The founder of the business, John Gibbs was born in Chalfont, Bucks in 1792. He began his working life in Cowley, Middlesex and then in 1844 he started his own business in Bedfont as a wheelwright and blacksmith. It is likely that he chose this area to start a business of this type due to the large number of vegetable and fruit growers who needed transport to take their produce to the London markets.
When John Gibbs began the business, the horse was an essential form of transport and vital for most agricultural work. As Bedfont was in the middle of a busy farming area, there was plenty of work for the new firm, making and mending both horse drawn vehicles and agricultural implements.
From right to left; Sydney, Reginald and Murray Gibbs, the fourth generation to run the family firm.
John Gibbs lived with his family in The Spinney with the wheelwright and blacksmith workshop attached. Originally there were two cottages which were later made into one. Members of the Gibbs family continued to live in The Spinney until 1986. The cottage no longer exists.
The business expaned and the blacksmiths were kept busy designing and making pieces of ironwork used on implements and wagons as well as shoeing horses. Similarly there was plenty of work for the wheelwrights, building and repairing carts and wagons, as well as undertaking any other necessary woodworking jobs.
The area around Bedfont (where Heathrow airport now stands) was known as the “Garden of London” and the city-dwellers provided the farmers with a ready market for their produce.
The farmers and market gardeners transported their fruit and vegetables to the London markets, including Covent Garden, in horse-drawn vans and carts. It was important to lift and transport produce to market as quickly as possible without damaging the crop. The produce needed to arrive at market fresh and in good condition in order to gain a good price. Gibbs designed and built wagons and carts specifically for this purpose.
The van in the photograph was owned by A. Wyatt from Hatton, Middlesex and was built by Gibbs.
Cos lettuce being loaded on to Gibbs built wagons at Wild and Robbins farm, Sipson, Middlesex.
The load was then pulled to the road by horses and taken to the grower’s yard by steam engine. Here they were watered by hose to keep them fresh and taken to Covent Garden early next morning in wagons pulled by horses for speed.
John Gibbs quickly realised that he could specialise in equipment for the expanding fruit and vegetable industry. One of his innovations was a lightweight cart for transporting strawberries. It was important that the fruit should arrive at market fresh, with the morning dew still on them. His Strawberry Van, pulled by trotting ponies, made the journey in record time.
John Gibbs had three sons, Arthur, Joseph and Charles. All three sons joined the gold rush in Australia; Joseph returned to England when his father suffered a stroke and he became the second generation to run the family business.