Thomas Ward – The Elephant in the Room

There was a highly interesting and little-known period during which Triumph was owned by Thos. W. Ward Ltd., the internationally famous steel company. (See Below). Mr S. J. Dyal, a director of Ward’s, who was able to piece together the true account of this interim period when Triumph had its H.Q. not at Priory Street, Coventry, but at Albion Works, Sheffield.

Dave Allen and Dick Strome in the Modern Sports Car series, Triumph Guide, said: “the firm was taken over by Ward’s, internationally known coachmakers, with Donald Healey still in charge. At this date a very traditional-looking 1.5 litre Triumph with a squarish grille, bolt-on wheels and impeccable finish was offered, but only about forty were sold…”

Mr Dyal states: “The Triumph Company went into liquidation in June 1939, and we bought the whole of the land, buildings, plant and machinery in the August. We continued to work until soon after the war broke out in September, solely on the finishing of cars which were partly built, and in repairs and maintenance.”

“During the first few weeks of the war we were warned it was likely that the car works would possibly be taken over from us by the Ministry of Aircraft production, and we therefore decided to negotiate the sale of the main property through Mr. Pomeroy, the sale being to the carburettor concern of Hobson. This meant we had to give up possession of the works. We held an auction, sold the whole of the plant and machinery and transferred the Triumph stocks and stores to the repair depot, which of course we later sold to the Standard group.”

“We continued from 1939 to 1944-5 in repairs and maintenance of Triumph cars in such limited space as we had, which was chiefly in the basement of the repair section. We were not able seriously to consider putting the Triumph back into production because we had no manufacturing space, and as a policy decision it was agreed that car production was not to be our line of business. Triumph’s company secretary, Mr Owen, stayed with us until we sold out to Standard’s.”

“Mr Donald Healey was a member of the Triumph board and stayed with us a few months until he left to join Vickers-Armstrong on aircraft production.

The Triumph Company was to us merely a plain straightforward speculation, and because of the outbreak of war we really did not have the chance of continuing car production. ‘Holbrook’s typically English car’ did not stand a chance at this historic turning-point so eventually the assets – little more than the name Triumph – were eventually taken over by The Standard Motor Company.”

Thos Ward Ltd

Thomas William Ward was born in 1853, at the age of 15 he started work as a coal merchant and in 1878 he had his own business as a small domestic fuel supplier. Throughout the 1870’s there was a big demand for scrap metal in Sheffield and 1881 with the help of his brothers Joseph and Arthur he began a scrap metal business that became vital to Sheffield’s foundries and steelmakers. Thomas Ward developed an expertise in dismantling big structures such as ships (dismantled the Crystal Palace and RMS Olympic – sister to the Titanic) and eventually became the biggest scrap metal dealer in the country.

Lizzie the Elephant

...and the Elephant?
At the outbreak of The Great War, 1,235 people were on the payroll of Thomas Ward’s company and a thousand tons of scrap metal per day was being fed to the country’s steel makers. However, with demand so high, and many of the horses Ward had previously used to transport his goods around Sheffield conscripted by the military he had an increasingly difficult time to match supply with demand. Lizzie the Elephant was brought in as a solution to this problem.

Lizzie the Elephant was drafted in from Sedgwick’s Menagerie, a travelling circus ran by William Sedgwick, after work horses from Thomas Ward’s were sent or requisitioned to the front in the First World War. The elephant was said to be able to do the work of three of Ward’s horses and soon got herself the name ‘Tommy Ward’s Elephant’ as she became a familiar sight carrying or hauling goods around Sheffield.

There are strong indications that Lizzie went back to the Sedgewick family after the war, although there are some conflicting reports as with many other elephant stories of the time, and there is urban legend of Lizzie working with the Ward Company until the cobble stone roads of Sheffield damaged her feet and forced her into retirement.

Lizzie has gone down in Sheffield legend, and many stories and legends surround her adventures. She also gave name to the popular Sheffield sayings “done up like Tommy Ward’s elephant” – meaning someone carrying much weight, and the self-explanatory “like trying to shift Tommy Ward’s elephant”.