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Helmdon Historical Articles

Jeffs Coaches


                     an article by Ann Smith and David Brookhouse

Prior to the twentieth century, local people who didn't have their own carriage to transport them from village to village or market town, had to walk, ride or rely on the local carriers. The carrier passengers would share a cart with an assortment of animals and goods. When a steep hill was encountered the passengers would get down and walk or might even have to help the horses by pushing.

Between 1891 and 1910, the carriers in Helmdon were Henry Stanley, James Kelcher, Henry Watson, Frank Albright, Ernest Gulliver and Henry Carpenter. Henry Carpenter and Frank Albright continued until 1924 when Thomas Pitts came on the scene, followed later by his son Alec. Sammy Walters at that time had a fish cart and later a fruit and vegetable cart, drawn by a one-eyed horse.

It was not until 1936 that we have the first mention of Sammy Walters's omnibus service. This was to Northampton on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and to Banbury on Thursday. Sammy used to run a 14-seater bus to the seaside (usually Skegness) in the summer. These trips were very popular and many trips were made each summer.

During the war, 1939-45, so many people used to cram on the bus to go to Northampton or Towcester cinema that the conductor used to stand on the bus steps and hold the rail by the door to prevent people falling off. He also used to take people's shopping lists to Northampton and do their shopping.

Roland Jeffs (always known as Jack) joined Sammy just before the Second World War and worked part-time for him, when needed. Jack was exempted from war service as he repaired and serviced agricultural machinery and so was an essential part of the agriculture industry. In 1942, he moved into a house in Church Street with his wife Eileen, and sons Ken and John. Jack continued working in agriculture throughout the war years. Ken recalls that his father had a strong personality and was very mechanically minded. He always wore a cap and when he was angry would throw it onto the floor. Jack also drove the first diesel coach that came to Northampton.

Prior to 1958, Sammy Walters was the only coach operator stationed in Helmdon. He had several coaches that were driven by Jack Jeffs, Eric Greaves, Freddie Skears and Bert Humphrey. Freddie Holloway was bus conductor. Jack Jeffs always understood that he would have first option of buying the business when the time came for Sammy to retire. One Saturday night in June 1958, Jack came back late after driving a coach out on a day trip. He went into Sammy's bungalow to tell him he was home and was confronted by Nurse Walters (Sammy's wife). She told him that as from Monday next,

The first coach owned by Jack Jeffs
The first coach owned by Jack Jeffs

He would be working for Websters as Sammy had sold the business. Jack immediately handed in his notice and from that moment the concept of Jeffs coaches was born. He little knew that nearly 50 years later Jeffs would be running over 80 vehicles and servicing dozens of clients and businesses every day.

That same month (June 1958) Jack bought his first bus. It was a 37-seater, registration number MDD 688, and cost £2,350 - Jack paid £20 deposit for it.

The business started to grow when Jack purchased his second coach early in 1959. Jack at this time was in the habit of cleaning his bus outside his house in Church Street with the help of his wife Eileen, Cyril Barrett and David Brookhouse. This was usually around midnight and on completion, he would inspect the cleanliness of the windows with the aid of a paraffin hurricane lantern. From the earliest times Jack was very particular about maintaining a very high standard of cleanliness and roadworthiness in his vehicles and they were serviced to a high standard. If necessary, this meant working well into the night. David Brookhouse recalls coming in from a trip at midnight to be met by Jack saying a coach needed a new clutch - it wouldn't take long and they would do it straight away. As is often the case, things did not go according to plan and the job wasn't completed until 4am. Jack and David then had to take coach trips out for the day at 6am. What a good thing there were no tachographs in those days!

At first Jack just did day trips and was fully supported by the villagers who thought he had been treated very unfairly. Very soon he had taken on school and works contracts. The bus was kept in a barn on The Square (now a house conversion - The Old Barn, Cross Lane). Jack was the driver and was helped at weekends by his son John who had served his apprenticeship at Daimler and then worked at Self-Change Gears, Coventry. He returned to Helmdon at the weekends to help his father run the business.

The same year, 1959, Jack obtained planning approval to use the old goods shed and station yard of the old Nibble and Clink railway as a coach garage (this was the old LMS line between Towcester and Banbury). He also purchased his second coach that year.

John driving with Jack as Conductor in Brackley Market Place
John driving with Jack as
Conductor in Brackley Market Place

During this period of expansion John became a partner with his father, and the name of Jeffs Coaches was born. By the end of 1961 they had a total of seven coaches and an 11-seater minibus. Business continued to expand and on 16 April 1964 the station yard was purchased from British Rail for one thousand and three pounds, seven shillings and ten pence. In June of 1964 Jack and John took the decision to purchase three brand new coaches to add to the fleet.

Throughout the sixties and seventies Jack and John developed the firm, expanding into a large variety of operations. There were the "run of the mill" school runs, work runs, day trips, weekly shopping services, theatre trips, holidays in this country and Jeffs Coaches became a familiar sight abroad operating regular trips to the South of France and other parts of Europe.

In the seventies Jack's elder son, Ken, joined John and his father as a partner in the business, although Ken did not work full time until 1988. The business continued to grow during those years until the cream and green coaches not only became a familiar part of the village scene in Helmdon but a national and international coach firm.

Ken Jeffs has continued to run the family coach business since the death of his father and younger brother John. During the nineties and in the year 2000 Jeffs Coaches won many national holiday awards, putting the village of Helmdon on the travel map of England. The firm is in a strong position and looks forward to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Ann Smith and David Brookhouse

With thanks to Ken Jeffs and Pam Jeffs for background material.

Note: Trade directories in the Northamptonshire Record Office were consulted for the names of the early carriers.

[Article first published in Aspects of Helmdon 4 (2001), pp 160 - 163]

Please note: Since this article was written another chapter in the life of Jeffs Coaches has started.

In December 2004 the Jeffs family sold the company to L.F Bowen Ltd.    Click here for the press coverage of the 2004 sale.

The company went into administration in October 2012 and was then bought by an unnamed investor before it went into liquidation in November 2015. 

click for press cutting of the liquidation announcement

In April 2016 the coach depot site was taken over by SMS X Travel, operating from Towcester

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