Where it all Started
It was World War 2 and the German dive bombers were pressing home their attacks on RAF Swingate CH radar station near Dover, but despite the considerable damage, the station was operational again in a matter of hours.
It was amid such scenes of carnage and killing that the founders of the future company met in Dover and developed a relationship which culminated in the marriage between Warrant Officer Bernard Rumsby – a Radar Engineer and Sergeant Josephine Holder a radar plotter.
Bernard Smye-Rumsby had always had a fascination for electronics from his teens having built his first TV from scraps in about 1932, and so it was that shortly after the war, he and Josephine decided to start an electronic repair business from their first home. Importantly, it was just a couple of years before this that the founders’ surname ‘Rumsby’ was changed to ‘Smye-Rumsby’, but that’s a different but interesting story!
Promotion was now all important. In 1948 they placed a hand written advertisement in the window of their front room to let the locals know of the service available for their Radios and. The business grew to include the latest domestic appliance – Television, and it was not long before they needed a business premises. The first was in London Road, Dover opposite St Andrew’s Primary School.
Bernard and Josephine Smye-Rumsby were true entrepreneurs, and together they sought new avenues into which to expand. Television needed aerials, thus they provided an aerial installation service. They then started public address hire, the servicing of all manner of domestic appliances, and of course the selling of the ubiquitous maintenance contracts.
Within a couple of years it was established that Dover Harbour Board were in need of establishing ship to shore radio communications with the vessels operating in and out of Dover’s port. With this technical knowledge and conviction, the business was awarded a contract to install an AM VHF system at Port Control which would communicate with ships.
By this year the couple were conscious of the need to operate within a more commercial customer base in addition to their established domestic customers.
Bernard was greatly enthusiastic about industrial electronics and in particular his knowledge of radar. Knowing that cross-channel ferries were starting to be equipped with marine radar the business approached Decca Marine Radar and sought a maintenance agency service contract. This was awarded to them in 1956 and included not only the radar equipment but also the Decca Navigator receivers.
In the following years the business outgrew a number of premises around the town of Dover, including an earlier building in the east of Snargate Street, the same street in which its current business has been operational since 1971.
The photo shows the building, closed as a general store and ready for demolition.
From here the business moved to Queen Street which after 12 years of occupancy was subject to Compulsory Purchase Order to make space for Dover’s development plans.
Company awarded contract in March to install a Communal TV system during the construction of the Gateway’s 221 luxury seafront flats. This required the erection and installation of a lattice mast on the roof of the building by crane.
The business was formed into a limited company in 1959 with the name Smye-Rumsby Ltd. In keeping with its growing marine interest, it established a contract to maintain and install equipment from suppliers such as Kelvin Hughes, Raytheon and Sperry Marine. Much of the initial business was on car ferries Dover to Calais and included hovercraft, jetfoils and visiting cargo ships. Our every day operational area was all ports from Whitstable to Brighton marina.
The use of Private Mobile Radio was up and coming, but still very expensive. But it was an area of business that the company added to its portfolio. One of its first and most famous customers was Sir Donald Campbell. The World Water Speed record was being challenged by his Bluebird jet boat. Our company provided the Pye radio communications equipment between ship and shore. The rest we all know is history.
In a continuing drive for expansion, new retail outlets were established firstly in Dover for TV and Radio sales. This was followed by the opening of additional shops in the towns of Folkestone and Deal.
Decca Navigation Co. awards the company a contract to fit 19 Polish trawlers with Decca Navigators to significantly improve their catch rate.
Company supplies private marine channel radio communications to Wimpey who were awarded the Channel Tunnel Geological Survey contract. The company’s service included radar and position fixing equipment. The vessel GW14 was the principal drilling vessel.
Trinity House Folkestone Pilot Station. Interswitched
radar installation and upgrade VHF ship to shore communications.
The purchase of the old chapel; a strong building but in a very neglected state, in Snargate Street. This required major conversion building work which was not completed until 1971. The building was the first to be planned from the start to accommodate the various operational technical departments and administration offices.
The company sought to increase its marine equipment sales and contracted with a number of boat builders in Kent, Sussex and Essex to provide design, supply and install electrical systems and all specified navigational equipment. A considerable and lengthy contract lasting for many years was the work performed in the construction of numerous small craft for the Royal Navy. Workboats and pleasure craft were also included in this program.
After a very long illness, company founder Josephine Smye-Rumsby passed away. Without a doubt it was her drive and understanding of business finance that placed her in a very critical directorship. Theirs was a good business partnership, for whilst Bernard was the technical brains, Josephine dealt with all financial aspects of the company. She was an amazing woman, not only having raised 10 children, but running the company on a daily basis. She died from cancer aged just 62.
Private Mobile Radio (PMR) was the answer to many Kent based companies needs. We saw this as a great business opportunity and set up Kentcall with 5 aerial sites to cover the county, and a 24 hour 7 day manned control centre. It offered direct mobile and in car communications to offices long before cellular phones were available.
In 1983 after 35 years in the chair and Managing Director of the company, Bernard handed over control to his eldest son Paul. Paul had been employed by the company since 1964 starting as an apprentice. He was supported in his new role by fellow directors Mr and Mrs Geoff Stevenson.
A mere 10 months after retirement, Bernard died suddenly at his home in Walmer. Aged only 65 and father of 10 children, he had taken the company from its humble beginnings through many electronic markets using his technical skills to spot business opportunities. He had his fair share of difficulties through damaging political economies but steered the company onward to safety. His talents and dedication will always be remembered.
Awarded a major contract with TML, the contractors who built the Channel Tunnel and which lasted 5 years. We supplied all of the construction phase radio communications. We also designed the radio interface between the French and British drilling teams and at the very moment of break through and thereafter.
Whilst mobile phones satisfied many companies with the need for business coms, there was a niche market in providing companies with their own system in the guise of Communal Base Station (CBS) working. This was well received by many Kent based operators which offered our company a business opportunity to replace the ailing Kentcall system.
With the advent of the mobile phone, Kentcall suffered an unacceptable loss of its customer base. Economic pressures determined the inevitable fate, and a decision was made to close down this once very effective mobile phone service.
We started with SGS Yarsley with British standard BS 5750. This was to enhance our ability to offer a larger range of options for hire radio.
The company is a member of the Federation of Communication Services, and in 1993 they insisted that member companies dealing in Hire Radio must be accredited to the ISO9002 quality standard. The company worked very hard to update its management systems which resulted in qualifying for the award in 1996.
The need for reliable ‘on-site’ communications over a construction site or short term event meant that mobile radio (walkie talkie) was the answer. It solved the problem of the delay obtaining a Wireless Licence, because such systems could use dedicated Short Term Hire Radio frequencies. Business is strong with very many customers using our services.
Our knowledge generated over the many years of the requirements for building extensive, multi-site control room centres associated with marine operations was attractive to many customers, one being Harwich Vessel Traffic System (VTS). It comprised Zetron Remote Controllers coupled to various VHF radiocommunication stations.
For the first time in our corporate history Smye have created our first company video by working with Rival Animation. This editing video involves our clients Kent Search And Rescue who undertook an Operational Exercise allowing us to create some great footage showing how they do their work finding vulnerable missing people throughout Kent.