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The History of Curtis & Lees

The year is 1922…

James Joyce's Ulysses is first published in Paris; the first Dracula film “Nosferatu” is released in Germany; the BBC is founded in London; Tutankhamen’s tomb is discovered in Egypt; the Irish Free State is founded and the original company of Curtis & Lees open its doors for the first time.
Jack Lees and Ned Curtis, who had been in the employ of Cullen Allen company up until their closure in 1922, opened their own cartage business.

The word ‘cartage’ (rarely used nowadays), referred to goods being carried on carts drawn by horses rather than being 'hauled' by other means. One of the earliest customers of Curtis & Lees was Beamish & Crawford or whom the company delivered keg beer from the CIE railyard to Dublin Port for export. Another of their regular customers from that era was Bewley’s Oriental Cafes for whom Curtis & Lees delivered their coffee and tea from Dublin port.

Curtis & Lees horses and carts were a regular site on Dublin streets right up until the mid 1950’s but it was following the employment of Brendan Atkinson in the late 1940’s that diesel Commer trucks began to replace the horses and a fleet of new red Commers was purchased.

By 1969, Curtis & Lees became a Limited Company and Brendan was appointed Director, eventually assuming total ownership of the Company upon the death of Ned Curtis and the retirement of Jack Lees. As the name Curtis & Lees had become synonymous with transport, service and reliability, and was part of the Dublin Master Carriers Association, it was felt that the name should remain.

Curtis & Lees carts on the North Wall Quay, Dublin Curtis & Lees carts on the North Wall Quay preparing to collect keg beer for export (Dublin circa 1931)

As the 1970's came to a close, Curtis & Lees Ltd had found that technology had again caught up with the transport sector, and while most of the cargo arriving in Dublin port had been break-bulk cargo, containerisation was now the leading method of shipping goods, this meant that cargo was reaching its destination, faster, cheaper, and with less handling and delays.

Upon Brendan's death in 1984, Carol (Brendan's daughter), and Norman Wilkinson took over the business and began the process of diversification. While retaining the entity of a transport business, Norman, through his many years in the shipping sector, expanded the company into other fields of the freight forwarding sector. Specialisation was the way forward and a number of key areas within the freight industry became new target areas. Curtis & Lees became one of the market leaders in refrigerated and temperature controlled cargo worldwide. To provide its customers with full cargo services, Curtis & Lees continued its growth programme and 1996 purchased its own warehouse facility at Baldoyle Industrial Estate on the North side of Dublin city.

Curtis & Lees Ltd's truck on the Custom House Quay (Dublin 2016) Curtis & Lees Ltd's truck on the Custom House Quay (Dublin 2016)

Today, Curtis & Lees, a wholly owned Irish Company, are to the forefront of freight forwarding on a global scale. We provide worldwide shipping services which include temperature controlled cargo, deep sea cargo (imports and exports), project cargo/out of gauge, airfreight, all import / export documentation, customs clearance and a full range of warehousing, distribution, transport and all related service from our wholly owned 44,000 sq ft facility.

While family may be at the heart of the Company, we consider all our highly valued staff to be part of the greater family that is CURTIS & LEES LTD.