In Conversation With Tony Carroll
2nd December 2020
We caught up with Tony Carroll to discuss 50 years of Lumsden & Carroll.
Tony Carroll had just £1.50 to his name when he moved to London from Tipperary in 1958. He found work as a bouncer to get by, but it was his pipelaying work with Goodall and Sons that set him on his way to a career in construction.
Aged 21, he moved to Esh Winning with his wife Anne after they met in London at an Irish Dance Hall. The rest as they say, is history. As Lumsden & Carroll celebrates its 50th anniversary, we caught up with Tony to talk company firsts, partnership with Jack Lumsden, and passing the business over to the next generation.
How did you first get into working in construction and on the sites?
In London, I worked at Goodall and Sons where I learnt pipelaying for ‘six bob’ an hour, that was my wage. I still remember my first days in Esh Winning, when I arrived, I got a job the next morning putting the pipeline in at Ushaw Moor. When I finished there, I was sent up to an old, abandoned colliery where I set about three or four shafts up there for the hoppers to clean all the coal. They were only up there a few years and then they were knocked down and closed and finished.
I moved around a bit, I worked for Tarmac and for a housebuilding company on the Broompark estate, but I got a bit fed up thinking I ain’t working round the houses and that, it wasn’t much good to me.
Talk me through the early days. How did Lumsden & Carroll get off the ground?
I picked up some sub-contractor work in Langley Park and I went to that for a couple of days, or a week, or a few weeks possibly. But he wasn’t paying us. I was thinking, “I’m going to work but I’m going to get the money.” When you’ve got to look for your money, work for it and then look for it, it’s no good. So, I left.
I went down into Newhouse Club. I asked Jack to join us and I said 50/50 Jack, and we shook hands. Jack said to me, “where are we going to get our work?” I turned to him and said, “Well, I’ll get all the work I want”. I made a call to an old pal at Tarmac and he told us to go to the Bede Industrial Estate in Jarrow where we would get some work, we were there quite a while.
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?
I always liked the lads from the village, and they were the best we could get. We knew the lads very well and you wanted them to do well. There are some we started that had just left school and they are still with Esh now. I can’t believe it.
Louise Lamb has been there for years, like Steve Wilkie. Both came directly from school, but it wasn’t a school thing. It was more through their friends or fathers. Lots of our original workers have their grandchildren working with us now. They came looking for work before they left school, you see, the most of them. They would come and ask, ‘Can you give us a job?’ because the reputation was there, but those days [of young people enquiring about jobs] are gone now. I must say a big thank you to all the lads and lasses that have worked for us throughout the years.
How much of a difference did developments in machinery make in the success of Lumsden & Carroll?
The machinery was a big turning point for us. The first one we bought, the Whitlock digger, was in 1973 to help us dig holes. It was like a JCB, it just dug holes for us, but we paid about £2,500 – it was a lot of money in those days! The first big change came in for a job up in Byker, when we got the Hymac. We landed down to Byker, and I remember one of our lads was driving around this JCB. He looked at the Hymac and said, ‘I can’t drive that, I’ve never driven one of them before’. I said to him, ‘Well, now’s your chance. Drive it up and down and then go around the back and have a bit of a dig around and practice with it’. He drove it from that point on.
Were there any jobs that stood out for you?
To be honest, there never seemed to be a job too big for us. The pipelaying job at Amble was a good one; we were up there a long time, around 7–8 months. It’s probably as good as any. We had to get a brand-new van for that though as the old one kept breaking down. The Amble pipes were about two-foot wide for the main sewers, but prior to us starting, I’d fitted some that were big enough to walk down, and I’m 6ft 5in.
When Brian Manning came in, we started moving into bigger contracts, but some of the smaller jobs remain the sweetest. I still say now, the small jobs can be the sweetest.
Your partnership with Jack Lumsden has been solid throughout the 50 years. What were the key ingredients to your success?
In all that time, I can honestly say I enjoyed every day of it. When I came to County Durham, I had been earning six bob (12p in today’s money) an hour in London. I earnt more money here than I did in London.
We had the best staff, some great people. Jack had everything covered in the office, so I had to be away to pick up the lads around the village. I could trust Jack had everything right in the office, between us we had no major problems.
The atmosphere was always fantastic. It was really family-oriented and a brilliant place to learn. I was the youngest in the office, and they made me feel part of the team. Jack and Tony played a major role in the office environment. I used to have a catch up with Tony over a cuppa when I had to get cheques signed off – he was always out on the sites. My dad always says I’ve got ‘green blood’ because this is what I’ve known since I’ve left school.”