Thompson Bros. Logo

Thompson Bros (Bilston) Ltd.

history continued

Thompson Bros. Logo


Advert The advert to the left seems to be a little later and what they specialise in has changed a little:  design and construction of chemical and galvanising plants, heat treatment equipment, storage tanks, transport tanks, stainless steel milk tanks and aircraft fuellers, and fabricated plate work for the engineering industry.

The illustrations show a 350 gallon stainless steel jacketed mixer, a 1,800 gallon stainless-clad jacketed mixer, and 4 foot diameter, 52 foot long mild steel column, a centrifugal machine and a liquid spelter pump.



A company organisation chart from 1945 (again provided by courtesy of Peter Slater) describes the company as "Engineers - chemical and brewery plant, transport vehicles for liquids, aircraft fuellers and components, galvanizing and annealing plant"; and they also did dairy plant. It seems that they did not confine themselves to the tanks and containers but would provide a whole system.

Our next exhibit (right) is an advertisement from 1953 which describes the same sort of range of products, which includes a tanker for Cadbury (and three items which also appear in the advert above)..

Organisation Chart

We now move forward to the 1960s when we have more pictures of Thompson's mainstream products, this time by courtesy of Ian Beach, who served an apprenticeship with the company and has sent us the brochure, from which these pictures come, all the way from Australia.

Tanker 3,250 gallon, stepped, elliptical, mild steel, four compartment frameless petrol tanker;  Leyland prime mover, Crane running gear.


800 gallon, single compartment, mild steel, kerosene tanker, designed to deliver fuel to earth moving equipment on site;  Bedford 4 x 4 chassis.



Tanker 3,600 gallon, five compartment, mild steel, lubricating oil tanker;  Atkinson chassis.


4,000 gallon, five compartment, articulated spirit tanker;  Leyland prime mover, Dyson running gear.



Autotanker 4,000 gallon "Autotanker", six compartment, aluminium alloy, frameless integral road tanker for petrol.

At this time Thompson Brothers advertised that they had branch offices in Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester and Cardiff; and offices abroad in USA, Jamaica, Lebanon, Pakistan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Belgium and Malaya.

By 1962 the company seems, from a trade directory of the time, to have become part of John Thompson Ltd..  By the time of the Wolverhampton Official Handbook of 1967 they are listed under John Thompson Ltd. as one of their subsidiaries.  They are described as "well known as an important supplier of bulk liquid transport vehicles, storage tanks and aircraft refuellers.  Four 3,100 gallon "Conway" refuellers and two 4,500 gallon trailers have been supplied to China.  The latest Thompson Bros. vehicle to enter the market is a "Thompson Stetter" concrete truck mixer which has been well received by a number of firms".   

After that the company's history becomes complex.  Keith Timmins tells us that John Thompson became part of NEI (Northern Engineering Industries) and that the Thompson Brothers part of the organisation, and their works at Bilston, became known as Thompson Tankers.  That was renamed as Thompson Commercial Vehicles.  That part was therefore separate again from John Thompson.  Then the company and the old Thompson Brothers site was acquired by the American company Heil.  So the firm now trades as Heil Trailer International.  Heil was originally founded in 1901 to make welded rails but soon branched out into making trailers and tankers. It still does so with 46% of its US sales being petrol tankers.  Its headquarters are in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Since 1993 Heil has been part of Dover Corporation, which also includes Heil Environmental, whose main sales are of refuse collection vehicles.  

The UK company at Great Bridge Road carried on a thriving trade in building, repairing and servicing tankers, making around 250 tankers a year.   In December 2003, at a very large international industrial conference in Telford, Wendy Beasley, the plant manager, gave a paper in which she said that, six years ago "Thompson's was a very sleepy firm that was going under fast".  Now an automatic production line had been installed but what had really turned the firm round was the introduction of new skills and multi-skilling.

Then in December, 2004, the whole operation was closed down.  The site - some 10 and a half acres - was sold to Barratt Homes. Heil will continue in the UK but elsewhere and on a different business model which seems not to include doing their own manufacturing here.

Only part of the original site was used by Heil  - the central core of more modern buildings.  The area which used to be known as the B Side, and some other parts, was sold for housing in the early 1990s and the area is now occupied by a Barratt housing estate and associated park land. 

Barratt housing estate and associated park land.

the new housing estate The photo above was taken on the bridge over what was the Bentley Canal and what is now part of a landscaped open space.  Great Bridge Road runs up to a railway bridge which now carries the Metro.  Part of the existing works and the new housing estate can be seen across the centre and to the right in both photos.
The main entrance to Heil's works is on the right of this photo, taken in the summer before the works closed.  To the left is the frontage of some of the main buildings in the works, now covered with ivy.  A Union flag flies above them.

main entrance to Heil's works

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