Dor to Dor

Alan Barnes tells us the history of this company with help from one of their ex-employees, Martain Cornwall
The bright red-liveried lorries of the delivery company Dor To Dor were a familiar sight on the roads of southeast England during the 1960s and 1970s.
This was a company which did exactly what its name suggested and for many years they operated from their main depot in the Sussex town of Lewes. Martin Cornwall who has been in, around and under lorries all his life recalls starting work for the company when he left school at fifteen in 1971.
was my first real job and I had the title transport clerk’, a rather grand title for an office junior and general dogsbody but at least I was not tied to a desk all the time. In addition to making lots of tea my duties also involved loading the lorries and accompanying some of the drivers as they completed their rounds. The firm had its origins in Brighton during the 1940s. The firm was based in St James Street and operated from here until the 1950s using a small fleet of motorcycles and a few vans to deliver goods around the town.
In the 1960s the firm was taken over by the Smith family who came from Bognor and the company relocated to premises in Lewes which were much larger but always had problems with restricted access. The narrow road and entrance to the yard always caused problems and drivers, especially the artic drivers, always caused traffic hold-ups as they tried to negotiate the turn. The company also had depots at Winchester, Haringay and Canterbury but during my time most of the fleet, around forty lorries, worked out of Lewes.
The area of operations covered Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire and handled the delivery of commercial and personal goods of almost every description under the sun.
Although the company had grown since its early days in Brighton the real turning point came with winning a contract with Kelloggwhich had their large depot in Crawley. This depot was also served by its own rail link and there was a constant movement of traffic in and out of the yard with Dor To Dor Bedford, Leyland and Ford artic units hauling box van trailers which carried the Kelloggname.
Other big customers included Dunlop, Sandersons Fabric, Gonzales Byas, Pilsbury Dough, Robert James Wines and Wrigleys which all had warehouses or depots in London. Dor To Dor would make their runs into London but anything for further north or west would be taken on by another carrier. These items which included bacon and Kenco coffee would be delivered to either Baker Brit, Tartan Arrow or Wilkinsons for onward delivery.
By starting in the office I was really learning the job from the ground up. Everything was based on a ticketing system with a ticket for each item detailing where it was to go. Once the batch of tickets was prepared, the lorries would be loaded every evening for the next morningrun in reverse order with items for the last destinations to be in the back of the vehicle. I would help with the ticket sorting which ’down by town, then street and then individual shop making sure that multiple deliveries to one premises were all grouped together. Then I would have to make sure that the vehicles were fuelled and moved to the loading bays, I even got to drive some of the smaller lorries around the yard even though I was still a year or so away from being able to hold a driving licence. Wisely no one trusted me with an artic unit at that time.
Set runs
A typical dayload would involve around 80 calls and the van bodies would be full to capacity. There were set runs from Lewes to towns like Dartford, Sevenoaks, and Dover.
The Run’would leave Lewes and also take in Heathfield, sometimes Rye and Camber Sands, then on to New Romney before delivering to Dover and ending the run at the toll bridge in Sandwich. As drivermate the days out on the road were long ones but I got to know the back roads and shortcuts and also how to sort the tickets to match the actual delivery as efficiently as possible.
The first driver I accompanied was Bert Skinner who had been with the company for many years. He told me about his early days with the company when the first trip of the day would be a fruit delivery to the local grocers. When that was finished he would return to load up for the rest of the day s deliveries. A true cockney born, within the sound of Bow Bells, he always wore a shirt and jacket and an immaculate cravat and I certainly learnt a great deal from him.
I was mate to another driver, Tony Gear, who eventually left Dor To Dor and went to drive for Harveys Brewery which are also in Lewes. He has now been driving for them for 37 years and very recently I had to visit the brewery on an agency contract drive and met up with Tony again. He joined me on that day and rather than drive he acted as my ’for the day and we had time for a good gossip.
By the age of 18 I had passed my driving test but was still combining office duties with trips out as driver s mate. One of the drivers had come off the road to take on the role of transport manager at the Lewes depot and I worked under him for a time. He hated the office work and only lasted six months so I effectively ended up doing two jobs, getting two wage packets and sometimes working over 100 hours a week.
My driving work was usually on the Dover run where there always seemed to be a backlog of loads and over the next couple of years I gained a great deal of on-the-road experience. The company ran its own training school and at the age of 21 I passed my HGV Class 3, taking the test in Hastings, a town which I already knew well from my s mate’days.
Now that I was old enough I was given the choice —office or driving-and I elected to go out on the ’full time. My first lorry was a Bedford TK with a box body and my first run was the Lewes to Brighton Route. Most of the deliveries were to shops in Brighton and sometimes the lorry only moved about twenty yards or so between drops as each day almost every shop in the High Street would get a fresh consignment of whatever it was they sold. As well as shops we delivered to factories, garages and also to private addresses and on one occasion I even delivered a new fridge to the home of racing driver Graham Hill, arguably the high spot of my delivery career!
Lewes, with around 50 lorries working out of it, was the busiest of the depots, Winchester had six or seven vehicles and Canterbury, which was more or less a satellite depot, had only three. The fleet list from the mid-1970s shows a mix of Bedfords and Ford D series, rigids and artics. Haringey was essentially an and out’delivery centre and I donthink any of the fleet were actually based there.
I spent about a year on the Lewes-Brighton run then I was sent further afield on trips to Midhurst with the deliveries made on the way out and the collections on the way back. When you arrived back at the depot the van would have to be unloaded and the items allocated tickets for their eventual destinations. Then, the now empty van would be loaded for the next morning and when that was done you finally got to go home. With 6am starts, 200 miles of driving, loading and unloading and the paperwork to complete it was a long hard day. Sometimes runs were amalgamated and the Dover run was extended to include Heathfield, Tenterden, Rye, Camber, New Romney, Hythe, Folkestone, Deal, Wingate and Dover. Have a look at a map of Kent and Sussex and try to plan the best route to take in all those locations and you will see what the drivers faced.
Watering holes
My time as s mate’had been well spent as I had not only got to know the routes but also the best holes’. The drivers had their favourite cafes where they could get a decent breakfast or midday fry-up. Choice establishments included Samat South Godstone where all the drivers on the runs to London would meet up. This transport cafe like many others is long gone and I think was replaced by a Little Chef, although even these are being closed down nowadays. PatCafe in Southborough on the A26 between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells didneven have a parking area but it was a firm favourite with many drivers. The lorries used to line up in a side road nearby while the drivers walked along the High Street to the small cafe. It was so small you could blink and walk right by it. It was the smell of frying bacon that told you that there was a cafe there at all but sadly that has now gone and the place where we used to park is now occupied by a wine merchants. The Towers Cafe on the A23 just before you entered Handcross was another much frequented establishment before it too became a Little Chef.
As well as the Bedford TKs, there were Ford D Series’, both short and long wheelbase with box van bodies as well as tractor units which again were used with box van trailers. These were often used on the Kelloggcontract and were a familiar site around the Crawley area. The D Series later gave way to the Leyland Roadtrain and curtainside trailers and the first of the Volvo FL10 which came along, although this was well after my time with the company.
In 1979 I left Dor To Dor to take a better paid job with another local delivery company, Atlas Express, and I bade farewell to Dor To Dor on the Friday having completed a Lewes —Brighton run —the route which I had covered on my first solo outing. The next Monday I started with Atlas on, yes you have guessed it, their run to Brighton delivering to many of the same shops that I had visited the previous week and many of their owners remarked that my van had changed.
Dor To Dor gave me the opportunity to begin a driving career which continues to the present day and I learnt a great deal during those formative years. The company was eventually taken over by United Carriers in the 1980s but I still occasionally meet old Dor To Dor drivers and we reminisce over old times. I would dearly love to learn more about the early days of the company, particularly its time in Brighton, so if anyone remembers the company or has photographs from those days please do get in touch with me.”
My thanks to Martin for sharing the story of his days with Dor To Dor and for allowing the use of photographs from his collection.