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The Leftley family and Barking
Tony Clifford

Joseph Leftley is said to have left his farm in Suffolk in the 1790s and came to London with two brothers to seek his fortune. He eventually settled in Barking, then a small fishing town, and began business as a carrier in 1800. At first, wearing breeches and gaiters and a tall hat, he walked daily with his pony and covered cart from Barking to an inn near the Old Bailey in London, carrying parcels and occasionally a few passengers. Parcels could be left or collected at various inns en route for a fee of 2d or 3d per parcel. His son, Robert (1818-1889), expanded the business, which also included a shop serving the needs of the flourishing fishing industry. A 1874 directory shows how widely the family was trading in the town and lists Charles Leftley, carrier, 22 Nelson Street (in 1871 he was employing 1 man and 1 boy); John Leftley, baker, 44 North Street; and Robert Leftley, carman, Fisher Street. The latter is probably the Robert listed in the 1881 census as carman, at Glyn Cottages, Axe Street, married to Harriet with 1 daughter and 4 sons. The business continued to prosper under Robert’s son Joseph (1845-1887), whose widow Isabel (1846-1918) then took charge of the transport business for over 30 years, with the company address given as 86 North Street. Isabel took control of the company following the deaths of her husband and eldest son within a very short space of time. The company, which was incorporated in October 1938, covered the London area and the home counties, with a special delivery service to the docks and wharves.

In 1955 Leftley was acquired by the Transport Development Group Ltd, a holding company whose subsidiaries were engaged in road haulage and warehousing. A new depot consisting of a two-storey block, workshop, loading bay and warehouse was opened on the River Road industrial estate in 1963, from which I Leftley Ltd operated Continental Ferry Trailers, delivering British goods to many European countries.
(Directory advertisement, 1964)
(Valence House: LDVAL 2170/DS 1842)
A Leftley delivery cart outside 86 North Street, c1910. Isabel Leftley is standing by the front door with her daughter Maud (1881-1962) and a boy identified as Joseph Richard, said to be aged 3, which is unlikely (if the date of the photo is correct) because he is given as aged 5 on the 1881 census. Light vehicles such as this were intended for the quick delivery of small goods and parcels.
(Valence House: LDVAL2169/DS 1841)
An “old house” was demolished in c1903 to make way for the building of 86 North Street (above). Leftley’s fleet of vehicles used the entrance on the right. The small building on the left of the house, not owned by Leftleys, was a fish and chip shop, the smell of which was often said to be a nuisance to the family. William Holmes Frogley, writing around this time, has this to say: “Opposite the Good Intent [pub] is a new house, occupied by the Leftley family – carriers.  This business was for many years the livlihood of Mr John Jaggers. He resided in East Street and his van collected parcels from and to London daily. On the site of this new house was an old cottage, occupied for many years by a Mr Wall, who had a smith and farriers business attached. After his death the family left the town, and Mr Charles Leftly took the place later as “Carriers”; but the sons has extended the buisness as cartage contractors”.

As Barking expanded, the Leftleys carried the building materials for its construction and also distributed a large proportion of its manufactures. Joseph R. Leftley (b.1876) purchased 38 acres of Manor Farm, situated to the east of Upney Lane, from Sir Hamilton Westrow Hulse, 9th Bt, in 1932. In the mid 1930s, Leftley Brothers Ltd, founded in 1933 and apparently still active, built the Longbridge estate on this land, bordered today by Westrow Drive, Upney Lane and Cavendish Gardens, with houses ranging from £670 freehold with a £50 deposit. They came with Crittal windows, roofs boarded and tiled, and a bathroom with a separate lavatory, as shown in the advertisement below. The advertised “healthy, open position, near two large public parks” was undoubtedly also a great selling point. Today’s advertisements refer to the estate as “ever popular”, “prestigious”, “favoured” and “sought after”, with houses selling for several £100,000s. J R Leftley also gave the land for the erection of Upney Baptist Church, in Cavendish Gardens, in 1935; it was extended in 1937 and 1954.

The minutes of J Leftley Ltd, 1938-55, are held at the Modern Records Centre, Warwick University. A plan of Leftley's Ltd at 86  North Street, Barking (1961) is at the Archives and Local Studies Centre, Valence House.
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