Tim Lee – coal merchant

Our Coal Merchant: Tim Lee’s 1953 and 1959 Account Books

Tim Lee and his family were well known figures in Charcott and then Leigh for the whole of the first seventy years of the 20th century.  The Historical Society has been given his account books for his coal merchant’s business for 1953 and 1959 plus various other papers about his income and expenditure.  It is worth comparing prices with those of today but first a little of Tim’s background.

He was born in Charcott in 1902.  Aged about fourteen or fifteen he went to work at the Powder Mills, first in the Chemical Stores and then as a lorry driver’s mate, graduating to a full lorry driver.  He took gun powder around the South East and collected coal from Hildenborough Station.  When the Powder Mills closed in 1934, he started his own coal merchant’s business which he continued to do until the 1960s.

By the 1950s Tim and his wife were living at 3 Lealands Avenue.  The coal business employed Tim and his wife – probably she did the accounts – and two full-time employees.  In 1953 they were E. Stolton (was this Dennis? – a proper little rascal, said his teacher) and C. Spender. The former received £7-10-0 a week which went up to £9-10-0 by the end of 1953.  The latter received £5-10-0 a week, going up to £5-16-0.  Tim paid himself £5-10-0 and his wife £2-10-0.  So Tim is giving himself and his wife about £450 a year, with E. Stolton getting about £500 a year.  Six years later all the wages had increased with Tim’s wife demanding more and the two regular employees, now D. Buckley and T. Beesley, getting £11-10-0 a week – about two thirds of a newly qualified teacher’s wage.

Tim had a new Hillman Minx car which was valued by his insurance company at £300 which charged him £19-9-5d for his premium.  (Nowadays a similar type of car would be forty times as much).  The house was insured for £2,000 and contents at £750 and cost £3-7-6 in 1953 and £5-1-0 in 1967 – probably with a similar house today the insurance would cost a hundred or two hundred times as much.

As well as wages, other outgoings were for the National Health which was about five shillings per person per week; stamps which were 1½d, 2d and 2½d (fifteen times less than today for a first class stamp, which would have got to its destination faster than today]; and a thousand envelopes cost 3s11d.  It seems that Tim paid Southern Railway regularly, probably for temporary delivery of coal to Hildenborough which he then brought back to his main yard where Wheelwrights Cottage is today.

In the monthly Barclays Bank statement for 1959, it is clear that Tim’s largest, regular customer was ‘Smith’ or ‘Smith & Son’ who normally paid Tim around £500-£700 a month but sometimes over £1,000 a month.  [Does anyone know what or who Smith was or could it have been the Smithy on the Green?]  Other regular clients included SEGB – the South Eastern Gas Board; a firm or person noted as ‘Stanton’; as well as ‘Healey’ – probably the garage rather than one of the Healy family; and ‘Blackman’.   Lord Hollanden, Tonbridge Water and Mountains are mentioned as occasional clients.  Tim’s income seems to have varied between £900 and £2,000 a month in 1959.

It is good to have these papers from sixty to eighty years ago which bring back everyday village memories of Tim, his family and his well-known lorry.


Chris Rowley    (Parish Magazine Article: August 2016)