Jempsons is a family-run, independent haulage firm based in Rye, East Sussex, with over 150 years of experience.
The first motorised vehicle, a Model T Ford, was purchased in 1924 by John Jempson, who then developed a well-earned slice of the freight industry through hard work and diligence. Within ten years the fleet had grown, with acquisitions of vehicles such as the Thornycroft J Type, Ford Model A and Leyland Bull all playing an integral part in establishing a company that now holds the respect of locals and professionals throughout the trade.
The present Chairman, John’s son Jonathan, and the current Managing Director, Mark Chamberlain, have built the company to its current size. Now running a fleet of 85 vehicles and 160 trailers, we are equipped to meet the high demands of a modern vehicle service, without jeopardising the standards of our traditional roots.
1866 finds Joshua Jempson at the start of his horse-drawn timber business.
Late 19th century. Arthur John Jempson senior acquires the business from his Uncle Joshua.
1904 Arthur John Jempson junior was born.
By 1913, the firm was employing two men and had four horses, Jack, Fanny, Polly and Brownie. By the end of the year, another two men had been taken on and an extra horse purchased. Arthur Jempson senior, his wife and children, the business and the pig were all based in Hinds Yard, Wish Street, Rye.
1917 Having intentionally failed an exam, Arthur John Jempson junior succeeded in leaving school in March, aged only 13, and began working full time in the family firm. The fleet then consisted of four tipcarts, three open vans, one covered van, a timber tug and a horse landau for carrying passengers. Loads of grain, timber, coal and bricks were being transported to and from the railway station at Rye and locally caught fish were taken from the harbour to Hastings. Young Arthur, known to everyone as John, learned all about running a freight business.
John tolerated horses but was fascinated by motor vehicles. He obtained a second-hand Hudson motorbike that he used for his own amusement and to make deliveries on behalf of the firm. By the 1920s, the firm was still reliant on horse haulage and faced increasing competition from other hauliers. John knew that the future lay with motor transport. Eventually he managed to persuade his sceptical father to lend him enough money to buy a Model T Ford lorry to operate as part of the business, on the basis that they share the profits 50:50. The lorry was bought from Hollingsworth, the main Ford agent in Hastings, and they taught John how to drive it in two days.
Almost immediately this proved successful. John won new contracts moving loads of beans for local farmers, hauling ballast for road building and carrying tar barrels from the Rye Chemical Works. In less than six months he had earned enough to repay his father, and the following year he replaced his old motorcycle with a Norton. In March 1926, a Thornycroft J Type drop-side lorry was bought to handle the loads of tar barrels. Soon afterwards another second-hand Model T and an ex-service Packard joined the growing fleet. John had taken on other drivers and began to fill more of a management role – although he continued with some driving until 1934.
Motor transport was beginning to provide a faster, easier service than rail. In the late 1920s, trips to London began. Blackcurrants, other soft fruit and agricultural produce including hops were taken to Covent Garden and the city. Drivers would also pick up return loads of flour, fertiliser and cattle feed from the docks as and when they could. These early runs to London at 15mph, when payloads were a maximum of one tonne, took up to six hours and were quite adventurous – roads were poor, there were no signs and bad weather could make trips hazardous.
The economic depression saw increased competition for seasonal agricultural traffic and it was harder to obtain profitable return loads. However John, his sister Ethel and his father maintained tight control over costs and managed to steer the firm through until the upsurge in building in the London suburbs in the early 1930s brought new opportunities.
On 1 January 1932, the firm was legally constituted as a partnership under the name Arthur Jempson & Son. Following the Road and Rail Traffic Act of 1933, the firm applied for five A and three discretionary A licences, and in April 1934 was granted six A licences and one B licence. Subsequently more lorries were obtained. John’s policy was to buy vehicles as and when required and to replace smaller vehicles with lorries of increased capacity. Everything was paid for up front as neither John nor his father believed in borrowing money.
In 1933, bigger premises were acquired in Slade Yard, Rye, for £400. Offices and a garage were built, meaning vehicles could be kept under cover. However, a small coastal town on the south coast is not the ideal location for a haulage company with expansion hopes. Fortunately, there were firms in the Rye area producing specialised concrete products and, with the demand for building materials increasing, there was lucrative business to be had.
Following difficulties with the Traffic Commissioners, Simpson of Rye had decided to sell their fleet rather than contest over 300 summonses. In May 1937, Jempsons bought the fleet and from then on handled transport for Simpson concrete products.
Simpson, later Spun Concrete Ltd, produced concrete pipes, manhole covers and kerbstones and Jempsons found themselves handling increasing volumes of these products, delivering them to housing developments around London. They also had important contracts with Ore (Hastings) Brickfields Ltd, hauling bricks for builders both locally and further afield.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, half of the Jempsons fleet was commandeered by the War Department but, as their traffic was classed as essential, its drivers were not called up. Spun Concrete products were needed for coastal defences and Jempsons was busy delivering building materials for the construction of pill boxes, tank traps and anti-aircraft gun emplacements. Fortunately, the Jempsons premises and lorries survived German bombing raids, although some of the drivers had a few near misses on trips to the London docks during the Blitz.
By the end of the war, the vehicle fleet was very much the worse for wear. Its book value was shown as a mere £817. Investment was called for and, with cash in the bank, new vehicles were bought over the next two years. The size of the fleet rose to 13 and maintenance was brought in-house.
After the return of the Labour Government in 1945, it was no secret that the road haulage industry was a prime target for nationalisation and John Jempson, as always an astute businessman, had taken the necessary accounting precautions to afford the firm as much protection as possible. Compensation was paid out under the terms of the Act and John himself agreed to stay on and manage the business, which became the British Road Services Rye Depot.
He was later moved to offices in Tenterden where he became Group Traffic Superintendent. The move proved fortuitous in that he was able to expand his base of potential customers and, in particular, he made contact with the owners of Gypsum Mines Ltd, who had a quarry at Mountfield near Robertsbridge.
In 1954, the Rye Depot, now with 24 vehicles, was returned to private ownership. Tenders had to be made for the business and John’s bid was successful. The business was now back in the family.
Private ownership was officially resumed on 18 October, with the firm trading as John Jempson & Son. As in pre-nationalisation days, the mainstay of the business remained the movement of agricultural produce and building materials and, while some old customers had moved elsewhere, new contacts were quickly made. John was keen to promote his relationship with Gypsum Mines Ltd and soon Jempsons lorries were moving an increasing number of loads from the Mountfield works.
The firm began to carry commissioned loads for other hauliers and Jempsons lorries were being sent out all over the UK, carrying loads to Darlington, Wolverhampton and Scotland. As the business developed, the fleet changed and Thames Traders were added at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s. By 1965, the fleet included Leyland Comets and Super Comets and money was also being spent on the buildings at the yard.
By the mid 1960s Jempsons was running a fleet of 29 but business was difficult and earnings and profits were starting to fall. In 1965, John Jempson was joined in the business by his son, Jonathan, who had graduated in Commerce from Edinburgh University. Having driven lorries for his father during his holidays (as a youngster he was probably given the roughest of the Thames Traders to take out) he was no stranger to the business. He concentrated on the traffic side and within three years was effectively running the firm, although his father was always involved in important decisions.
Jonathan began a period of rapid expansion and, by the end of the 1970s, Jempsons had 60 lorries on the road, including 40 artics, and there were 78 trailers. The company premises were expanded and new offices opened in 1974, when the business operation was also computerised. The work for Gypsum Mines Ltd (now known as British Gypsum) expanded and Jempsons began to contract vehicles for them, carrying plasterboard all over the country.
Business with Spun Concrete had returned and new contracts were being won. An important new customer was Solvent Services Ltd, which had established works in Rye to purify dirty spirit from the Ford plants at Dagenham and Halewood. Shipments of timber were handled for J Alford Ltd, which had built a new wharf in Rye Harbour in 1967. Traditional business was not forgotten and hops and other seasonal agricultural produce were still carried.
Natural growth and good relationships with existing and new customers took the business to further heights in the 1980s, with a fleet of 70 vehicles. In the early 1990s, Jempsons opened up their Midlands depot in Wymeswold, Leicestershire, to increase the services levels and expand the business.
Further development took the company to join the Palletways network in 1996, servicing part of the South East for small palletised consignments. They then changed and bought shares in the PALLETFORCE network in 2005 and continued to service the South East.
Seeing the UK’s rapid development of pallet delivery networks, Jempsons took the opportunity to expand their Midlands operation and for a while also serviced part of Leicestershire for PALLETFORCE.
Jempsons is currently successfully running a fleet of 85 vehicles and continues to service its existing and new customers on a daily basis.