Soans 34 Parade

This is Richard Soans’ introduction to the fascinating story of a well-known Leamington
family business. CLICK HERE to read the full article.

Soans is an unusual name.  It may be English, a variant of ‘son,’ or it may be Scandinavian. What is indisputable is that our family can be traced back to 1655.  Recent generations settled around Bromley in Kent where this story starts 120 years ago.

In 1895, my Great Uncle Percy and Charles my Grandad, built a shed at the family home in Bromley, to repair and sell bicycles. From the shed, they moved into a shop, and eventually became agents for Minerva Motors. In 1911 they became Ford agents, beginning an association that was to last some 85 years. The increase in business with Ford soon led to further expansion and they became agents for Brasier cars and Hallford trucks. In 1919, when Ford Motor Company drew up new contracts appointing exclusive Main Dealers around the UK, they were among the first to sign up.

In 1924 Charles’s son, Fred (my dad), joined his cousins in the firm, but by the late 1920s the Soans brothers agreed to go their separate ways. So in 1927, Grandad came to Leamington, taking on the lease of 34 Parade, as the Ford Main dealer for much of central and south Warwickshire. In 1933 he moved to larger premises in Dormer Place. At the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 the business turned to reconditioning military vehicles for the Ministry of Defence. After the war, when domestic car sales involved a lengthy waiting list, Soans’ workshop became ever busier maintaining and repairing the many ageing vehicles still in use. When Grandad died in 1950, dad became M D.  and acquired additional premises opposite the Fire Station on Warwick Street.

I joined the firm in 1961, after a 5-year engineering apprenticeship at Jaguar Cars. At that time much thought was being given to the future development of Leamington. When Sydenham Farm was marketed for both housing and industrial development, Soans seized the opportunity to relocate to a green field site and build a brand new state-of-the-art dealership. There was little passing trade, but we built workshops there, whilst retaining the Dormer Place premises.

50 years after Dad and Grandad opened in Leamington, in 1978, I became Managing Director. We celebrated our golden anniversary with a procession down the Parade and out to Sydenham with a brass band, old cars & motorbikes, shire horses, and even a steam-roller! By the 1990s the motor industry was changing fast. As Ford’s plans for consolidation did not fit well with the ethos of a family business, after prolonged negotiations, it was agreed in 1996 to end our 85-year association, and the business then changed from a garage company to an Industrial property company.

I cannot stress too highly that it was the staff that made our company a success, not the land & buildings that we worked in.  Soans had many loyal long serving staff, some with over 50 years’ service, and quite a number who were with us for considerably more than 25 years: they drove the growth of the business.

So there we have it:  120 years of a family business – from a shed in a garden mending bikes in Bromley, to a proposed development of some 140 new dwellings in Leamington Spa.

Richard Soans. October 2014 (presentation revised July 2016)

This is Richard Soans’ introduction to the fascinating story of a well-known Leamington family business. CLICK HERE to read the full article.