28 November 2019

Watson through the years - The 50s

Anthony Watson was born in Stockport in 1923. Stockport in those days was just across the Mersey in Lancashire and not, as it is now, part of Greater Manchester. It is therefore not surprising that Anthony Watson rightly and proudly claimed to be a Lancastrian.

Tony left school at the age of 14 and after working in retail and then for a market gardener, he joined his elder brother, Gerry, in the Royal Air Force. During the war Tony served with Bomber Command flying on no less than 34 operations in the hazardous dual role of wireless operator/air gunner on Lancasters. It was during this exciting and often highly dangerous time that Tony met his future wife, Audrey, and they were married at the Parish Church in Stockport.

When the war was over Tony was posted to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, where he took part in the Berlin airlift, adding yet more important experiences that would prove so useful to him in the future. Shortly after he was demobbed in 1950, Tony and his wife set up home in Wiltshire.

In 1954, with the full support of his wife, he started his own agricultural merchant’s business, transporting livestock to and from markets all over Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire. He also sold feedstuffs and lubricants to farmers in the area.


From a group of tin huts in Grittenham the business began to take off, but the work was tough going. Tony now had a young family to support and in 1956, in order to cope with the pressure of work, he bought a second lorry and employed a driver, Jim Hatherall. He then expanded the business by transporting loads of hay and straw from North Wiltshire to Devon and Dorset. This, of course, was in the days before motorways and the trips to the West Country were frequently six-hour hauls and so often lorry and driver were at the mercy of the weather.

Returning home after a particularly nasty journey, Tony dropped by the Wagon and Horses, in the centre of Brinkworth. While there he met Ron Savage, the son of the landlady and a representative for Regent Oil in Swindon. Ron suggested to Tony that since he was already delivering lubricants to farmers he might take on an additional role delivering tractor fuel for Regent. Tony accepted the offer and soon became an authorised distributor for Regent Oil and in 1957 Watson Petroleum Limited was born.

The original Regent depot in Swindon dated back to the early 1920s. The buildings were small, and like Tony Watson’s Grittenham base, they were mostly of corrugated iron construction. The depot was run by Jim Dolan and BrendaTickner who had only just left school and lived opposite. In 1958 Tony Watson took over the tenancy of that Swindon depot. Jim Dolan’s practical knowledge of road tanker operations and delivery procedures proved invaluable as Tony soon purchased his first 1,200-gallon tanker and signed his first Regent Oil distribution agreement.

It was the beginning of a success story. By its 50th Anniversary in 2007 Watson Petroleum had a workforce of 400 people and an annual turnover of more than £320 million.