Crawley’s Rolls Royce ambulance

The Rolls Royce ambulance.
The Rolls Royce ambulance.

POST-WAR Britain and the birth of Crawley new town certainly offered opportunities for men and women with the know-how to succeed.

One such man was Leslie Doughty, founder of Southern Counties Glass.

The picture shows the old Phantom II Rolls Royce ambulance which Mr Doughty drove during the Second World War.

The vehicle came from a gentleman in Wales and was converted for use in Manchester before Mr Doughty travelled up there to bring it back to Crawley.

It was owned by St John Ambulance and some of the old members are in this picture.

The following was taken from Mr Doughty’s journal and describes his work at Southern Counties Garage and the birth of Southern Counties Glass.

It is printed with kind permission of his daughter Janet Greener.

“Some time after the end of the war, the garage changed hands and became Southern Counties Garages Ltd.

The ambulance was no longer stationed at the garage and eventually became part of the National Health Service.

My work at the garage continued much as before. I was responsible for ordinary stock for the stores, I also continued to prepare the invoices as before.

After a time, (one of the owners) Mr Clough left and Mr Cable, the owner, left the whole job in my hands.

At about this time Mr Cable made me a director. Mr CR Cable, the owner and my employer, was very different to the people I had previously worked for.

On one occassion he asked me if I could spare the time to go to Horsham to collect an Austin 7 he had purchased. I went to Horsham and collected the car and, when I arrived back at the garage, I went to Mr Cable’s office to inform him of my return. Mr Cable told me that he had bought the car for me and that I could help myself to as much petrol as I needed.

Soon after, a brand new car was delivered to my home on January 1 every year.

Mr Cable supported my efforts with regard to the glass business by supplying the premises suitable for the work.

On a number of occasions Mr Cable left the country for some time. When this happened he gave me the cheque book and left financial matters in my hands.

Many of the cars had been laid up during the war and had consequently deteriorated, particularly the upholstery. I managed to get the services of two people who had been actively engaged in the upholstery trade and we opened workshops as coach trimmers.

Another change related to car windscreens. It was made compulsory for windscreens to be made of safety glass. Each time a car came in with a shattered windscreen I had to travel to London to get a replacement.

At the glassworks, I saw many operations carried out such as the making of mirrors and tabletops.

The supply and fittings of glass to buildings and shop fronts was also an important part of the trade.

With the approval of Mr Cable I set out to start a glass works. The disused ambulance garage was converted into a small glass polishing bevelling and drilling shop. A cutting shop and silvering shop were set up in the old buildings adjoining the former ambulance garage.

The next step was the machines. We purchased the huge grindstones, the bearings and drilling equipment and one of the mechanics, Ron Souter, built the machines after a visit to one of the glass works and inspecting the equipment.

I had been canvassing the furniture shops for orders for mirrors, shelves and tabletops, also builders for glazing works, and garages for their windscreen and other glass requirements.

Another problem we had to overcome was the purchasing of stock.

The glass trade was a closed shop. Ordinary traders could only buy limited amounts of sheet glass and plate glass was only available in cut sizes.

After a time, with the support of our suppliers, we became members of the Sheet Glass Federation.

From that time forward we were able to purchase large crates of glass, which was a great advantage, particularly in the case of plate glass.

The business expanded and after a time we moved into a disused sweet factory at West Street, Crawley, and we also had stores and workshops at East Park.

We were now doing glazing work to shopfronts, factories and houses and we were supplying many of the factories with their requirements. Another section of the trade we had entered was the making of leaded lights.

At one stage in the development of the business, one of our main suppliers, namely Jas Clark-Eaton, offered me a good position at Eastbourne. Had I accepted, my wife and I were to be provided with a nice house in the Eatbourne area.

Apart from the clerical work and the collections and deliveries necessary, I had taken on the silvering work.

Much of the work was re-silvering and entailed stripping off the old finish and preparing the mirrors for re-silvering. The actual silvering process often went on until late at night. After the silvering process had been completed and the mirrors had been on the drying racks, then they had to be varnished and later, when dry, given a coat of special paint used for this work.

The next morning I would have to start work early to clean the mirrors ready for delivering and to prepare the invoices.

By this time I had given up much of the work relating to the garage and I put all my energy into the glass business.

With the growth of Crawley, there was increasing opportunity for traders to take advantage of this. We opened a shop in the Ifield Road. Apart from the mirrors and tabletops, we stocked lamps and lampshades, also ornaments. We also became agents for Poole Pottery.

The shop was named Home Decor, the management of the shop was taken over by my wife and Mrs Russel. I had been fortunate in having the assistance of Mrs Russel for some time.”

More photos in the Crawley Observer this week.