Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Date: August 2,2015
Although there is no family connection between the author and this business proprietor I could not help researching the history of the man, Harry Gilbert (1893-1974), and his business. My interest in this topic is demonstrated by two previous articles I have written about removal companies in Tunbridge Wells and High Brooms, namely ‘ The Royal Victoria Pantechnicon’ dated October 22,2014 about a business located in the former Royal Victoria & Sussex Hotel in the pantiles operated by the Harris family, and ‘The History of Farrant’s in High Brooms’ dated April 11, 2014, in which George Ernest Farrant (1865-1943), who began as a coal merchant, operated a haulage business from North Farm Road from 1918 to the time of his death in 1943, and which business was continued by his son and other family members afterwards.
Harry Gilbert had established his haulage contractors business in Tunbridge Wells in the early 1920’s (some say he had been a coach operator based in Tunbridge Wells since the First War) and is found in directories as a haulage contactor operating from premises at 8 Sutherland Road, Tunbridge Wells from 1927 to 1956 and as a removals and luxury coach business from 1957 to at least 1969, and perhaps up to the time of his death in Tunbridge Wells in 1974, with premises during that time period at 8 Sutherland Road,Tunbridge Wells and at North Farm Road in High Brooms.
This article reports on the family history of Harry Gilbert, his wife Elsie Ethel Gilbert, nee Shorter (1895-1979) and their four children as well as his activities in the haulage, removals, and luxury coach business.
THE GILBERT FAMILY
Harry Gilbert was born October 18,1893 with his birth registered at Uckfield,Sussex in October 1893. Although no baptism records for him was found to confirm who his parents were it appears from census records that he was one of at least two children born to Frank and Marion Gilbert. Frank and Marion Mepham had been married in 1891, with their marriage registered at Uckfied in the 4th qtr of 1891.
The 1901 census, taken at Crowborough,Sussex gave Frank Gilbert as a groom and gardener, born 1871 in Crowborough,Sussex. With him was his wife Marion, born 1870 at Hastings,Sussex and their two children William, born 1893 and Harry born 1894. Both children were born in Crowborough,Sussex.
The 1911 census, taken at Crowborough Lodge, St John’s Road, Crowborough noted the presence of Frank James Gilbert, born 1871 Crowborough, who at that time was a coachman. With him was his wife Marion born 1870 at Harting,Sussex and their four children William,age 18, Harry,age 17, Frank,age 8 and Mark, age 3. All of the children had been born in Crowborough. The son William was working at that time as a gardener domestic and his brother Harry as a grocers assistant. The family were living in premises of 6 rooms. The census noted that Frank and Marion had been married 19 years (1892) and that they had four children in total, all of whom were still living.
Sometime after the 1911 census Harry moved to Tunbridge Wells. Details about his early life in the town are sadly lacking but it appears that during WW 1 he went into the haulage and coach business, as noted in an article I give later by The Roads and Road Transport History Association (December 2007).
Harry Gilbert married Elsie Ethel Shorter (1895-1979) inTunbridge Wells in the 2nd qtr of 1921. Elsie had been born at Kingston Deverill,Wiltshire(according to census records) but birth records have her as being born January 16,1895 at Mere,Wilshire. She was baptised at the Kingston Deverill,Wilshire February 17,1895. She was given in the baptism records as the daughter of Frederick John Shorter(1872-1911) and Isabelle Shorter, nee Marshall (born 1876). Elsie had three siblings namely Henry John, born 1896; Thomas, born 1900 and Albert Frederick (1903-1960). The 1901 census, taken at Railway Cottage, Normandy, Ash, Surrey gave Frederick Shorter, born 1871 at Wokingham,Berkshire (a railway worker) with his wife Mary, born 1873 in Wiltshire (who must have been Isabelle) and their three children Elsie, born 1895 at Kingston Deverill,Wiltshire; John (Henry John) born 1897 at Gillingham,Dorset; and Thomas, born 1900 at Badshot Lee,Surrey. Details about Elsie Ethel Shorter after 1901 are lacking as are details about where and when and under what circumstances she came to know Harry Gilbert, but there is a 1911 census record for an Elsie Shorter at Windlesham,Surrey born 1894 at Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire, working as a servant (kitchen maid)for the Frederick Arnold family at Lambourne, Bagshot,Surrey.
A review of baptism records for Harry Gilbert and his wife Elsie Ethel Gilbert show that the couple had the following children (1) Reginald Gilbert, born 2nd qtr 1922 Tunbridge Wells, who was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery April 1,1968 (2) Marion, born in Tunbridge Wells in 1924, who remained a spinster, and died in Tunbridge Wells. She was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on January 25,1995 (3) Alice Stein Gilbert, born January 7,1932 in Tunbridge Wells, who never married.She died in the 1st qtr of 1984 at Sutton,Surrey but was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on January 11,1984. Her birth was registered in the 1st qtr of 1932 in Tunbridge Wells. (4) Frank James Gilbert, born 1935 in Tunbridge Wells and died in infancy, age 3, in Tunbridge Wells and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on June 14,1938. All of the baptism records gave the maiden name of their mother as “Shorter”.
As you will read later Harry and his family spent the rest of their lives in Tunbridge Wells and lived in a nice townhouse at 8 Sutherland Road which also served as Harry’s head office for his haulage/removals business, details of which are given later. A review of local directories records Harry at this address from at least 1927 up to 1974. As you will read later he also had premises in High Brooms on North Farm Road where he kept his lorries and coaches.
Harry Gilbert died in Tunbridge Wells in 1974 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on April 16,1974.The London Gazette of October 18,1974 announced that Harry Gilbert died April 9,1974 in Tunbridge Wells; that he was a resident of 8 Sutherland Road; that he was a retired coach proprietor and haulage contractor; and that the executor of his estate was his daughter Alice Stern Gilbert, with the solicitors being Cripps Harriss Hall & Co of 84 Calverley Road,Tunbridge Wells. His estate was valued at 6,431 pounds.
Harry’s wife Elsie Ethel Gilbert died in March 5, 1979 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on March 9,1979.She was of 8 Sutherland Road at the time of her death and left an estate valued at 23,791 pounds.
GILBERTS HAULAGE AND COACH BUSINESS
Shown opposite is a business card for Gilbert’s Removals & Storage in Tunbridge Wells, with his premises given as 8 Sutherland Road. The person who provided this image stated that the Pantechnicon removal lorry depicted is based on a lorry from 1947 and so presumably the business card dates from around that time.
Given below is a record from a review of local directories of Harry Gilbert and is premises.
1927-1937…………Harry Gilbert, haulage contractor, 8 Sutherland Road,Tunbridge Wells
1942-1956…………Harry Gilbert, removals, coaches, 8 Sutherland Road,Tunbridge Wells
1957-1969…………Harry Gilbert, coaches, removals, 8 Sutherland Road,Tunbridge Wells and North Farm Road, Highbrooms, Southborough.
No listings for his business prior to 1927 or after 1969 were found but in the last section of this article you will find an article by Chris Salaman ,entitled Coaching on the Kent & Sussex Boarders that appeared in The Roads and Road Transport History Association Newsletter of December 2007 that states “ I unofficially elected to offer my services to my local coach operator who had been based in Tunbridge Wells since the First War…I reported to the premises of Harry Gilbert in High Brooms”. Chris refers to meeting Harry Gilbert and that “he had started the business just after the First War when like so many other entrepreneurial drivers, he had bought an old second-hand Ford model T flat-bed that during the daylight hours had a lift-on body with seating bodywork, whilst at night it reverted to a flat-bed carrying produce to Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market in London.From this small beginning he had become the only coach operator in Tunbridge Wells and stayed so for many years…Now well past retiring age, he still took an active part in the day to day running of the business and soon I got to know and respect him for who he was…..Sadly it was not long after my initial employment that Harry decided to sell off all the pre-war fleet…Eventually after a number of years working for Gilbert’s Luxury Coaches, all good things had to come to an end and sadly Harry decided to retire, now well past official retiring age, and the business was sold to a local business, Beeline Radio Taxis of Tunbridge Wells.This was run by the Maynard brothers who hailed from my village of Speldhurst and who went on to build up a thriving coach business under the name of Beeline Coaches for the next few years..” The article by Chris Salaman unfortunately does not give any dates for the events described but based on the directories listed above it would appear that Harry Gilbert retired from business in 1969.
A book entitled “British Buses 1967” by Jim Blake shows the photo opposite of a bus with “Gilbert’s” on the front sign. The text associated with this image states it was “A Bedord OB, dating from the early post-war years which could still be seen in use in 1967. Here we see a Duple Vista bodies BJR 679, with Gilbert’s Coaches of Tunbridge Wells, who were well-known for keeping elderly vehicles in service at this time. It had been new to Armstrong of Westerthorpe in March 1947, thus was exactly 20 years old when seen arriving at Wembley on March 11,1967,where it had returned fro another sporting event that brought a vast array of interesting buses and coaches”.
The Hansard of 1943 referred to a Bedford Coach sale December 1,1943 in which M. Turton asked the Minister of Supply whether he was aware that on April 10,1943 his department sold a Bedord coach W.D. 453 8153 to Mr. A Tebb, of Carlton Husthwaite, and that on April 14,1943 his department, without Mr Tebb’s consent, delivered the same coach to Mr. H. Gilbert of Tunbridge Wells, and whether he will now secure that that this coach is returned to Mr Tebb and that Mr Tebb receive due compensation for the period during which he has been deprived of the use of this vehicle? Sir A Duncan replied that he was aware of the facts of the case and that it was not possible to deliver to Mr Tebb the original coach but negotiations are in the process with his solicitor with the object of providing him with a similar coach and of meeting any expense to which he has been put”. There was a delay of some eight months before this matter was settled. Shown opposite is a photo of a 1943 Bedord similar to the one delivered to Harry Gilbert.
The London Passenger Transport Board held a meeting on October 30,1950 at which meeting was discussed in part “operator 532-Gilbert’s Luxury Coaches Limited” operating an express carriage service.
Shown opposite is another one of Gilbert’s coaches. This one is a GRY45 AEC Regal III Plaxton FC-F shown on the Hamton Court Station forecourt in July 1964.
An article of unspecified date stated “Another coach station for London-The premises will be used by Gilbert’s Luxury Coaches and by other companies”. A review of records for Gilbert’s Luxury Coaches Limited show that it was registered as 00969961 January 9,1970 but was now dissolved. The London Gazette of August 27,1985 listed “Gilbert’s Luxury Coaches Limited” regarding its upcoming dissolution by the Registrar of Companies.
Another article stated “In 1969 William Arnold acquired Evan Evans of Woodburn garage London. This encompassed the companies of Evan Evans Transport Ltd, Evan Evans Tours Ltd, Charing Cross Tours Agency Ltd, Dyers Coaches Ltd, GILBERTS LUXURY COACHES LTD, Lismore Coaches Ltd and Thorpe Coaches Ltd. A total of 37 coaches and 23 mini-buses.Wallace Arnold was one of the UK’s largest holiday motorcoach tour operators. It was founded in 1917 and named after its founders Wallace Cunningham and Arnold Crowe”.
THE CHRIS SALAMAN ARTICLE-COACHING ON THE KENT & SUSSEX BORDERS
This article appeared in the December 2007 edition of The Roads and Road Transport History Newsletter, and describes the experience of Chris Salaman as a coach driver with Harry Gilbert’s coach company and provides some interesting facts about the business, its coaches and about Harry Gilbert himself. I have reprinted below the entire article along with its photographs of various buses in the fleet of Harry Gilbert.
- 8 SUTHERLAND ROAD,TUNBRIDGE WELLS
As noted above Harry Gilbert had occupied a townhouse at 8 Sutherland Road in Tunbridge Wells from at least 1927 up to the time of his death in 1974, making him the longest resident at this address in the homes history. An extensive study of this home has not been undertaken for the purpose of this article.
Shown in this section are two images of No. 8. The black and white image is a recent view . the redish brick townhouse at No, 8 with white trim was one of several similar homes built on the street in the 19th century. In this image No. 8 is the left side of a pair of identical homes . No 6 on the right of it is shown below in the colour photograph. No. 8 in the black and white image is the house the number on the wall to the left of the door and is the one where the front gate is slightly open. The number plaque on the wall had “8” in the middle with “The Warren” written above and below the number. This three sty house with basement had been nicely maintained and its identical mate (No. 6) sold in 2013 for some 610,000 pounds.
The 1903 Kelly directory gave the occupant of his home as Edward Thomas Collins. The 1913 Kelly gave the occupant as Ernest Arthur Shaw and the 1918 Kelly gave Thomas Carpenter as the occupant. It is believed by the researcher that Harry Gilbert and his wife moved into No, 8 just after their marriage in 1921 although the earliest directory listing for Harry at this address was for 1927.
The home is located on the west side of Sutherland Road . Sutherland Road runs south off Grove Hill Road just east of Mount Pleasant Avenue.
A review of Planning Authority records for this home revealed that few changes have been made to it over the years. It was interesting to note that in 1978 and application by G.A Gilbert was approved for a kitchen extension at this address, but no obvious connection between this Gilbert and Harry Gilbert was found and it appears coincidental.