Bleach of Lavant: 100 years of road freight transport, specialising in taking horticultural plants to garden centres in the UK

When travelling on the roads around the Chichester district and indeed the rest of the country, you may spot green commercial haulage vehicles adorned with ‘Bleach of Lavant’.

The company was formed in 1921 when Harry Bleach, a resident of Lavant, purchased a lorry shortly after the First World War. He used this to deliver mostly agricultural produce around the village of Lavant and the surrounding area under the name H.E Bleach.

Harry’s eldest son, Lawrence, who was known to most as Mick, joined the business shortly after returning from national service in Egypt, soon after the end of the Second World War. He joined his younger brother Tony, who was working for the company initially on the coal round.

Soon the company was operating coaches for hire, as well as running the village garage. A few years later, the business was split, Tony took over the running of the garage and Mick took over the road transport side of the business.

Two new trucks commissioned for Bleach of Lavant Ltd’s centenary. In honour of the two founding members of the company, Harry and Lawrence Bleach, one truck bears the initials H.E. Bleach and the other L.RJ. Bleach. Image courtesy of Bleach of Lavant Ltd.

By the 1950s, the company was collecting produce from local farms, such as wheat and sugar beet, in preparation to be transported, including to London’s flour mills, as well as being loaded on to railway wagons at Lavant Station ready for transportation to East Anglia.

By 1955, the business had grown to include 12 trucks and Lawrence officially founded Bleach of Lavant Ltd, named after the village where the business began all those years prior. To cope with the growth, space was rented in the railway yard to park the increasing fleet of trucks and trailers.

Lawrence’s son Michael joined the business after finishing school in 1974. In the mid 1980s the council bought the goods yard to build houses on and the firm re-located to Terminus Road, Chichester where its workshop is still situated.

Over time, the company specialised its services into horticultural distribution and in the 1990s was delivering garden plants nationwide for nurseries to garden centres and large retailers, including B&Q and Homebase. This work was, and remains, seasonal, meaning March to June was a particularly busy period for the company. As a result, the company would take on extra vehicles and staff temporarily to cover the period, and continues to do so to this day.

Loading Danish trolleys full of horticultural plants on to a Bleach of Lavant truck. Image courtesy of Bleach of Lavant Ltd.

Around this time, following the big storm that flattened a lot of local woodland, the company was asked if it wanted to transport logs from nearby woodlands to the pulp mills in South Wales. This proved fruitful, as it would receive truckloads of steel in return from Wales.

The company expanded again in 2007. Having outgrown its premises in Terminus Road, Chichester, the company decided to move its vehicle operations to its current site at Ford Airfield, near Arundel, leaving its workshop in Terminus Road, where it remains today.

From this point, the company began to focus on efficiency and embraced the new technologies available, including vehicle tracking.

In 2008, the company became a member of the network Palletforce, ensuring there was a continuous stream of freight alongside its more specialised, general and horticultural transportation. Within the Palletforce network, companies are allocated postcodes from which they are able to collect palletised goods and Palletforce is then able to use the efficiencies of the network to deliver across the UK.

Loading grain on to a ship at Dell Quay, circa 1930s. Image courtesy of Bleach of Lavant Ltd.

Around this time, Michael Bleach was also involved in the development of a cutting-edge trailer design in conjunction with Wilson Trailer Company – the Curtainclear double deck trailer. This feature enabled the curtains of the trailer to slide back fully to clear both sides, all the way to the rear, giving operators better access to the top and bottom decks of the trailer.

The business remains in the family to this day, with Harry Bleach’s grandson Michael now owner and managing director. Michael has also been joined by his two sons, Ben and George.

Bleach of Lavant has grown to be the largest transporter of horticultural plants to garden centres in the UK, with specially-adapted trucks, some temperature controlled, and tail lifts specifically designed to carry Danish trolleys – a set of shelves on wheels used in the horticultural world to transport potted plants and flowers, particularly valued due to their size, weight and stacking capabilities.

The business employs around 100 staff and has a varied fleet of just under 100 trucks and trailers to meet the needs of its many customers. In addition to specialising in the transport of horticultural plants, the business is also able to transport and store general freight and goods.

This year marks the company’s centenary year and in order to commemorate this, two special new vehicles have been purchased. These revisit the dark green colour scheme iconic of the company pre-1976, instead of the lighter green seen in more recent times. In honour of Harry Bleach, who founded the company, and Lawrence Bleach, who incorporated it in 1955, one truck bears the initials H.E. Bleach and the other L.RJ. Bleach on the vehicles’ doors.