SHG March Meeting Media Report
SHG welcomed local businessman David Bonner to talk to us about the early days of his family removals business Bonners Of Welling.
First David solved the riddle of the title of his talk ‘Born on Spike Island’ which had mystified many of us. We learnt that the area around Northumberland Heath was part of the old manor of Erith. In 1806 the Lord of the Manor, William Wheatley, allowed the building of a workhouse on estate land at Sussex Road. The 19th-century slang term for a workhouse was a ‘spike’ and this led to the whole district being known as ‘Spike Island’ and David’s father Len was a ‘Spike Islander’.
Through his family archive of photographs, invoices, driving licences, account books and personal memories David traced Len’s history from his first employment delivering food for Albert Parker in the 1920’s aged 16 years. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury which put him out of work for a while and on returning was faced with an ultimatum that his wages would be cut. The young Len clearly showed his determination to better himself from a young age as rather than accept this he struck out on his own and in 1928 had his own delivery business in Spray Street, Woolwich. He went on to take over Mr Parker’s business, something he did many times over the following decades, incorporating smaller removals companies into his own! Len was clearly a man to be reckoned with.
In 1925 Len traded in an engagement ring returned to him by his first fiancée to buy a pony and trap and the necessary licence to trade. By 1929 he had the first of his motorised trucks enabling him to reduce the travelling time to Rotherhithe Docks to buy food to sell. The young entrepreneur used the extra time well - hiring himself out as a carter to move furniture and other goods.
By the early 1930’s Len was running 2 canvas back vans - one with an A licence to carry anything anywhere and one with a B licence restricting him to a 150 mile radius and furniture removals only. By 1940 the fleet had grown to 3 Bedford vans and by 1953 the fleet had doubled. Other company vehicles included the Morris 18, v type Ford and Overland Whippet not to mention Kitty the pony who earned her rations giving children’s pony rides at street parties.
Len was not restricted by today’s licencing or Health and Safety regulations. He was soon offering to transport expectant mothers to the maternity hospital specialising in night time ‘deliveries’ , moving belongings from bombed out houses in WW2 to storage, hiring out wheelbarrows and handcarts for self-removals (emblazoned with the company colours and name of course as a free advertising ploy), transporting pre-cooked school dinners in insulated cartons, taking Girl Guides and Boy Scouts to camps with the children seated on their suitcases in the back of the van (imagine that today). Carol singers with a piano strapped on the tail board were driven around at Christmas Time. Len was clearly a man of imagination and determination; no business opportunity was passed over. By the 1930’s he was going as far as Isle of Wight, Truro and Gretna Green with his cargoes of furniture.
Sadly Len lost his sight in the late 1940’s but with the aid of guide dogs he was able to carry on regardless. He supported the Guide Dogs for the Blind Charity, encouraging others to raise money by collecting milk bottle tops and silver paper for recycling – until the amount and smell made the yard an unpleasant place to work!
Len died aged 93, since when Bonners has changed hands twice but still has family input with a grandson working for the Doree Bonner company.
An interesting entry in the company accounts book shows that a family moved from Catford to Beechenlea Lane Swanley in 1967 with Bonners for the princely sum of £19.15s.0d.
Our next meeting is Tuesday 5th April when historian Dr John Ray will talk on the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Swanley Indoor Bowls Centre Garrolds Close Swanley BR8 7BF. Webpage: https://Swanleyhistorygroup.weebly.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org