Celebrating 50 years of Lumsden & Carroll

December 4, 2020

When one refers to construction in the North East, Lumsden & Carroll springs to mind. From small beginnings in County Durham’s former colliery village Esh Winning, the civil engineering firm has gone from strength-to-strength through the years and is now marking its 50th anniversary.

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When two young men met in their local working men’s club back in 1970, they probably had little idea of the path they were about to embark on.

A local ex-colliery worker in one seat and an Irishman who had recently moved to the area in another.

Jack Lumsden and Tony Carroll had crossed paths in the village and on construction sites delivering pipeline works for some time, but when they realised they had the skills to do it themselves, a dream was born.

As the old song goes, ‘It’s a long way from Tipperary’, but Tony soon found his footing in the North East.

It was an evening in the village’s Newhouse Club that saw the duo seal their partnership – the same club that they would go on to re-build some years later.

Tony reminisces: “I went down to the club; it was a tin hut then. I asked Jack to join us and I says, ‘50/50 Jack’, and we shook hands.”

Jack and Tony could never have imagined that their home village of Esh Winning would then go on to become the namesake of Esh Group, with Lumsden & Carroll being the founding company.

Tapping into former contacts and friendships, they landed their first contract on Jarrow’s Bede Industrial Estate.

With any extra money earned being put into a bank account to help with their start up, the pair went on to recruit two employees and buy their first company van – a blue and red Bedford CF purchased for £95 in 1971.

While the £95 van put a stop to the duo travelling to work on the bus, wheelbarrow in one hand and shovel in the other, the pair reminisce about the 100-mile daily round trip to Amble, where they delivered a large pipelaying contract, and the time they spent pushing the aging van when it broke down.

The evolving partnership led to Jack and Tony securing contracts across multiple sites.

They outgrew their start-up arrangement, which saw Jack’s spare room being used as the office and his garden used for machine and tool storage.

In 1973, the dynamic duo acquired their first office base in Esh Winning, and the following year reported their first set of accounts with a turnover of £16,277.04.

In 1975, the duo purchased their first brand new van from a Consett-based dealership; the van was coated in a striking green colour, which Lumsden & Carroll’s fleet of vehicles proudly exhibit up and down the region’s roads to this day.

As the business continued to grow, they both played to their strengths, with Jack overseeing estimating, payroll and the general management of the business, and Tony responsible for the operational management of sites.

Tony said: “I knew Jack had everything right in the office,” while Jack added: “with Tony you could depend on him doing everything right, there wasn’t a job he did that wasn’t first class.”

The duo continued to employ more local people and school-leavers as colliery closures increased, and by 1990, Lumsden & Carroll was well established with 20 years in business.

The rapidly increasing workload meant it was time for a change at the top.

Brian Manning was hired as general manager after impressing Tony when they met on a site in Sherburn Hill.

The same year saw Lumsden & Carroll become a private limited company and in 1991 the number of employees grew to 83 with a turnover of £5.5 million.

Seven years later, that turnover had almost quadrupled, rising to £19 million.

In 1999, with Brian leading the charge, the next step in the company’s evolution saw Jack and Tony join forces with Michael Hogan and the merger of Lumsden & Carroll, Deerness Fencing & Landscaping and Dunelm Homes to become Esh Group.

In 2000, Esh Group’s first set of accounts posted a turnover of £35 million.

Tony retired in 2000, with Jack following two years later, but the initial traditions they instilled remain.

By 2003, a long-term contract with Northumbrian Water worth £90 million provided a strong pipeline of work and an office move provided further opportunity for the business to grow.

Esh House, in Bowburn, became the new headquarters for the company, a logistical move which provided better transport links, larger office space, a vast plant yard area and supported an operational expansion into the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Built on the foundations of Jack and Tony’s humble origins, the employ local, procure local and community-focused ethos is the bedrock of Esh Group’s culture.

The formation of Esh Charitable Trust in 2006 – kickstarted with a £20,000 donation to the Bobby Robson Foundation – enabled the business to re-invest in the community that had given so much. Now more than £1.3 million of donations have supported worthy causes to date.

Add to that, the multiple award wins for delivering employability and STEM programmes in schools and in 2018 becoming the only contractor with a North East headquarters to be awarded a Queens Award for Promoting Opportunity and Social Mobility.

It might be 50 years since Jack and Tony laid the foundations, but Lumsden & Carroll remains a household name in the region and is a company that many past and present employees hold dear.

Jack and Tony now take their places on the board of directors — Esh Group’s turnover has exceeded £230 million and Lumsden & Carroll continues to maintain a healthy pipeline of work for national housebuilders — but there’s not a day goes by that they don’t want to be back in the yard getting their hands dirty.

Looking back, the humble pair conclude that they wouldn’t change anything, any minor disagreement was always overcome, and many of their employees became lifelong friends.

“We all worked hard,” adds Jack.

“The people we employed made our lives easier, they did a good job.

“We never looked at the clock – it made no difference – we worked until the job was finished.

“You started in the morning and you stayed until it was done.

“I wish I was still out there now.”

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