Lorry Loads of Treasure

Jack Spittle

A story concerning two loaded lorries belonging to Wright Brothers Ltd of Wolverhampton has been handed down by word of mouth following the ending of World War Two.

Sheeted over and roped, the E.R.F. and Atkinson wagons stood inside and against the wall on the left-hand side of Wright Brothers large steel garage in Crown Street, Wolverhampton. It was 1939, war fever was in the air and war so very close to being declared.

For several days the wagons stood there and drivers asked why they could not be used. Loaded lorries at a standstill did not make money, which the hard working transport firm's drivers were quick to appreciate. "This customer owes us a great deal of money, and until he pays up the goods stay there". Claud Wright was not the sort of man to answer questions regarding his business acumen, so his statement was accepted by all and sundry.

Not long afterwards, the lorries with their high loads of wooden crates were driven away, and the matter forgotten by all but a certain few.

So what was in the crates that those two lorries were loaded with? What was their destination after standing in a Wolverhampton transport shed for some considerable time until the customer paid up?

 Never before, and certainly never again will so valuable a load be carried by two lorries.

During the Munich crisis a Government decision was made to move the cream of the national treasures of the National Art Gallery, from the capital to a place of safety. This was done shortly before war broke out. A cave had been found in a North Wales hillside, 600 feet below the surface, with a long narrow corridor leading for almost a quarter of a mile into solid rock. The storage site was a well kept wartime secret. Next to precious jewels, objects of art were the most attractive valuables for the wartime thief. Herman Goering's SS men stripped Western European museums of pictures and artefacts during Germany's occupation of most of Europe.

Obviously in its original condition, the cave was quite unusable for storing pictures. It was damp, dark, with the need of much work of access improvement for the massive picture frames to pass through, and before air-conditioning could be installed for the protection of the nation's  heritage, precious  not only to a beleaguered Britain, but to the rest of the civilised world. It had to be not only a bombproof shelter but also a scientific storage chamber suitable for the protection of the paintings that were to be watched over by an armed guard, day and night.

The scientific advisor of the National Gallery, Mr F.I.G. Rawlings was the man who found the cave; Sir Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery, was in charge of the enterprise; and the work was carried out by the Office of Works.

Perhaps it was because the cave was not quite ready to receive delivery of the two loads of crates that the two lorries stood behind the steel doors of a Wolverhampton transport garage at that time, while the work of the day went on all around them. What ever the reason, Claud Wright's cover story held good until the precious loads of the works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet etc., were delivered safely to the cave in North Wales, to be protected from the rain of Luftwaffe high explosive bombs and incendiaries that soon afterwards fell upon London.

I was party to the secret that my great friend Claud Wright entrusted to me, in the dark days of 1939, with regard to the customer who would not pay up for a load of wooden crates and hte fact that their contents that were beyond price. Wolverhampton, now a city, was once host to many of the world's most precious paintings. It is very doubtful if the Wolverhampton Art Gallery knew of the art treasures that once stood in a garage in a Wolverhampton back street.

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