Noel JEMPSON, Landlord of the Plough

Noel Jempson, Landlord of The Plough

This article on Noel Jempson, who with his father and his wife, was the Landlord of the Plough for around 85 years, is taken largely from notes provided by David Hansell, formerly Manager of The Powder Mills.

Those who went to the Plough until the mid-1970s will remember both the Landlord and his pub with bewildered affection. It was overseen in a personal time warp by Noel Jempson whose attitude to his customers was that if they wished to come to his pub, he would probably but not necessarily serve them with beer or, if he approved of them – or wanted to get them pie-eyed – his own home-made cider. Food was not something you were expected to ask for and the surroundings were, by present standards, sparse, if full of character.

Noel was born in 1886 and, soon afterwards, his parents moved to become Landlords of The Plough. His father was a keen fisherman and in 1890 he caught an 18lb pike which, for the next eighty five years, was displayed in a glass case in the bar. Noel went to Leigh School and when he left he started a five year apprenticeship with a Tonbridge builder. He worked a 56½ hour week at a starting wage of 2d an hour. The rate gradually increased as his proficiency as a carpenter improved to 8d an hour. However, these were the days when a pint of beer at the Plough cost only 2d (and the famous cider 1½ d).

Noel moved to work at The Powder Mills in 1906 as a carpenter. It was then owned by the gunpowder manufacturer Curtis and Harvey. He was initially paid 8d an hour, again for a 56½ week. At this time Curtis & Harvey employed around 80 people, including a good number from Leigh. A large proportion of Noel’s time was spent in the repair or reconstruction of the sluice gates by which the flow of water to the water-wheels was controlled. Pitch-pine was the wood mainly used, although other specially selected woods were used to make the wooden gears by which the water-wheels drove the 5 ton mill stones that in turn ground the charcoal and the saltpetre.

The Powder Mills were wound down in 1934 and Noel was able to devote himself not only to The Plough but to dairy farming in partnership with his brother-in-law. When the Powder Mills site was bought by the chemical company, Menley & James in 1950, Noel was invited back. Clearly he was an excellent worker, because he did not retire until he was 77 in 1963. It was in the years – between 1963 and his death in 1975 – that many in Leigh will best remember him, behind what was his own domain – his bar at The Plough.

Noel is buried in Leigh churchyard along with his wife, Violet. They may have been from a different era but it is good to remember people of such character.

Parish Magazine Article: Sept 2004: by Chris Rowley