginning of a new era for Pickfords.

Joseph Baxendale

The new Pickford & Company, registered on 1st April 1817, was overseen by Baxendale in the Manchester office while Matthew Pickford and Langton ran operations in Southern England from London, with Inman based in Leicester.

Baxendale set about assessing the company from top to bottom, touring every company depot and the road and canal routes they used, observing every aspect of the business and making his view known in no uncertain terms. This fastidious attention to detail gave him a comprehensive overview of how the company operated, knowledge that was to be critical for the future of the company.

Shortly thereafter a new upheaval beset the carrying trade, for having negotiated the potentially damaging introduction of the canal system the newly-developed railway network introduced a new, potentially dangerous competitor to Pickfords.

Baxendale saw the newcomer similarly to the canals, wisely deciding to collaborate rather than compete. He met with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway first, and while attempts to win some of their goods traffic business were unsuccessful, he did negotiate special rates for the movement of Pickfords vans.

Other railway companies were approached with the idea of them being used for at least part of the journey for goods consigned between the major industrial centres of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. The route between Birmingham and London became particularly attractive to carriers using the railway for all or part of the journey for consignments, and Baxendale was keen to exploit such potential to the full.

He foresaw a great increase in traffic as the railway network continually expanded and became more joined up with the rest of the country, and wanted Pickfords to have a stake in this future business. He authorised the building of a vast new depot in Camden Town which would take advantage of the expected increase in rail-borne traffic.

Map of Pickfords site in Camden

The new depot included warehousing, stables and offices was built on the south side of Regent’s canal opposite to the existing Camden depot of the railway. A bridge was built over the canal to connect the two depots, and facilities installed for the easy transfer of goods between canal barges, the depot and railway loading bays.

Baxendale proudly opened the depot in 1841, but it didn’t enjoy the success he had envisaged. A long and costly legal battle between Pickfords, other carriers, and the Grand Junction Railway led to Pickfords not using that line for its traffic to and from the Manchester area, instead having to make use of longer and slower routes.

Baxendale ostensibly handed over day-to-day management of Pickfords to his children in 1847 but remained a partner and retained control of the business. He is listed in the 1871 Census, aged 85, as CEO of Pickford & Co. He died in 1872, aged 86.

A eulogy by an acquaintance of Baxendale’s reads:

“In the conduct of the business Baxendale’s energy was judgement were equal to the necessity. Night after night he traversed the roads in his special travelling carriage, on the look-out to see that none of his employees slackened in their duty, as often as not passing by by-roads so as to double back on the drivers, who in consequence never knew whether he was before or behind them; so, general vigilance thus became the rule of all.”

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