Posted on http://www.csg.co.uk/blog on November 6th 2019
2019 is an important year for CSG – it’s the 85th anniversary of our birth! ‘Hampshire Cleansing Service’ was founded in January 1934 by Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart, the patriarchal figure of the family that still owns the company today. In that time, while so many aspects of daily life, business and waste processing have changed beyond recognition, the basic principles of the Cleansing – and the Service – remain very much in evidence today.
In 1933, Bunny Hart was a man in a hurry. Born in 1898, the seventh child of a successful butcher in London, he’d already crammed a lot into his first thirty-five years. He’d served in The Great War from 1917, become an expert skier in Kitzbühel, graduated as an engineer in 1923, taken a job in Chile in 1924 and, when the post became untenable, worked his passage as he toured around North and South America for the next two years. Upon his return to Britain, he started work for a tanker manufacturer in Southampton and began to court the woman he would eventually marry.
Despite the respectable job and steady relationship, his independent spirit hadn’t waned – he wanted to control his own destiny. The contacts he’d generated around Hampshire had convinced him that there was was a business opportunity for emptying the contents of the products he’d previously sold. Collecting sewage could never be described as attractive work but he would almost certainly have been encouraged by the old adage “where there’s muck there’s brass”. The growing levels of regulatory reform, even then, were an encouraging sign that unprofessional competition would be prohibited and it meant that, if Bunny could earn a carrier’s licence, he was sure he could build a healthy business.
Evidently, Bunny’s acumen and professionalism were impressive enough to convince the licensing body to award him a licence towards the end of 1933, sufficient for his needs. Now, all he needed was a vehicle. On 2nd December, he managed to procure a second-hand, solid-tyred 800-gallon Dennis tanker from Wokingham Rural District Council for the princely sum of £5. It’s difficult to imagine a real-terms value of such a figure without knowing the effects of over eight decades of inflation so you may be surprised to learn that £5 then was the equivalent of just £250 today. Compared to the 25 guineas (the equivalent of £1,330 today) to buy the latest ‘2 in 1’ gramophone and radio set from His Master’s Voice, Bunny’s £5 tanker still seems like a real bargain.
Of course, it wasn’t quite as cheap as it sounds – the ancient tanker needed to be updated and that’s where the real costs were. Renewing the old hose cost £47 7s (£2,400 in today’s money) and replacing the impractical solid tyres with a modern, practical pneumatic set cost a rather eye- watering £104 18s 4d (£5,300). Finally, sign-writing costs were £4 2s 6d (£209), a canny bit of marketing spend to publicly announce the new company everywhere the tanker went. The legend of the ‘£5 tanker’ sounds romantic but in reality, it represented what might today be considered an initial investment of over £8,000. Not a lot to start a business, perhaps, but quite a lot of money to stake on a firm belief of success.
On January 1st 1934, with his Dennis tanker upgraded and his ‘B’ licence effective, Bunny was ready to take on the waste disposal industry. It has to be said that 1934 wasn’t the most encouraging time to start a business. The Wall Street Crash was only a few years before and Britain had endured three years of economic decline as a result of the Great Depression. Then, just as the economy was recovering, tensions began to rise again in Europe as a resurgent Germany fell under the spell of Adolf Hitler, barely fifteen years after the Armistice was supposed to have put an end to the threat of more war. Perhaps this all seemed a world away from rural Hampshire as Bunny pursued his ambitions. Whether or not such concerns formed part of his thinking, they would not stop him trying.
He knew that, as they said about the Gold Rush, a century earlier, there was money in them there cesspits – but unlike 1840s California, the ‘gold’ was being constantly replenished. And so it proved. As the 1930s went on and the world moved inexorably towards another war, Hampshire Cleansing Service had indeed begun to grow as Bunny had intended. At the outbreak of war in 1939, six vehicles were operating around the county.
It couldn’t be denied that the war footing was good for business. With so many army bases, airfields and camps becoming established in the area, a huge increase in demand for sewage collection was, literally, a natural consequence. By the end of the war, the company employed a hundred people, the fleet had risen to thirty-five vehicles, and coverage had extended to three counties.
Unsurprisingly, the post-war years saw the military sewage collections dwindle but crucially, the company had become capable enough to replace that revenue with work from schools, factories and holiday camps. The fleet extended to a range of different vehicles, capable of extracting and dispensing the matter in different ways but the same basic principles of ‘Cleansing’ remained – and wherever people were gathered, the potential for another sewage collection existed. It may seem to have been a rather rudimentary business model but it’s easy to overlook another vital element – ‘Service’.
It’s unlikely to have been by accident that Bunny ensured that the word ‘Service’ remained in every iteration of his company’s name. His years as a salesman will have convinced him that sales do not just happen mechanically; they are agreed to by people, placing their faith in the quality of a job done well, assured that the experience will offer the reward of diligence and integrity beyond the basic process. Particularly in the case of domestic customers in remote areas, with their cesspits, the regular, reassuring sight of a friendly driver has defined their relationship with our company, retaining their trust and their custom over many years.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the company continued to seek out further opportunities to grow but by the beginning of the 1970s, Bunny had become gravely ill. When he died in 1971, he left a hugely successful legacy – a company that had begun to develop its capabilities and diversify into other areas of waste disposal. For some time, it had became necessary to add ever more specialist knowledge in order to operate in each specific sector of the wider waste industry.
In the years that followed, a wave of new regulations on employee health & safety, pollution, the deposit of poisonous waste and many more must have seemed frustratingly restrictive, compared to the ‘good old days’ of simply dispersing sewage into the field of a friendly farmer – but it was a benefit in disguise. Just as Bunny had benefitted from the the protection from unprofessional competitors that his licence gave him in 1934, the industry was challenging its most competent exponents to expand at the expense of those who could not adapt to the tighter regulations. Few companies were better placed to meet these challenges than the newly-assembled ‘Cleansing Services Group’.
Over the last five decades, the market has continued to sub-divide into more distinct specialisms, regulations have continued to strengthen, CSG has continued to add greater capability to the group and performance has continued to grow. Were he alive today, Bunny Hart may be amazed at the depth of knowledge now required in order to operate in so many sectors, the level of expertise in chemistry, logistics, environmental law, employee training – let alone the disciplines required to support it all, such as funding schemes, HR policy, social media management and many, many more. Given his fore-sightedness, perhaps he might not.
In 85 years, CSG has undergone a metamorphosis from a small, local provider of a specific service to a huge, diverse amalgamation of a wide variety of specialisms, all loosely connected with the world of consumption and waste. In a quirk of fate, one of the most innovative areas of our operations today is the same, necessary removal and treatment of sewage. Now, as it ever was, there’s still ‘brass’ wherever there’s ‘muck’.
In 1934, a very different Britain was still shaped by her Victorian heyday, in the twilight of Empire. The country mourned the passing of two of its greatest composers, Elgar and Holst, a 19 year-old called Stanley Matthews made his England debut and a writer from Australia called PL Travers published a book called ‘Mary Poppins’. It was, in so many ways, nothing like the Britain we inhabit today. And yet, the basic rules of business apply today, as much as they did then – the vital importance of doing a job well, to the absolute satisfaction of the customer.
May those fundamental guiding principles continue to guide CSG over the many decades to come!