Percy Firth and Brighouse Motors

Luna Park was the forerunner of Joyland and was opened in the early 1930s by Brighouse businessman, Percy Firth. Opening an amusement arcade in Bridlington was only a sideline for Percy...

Percy Firth was born in 1885. He came from the great Firth carpet family, which owned numerous woollen mills around the north of England, with mills in Heckmondwyke, Brighouse and a number in the USA.

Percy wanted to stay in the Brighouse area, but decided not to follow the family tradition of working in the woollen industry. He started his own business, Brighouse Motors, which specialised in repairing motor vehicles. The Company’s main success was in supplying tyres for lorries, many of which were supplied for the Army.

Percy had a unique way of generating business. Once a fortnight, Percy would drive to Garrowby Hill (a 1:6 hill where the A166 Bridlington Road climbs up onto the Wolds) in his car and park on top. Lorries would travel up this hill at two or three miles an hour. He used to walk with them, looking at the wheels to see if they wanted replacing. If he saw any that were worn, he would make a note of the lorry firm and when he got back he would send them all letters. Rather than walk around a town to do this, he found it much easier to go to the top of a hill and let the vehicles come to him.

Brighouse Motors was especially successful during the Second World War, with the company operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. His business was supplied with all the fuel coupons it needed to keep running as he was keeping the army vehicles on the road.

As the War ended, there was less and less requirement for his vehicle services from the Army, so Firth decided to change the direction of his business. Part of this reorganisation was a change in its name: it was renamed Calder Engineering, and began to specialise in precision engineering, although he still provided a vehicle repair service. Calder Engineering bought machines from Germany, and turned out tubular steel. One of his purchases was an early computerised machine, which was the only one in the country. Some parts were used for periscopes in submarines.

Calder Engineering no longer exists; all the buildings have now been demolished. Firth Carpets Limited became one of the world’s biggest carpet empires, even carpeting Concorde, QE2 and the United Nations Building in New York.

Percy Firth died on 3 December 1954. His brother, James Walter Firth, who (as told in the book) was instrumental in assembling the land that would become Joyland, died a year earlier on 1 December 1953.

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New Photograph: Percy Firth - the businessman and engineer who sowed the seeds of the Joyland complex.  Photograph: Margaret Broom

Percy Firth's Luna Park pictured on Bridlington's Esplanade in 1936. Behind can just be seen the canopy of the fledgling Joyland, operated by Charlotte Brown. Photograph: Bridlington Library

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© 2006

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