In 1861, a group of astute investors saw the business possibilities in leasing wagons to local railway companies, collieries and quarries. The North Central Wagon Co was established, marking the birth of hire purchase.
The company began leasing wagons to the coal industry to the value of £105,000 – worth over £7m today. By 1900, nearly 25,000 railway wagons were available for hire and they began to finance road transport too, as demand for vehicles grew.
In 1928, Prudential Assurance Co and the financier Connop Guthrie bought the company, seeing huge potential. Guthrie – a brilliant entrepreneur and innovator – transformed the business, starting a period of dramatic growth. When the railways were nationalised, the company began financing cars and consumer durables, contributing to the rebuilding of Britain's industries in the aftermath of the Second World War.