Brought up in County Durham’s ex-colliery village, Esh Winning, you could say Jack Lumsden has always had Esh in his blood. Starting his working life in the Durham Collieries when he left school aged 15, Lumsden never shied away from a hard day’s graft.
It was that hard-working nature which led to Jack being commended with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 CECA North East Awards, in recognition of his contribution to the Civil Engineering sector.
As Lumsden & Carroll celebrates its 50th anniversary, we caught up with Jack to talk company firsts, partnership with Tony Carroll, and passing the business over to the next generation.
You started out working in the collieries, how did you first get into working in construction and on the sites?
The collieries were starting to close, including the one I was working at in Waterhouses. There was 6 of us asked to go and work on a private colliery line, I went there but it was like stepping back in time, it wasn’t good working down there. When I was 21, I went to the races and won £700 on ‘Peter Piper’, that was good money in those days and that’s when I decided I wasn’t going back to the colliery. I went down to Durham and got a job with Northumbrian Water doing pipelaying, it was easy to get jobs in those days though, and it went from there.
Talk me through the early days. How did Lumsden & Carroll get off the ground?
When we kicked off, we couldn’t afford much, so any profit we made on top was put into a bank account to help with the start up. We made some money, but it was nothing compared to what it is today. The office was a room in my house initially. I would be in there doing the estimating and payroll and any gear and tools that we had would either be in the gardens or the garage.
We bought the Durham Road office and our industrial space at the same time. Initially, we were both working on the sites, but as the jobs got bigger, I would stay in the office doing the estimates and valuations, and Tony would look after all the jobs and make sure they were done to a good standard.
Lumsden & Carroll has a strong local connection around County Durham, and particularly Esh Winning. How influential has the workforce been in developing the business through the last 50 years?
The only way you got work was by doing a good job. We got more and more work because we were doing a good job – our reputation was built on that premise. We had some really good contracts. We could only take it so far though, and we had to get better men in to take it further and drive it forward the rest of the way.
We all worked hard. The people we employed made our lives easier. They did a good job and it was easy. We never looked at a clock – it made no difference. We worked ‘til the job was finished at night; you’d start in the morning and you stayed ‘til it was done.
Brian Manning was hired in 1990 as a general manager. How much of a turning point was that for Lumsden & Carroll? Did it shape the future merger into Esh Group?
Brian was just a young fellow when he joined, Tony met him on a contract at Sherburn Hill. We knew that he would fit in all right. He started on £25,000 a year and we gave him a £5,000 bonus. It was a lot of money in those days, but you knew you were getting your money’s worth with Brian.
We had already started working with local authorities, which helped us secure more work, but having Brian as general manager and securing British Standards Institute accreditation in 1995 definitely helped. We had some really good contracts, but the BSI nod got us more local authority work. Brian was the main driving force behind the merger too, with Michael Hogan, when we formed Esh Group.
What have been the major changes you have seen in construction in your 50 years with Lumsden & Carroll?
I would say the way construction has become more commercialised. You really have to be on the ball now. You wouldn’t get away with driving around with your pick and shovel in the back of the car now. Health and safety [has improved] too. There wasn’t much of that back in the day. You had to look after yourself.
In 2002, you retired from Lumsden & Carroll but remained active in construction circles across the region. How did your involvement with CECA support the aims of the business?
I always enjoyed our work. I wish I was back doing it now. We have been members of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) for 40 years, but back in 2002, I was chairman for two years. I used to go down to London for meetings. We felt it was important to be a member of CECA because it gave you access to lawyers and wider conversations in the sector. There are probably 80 or 90 civil engineering companies in it; it’s quite big. If you are in civil engineering, it’s good to be in CECA.
Your partnership with Tony Carroll has been solid throughout the 50 years. Were there any turbulent times between you?
Oh, we had our arguments and that, but most of us were friends. With Tony, you could always depend on him doing everything right. There wasn’t a job he didn’t go to that wasn’t first class, so you didn’t have any problems at all.
Jack always understood that he had a wider responsibility to the industry, and his time as Chairman of CECA fully demonstrates this commitment to the Civil Engineering profession. There are countless people who have benefited from his advice and encouragement through the years, and the high standards for which he has always striven and demanded from others. In the world of Civil Engineering, Jack Lumsden is a giant of a man and so deserving of this recognition.”