After five years in the Army and five more at the Bartlett School of Architecture, I qualified in 1951. By this time I was 27, married with one son, David, and lived in a two-bedroomed flat in Charterhouse Square, overlooking Smithfield Market. I managed to get a job with Seely & Paget in Cloth Fair at £575 per annum. I was given a job to draw up the design by Lord Mottison (John Seely) for a new church in Oxley. Although it had a shell concrete roof, it was Classical in design, which I felt was a great opportunity lost. I got very depressed with the work and decided that Seely & Paget was not the firm for me.
One day, I was sent next door to their annexe to serve coffee to the staff (temporary office boy) and I met David Branch, a brilliant draughtsman but not yet qualified. After a short spell with S & P, I gave in my notice only to find that I was unemployable. I wrote to all the well-known architectural firms without much success as, at that time there was very little work available anywhere. However, I did receive a reply from Guy Morgan (no relation) who agreed to interview me, possibly because I was living in a block of flats designed before the war for Mr. Kenneth Rees-Reynolds. He interviewed me in his large drawing room at 12A Eaton Square and eventually offered me a post at £600 per annum. As his house was strictly residential we all worked behind closed curtains and I was allotted a space on the covered billiard table with 4 other assistants.
After a short time, I was moved to a small basement room overlooking the kitchen yard. I was supplied with a drawing board and plan chest. From time to time I was handed drawings of possible bombed sites to evaluate their possible redevelopment. This included a bomb-damaged building at the corner of Piccadilly and Half Moon street next to the Turf Club. I visited the site and managed to persuade the secretary of the Turf Club to allow me to climb to the roof and drop a tape measure down to the pavement to determine the overall height. I prepared of sketch plans with this information as well as the fact that the ground to first floor of the adjoining Turf Club was quite excessive.
I gather that many developers had inspected this prestigious site in the middle of the West End but had been discouraged by the strict planning restrictions. The Council had insisted that the ground floor could only be used for commercial purposes, the remainder would be devoted to flats which would be rent controlled, making the whole site uneconomical to develop.
I prepared an outline planning application with my sketch drawings, including a section showing a mezzanine between the ground and first floor. In due course I received outline-planning approval. I was then introduced to the prospective client, Charles Williams, chartered surveyor and his developer, Harry Neal. I was asked to proceed immediately with detailed plans to take forward for full planning approval. To assist the committee, we had prepared a perspective drawing by the well-known artist of the day, Mr. Fairley (in the days before computer technology).
While waiting for the application to be considered, I was given an interesting bomb site to evaluate opposite Knightsbridge Barracks which, many years previously had been occupied by camp followers and gypsies, and had been granted ‘squatters rights’. At that time, London County Council were considering enlarging the Knightsbridge and Sloane Street junction, and I was asked to include a proposal which involved demolishing part of Scotch House to make way for a large roundabout. I prepared a scheme and model for the client, Mr. A. B. Bridgeland, an Australian millionaire. After presenting my design to the client I heard him on the way down the stairs complaining to Guy Morgan that he did not like my design as it had no Classical features, columns, architraves, cornices etc.
One day I received a telephone call from the Chief Planning Officer at the London County Council (I think that he thought that he was speaking to Guy Morgan). He referred to our planning application but wanted to know what was a ‘mezzanine’? I had to explain to him that it was an Italian word to denote a floor inserted between the ground floor and the ‘piazza Nobile’ and that I had inserted it to complement the levels of the adjoining Turf Club. We received full planning approval. Until that moment, I did not realize why my clients were so enthusiastic as, by inserting the additional floor we doubled the potential value of the site!
I was instructed with the help of the quantity surveyor, Derek ‘Shady’ Lane, ex-sub-mariner, to agree War Damage Reparations which was carried out very successfully and then to draw up a contract to clear the site. The demolition contractors were so willing to oblige that Messrs. Wackett and Co. paid the client a reasonable sum for the privilege of clearing the damaged building which had an abundance of lead, copper etc. to be recovered!
As a T. A. Officer, I was ordered to represent the Inns of Court Regiment with a section at the Queens Coronation. Marching down Piccadilly I noted that the site had been converted into a grandstand with over 200 paying spectators. On returning to the office I felt that I now deserved some increase in salary especially as Adrian, my second son, had just increased the size of my family. I formed up to see Guy Morgan who was a charming extrovert, sitting in his large lounge chair in his drawing room overlooking Eaton Square. He had the great ability of acquiring new clients and was equally able to lose them and litigate (he was suing M.G.M. at the time!). He felt that one day he would like to make me a partner but, due to the lack of work and the expensive overheads, he was unable to increase my salary. My situation was critical but I thanked him and walked back along the Embankment trying to decide how to break the news to my wife, as, once again, I was unemployed. Luckily, at this stage, my father had moved to Germany with the Army of Occupation and was able to pay £140 p.a. rent on our flat. Also, I was in the process of building a house near Petworth for a Mrs. Goody and had just landed a job for a house in Epping Forest. However, Three days later, Mrs. Young phoned and apologised that they had decided not to proceed.
A short time after Mrs. Young had phoned, I got a call from an ex student from the Bartlett who had been a year behind at university (one only knows the students in front and seldom the ones behind). She asked me if I was able to design a house for her parents who had retired and bought a plot of land in Sussex near Pulbrough. I was introduced to Lady Saunders (sister of Lawrence Olivier) and we drove down in her car to inspect the plot of land. I prepared a drawing and met her at their flat in Camden Hill Square. Looking out of the window I looked onto two tennis courts, which brought back memories of some twelve years previously, before the War, when I used to try to play tennis on these very courts with my girlfriend Pauline, and we would cuddle in the shelter when it rained! While the house was being built, one day Lady Saunders wanted to choose the sanitary ware for the house so we met at Bouldings, behind Oxford Street, and, having chosen the basins etc, we went upstairs where there was a large selection of baths. She asked me to sit in one and then get out using only one arm. I asked her why and she said that her husband had lost an arm flying in the First World War. When the work was completed, I went down to meet them and was introduced to Air Vice Marshall Saunders, and we talked about riding motorbikes in the winter. He told me that the one advantage of having one arm before the Second World War was that he would screw the clamp on his prosthetic arm onto the handlebar of his bike and be able to keep his other hand warm in his pocket!
I set up my drawing board over the writing desk in our sitting-cum-dining-cum-nursery and just started drawing. A few days later, Charles Williams rang having heard that I had left the G.M. practice and that I should take on the building in Piccadilly, but I replied that, not only was it unethical but anyway I did not have the experience and that Guy Morgan would almost certainly object and sue.
I found it difficult to work in my flat with a growing family at my feet so I rented a single room next to a fellow architect on the 5th floor over Northern Rock’s office in Conduit Street and next door to Rolls Royce showrooms. The difference now was that I saw no one except for a door rep who came to see my neighbour, who was unfortunately out. I think he took pity on me and he came back and asked me to design a house in Henley on Thames for his family!
A flooring rep also managed to climb the 59 steps, this time to see me, as I had met him at G.M. When saying goodbye, he palmed me a £5 note. He was surprised when I told him that I did not do business that way but he assured me that all the other architects were pleased to have the ‘glad hand’ (I certainly could have done with the money).
A few weeks later I got a call from Rees-Reynolds’ secretary, suggesting a meeting. The only available time for him was breakfast as he was a very busy man. This was all rather odd as I had never met him and he was also my landlord and lived in the same block of flats. It was possible that he objected to me using my flat for professional purposes. It transpired however that he had met Charles Williams at a dinner party and my name cropped up.
The outcome was that I was given a complicated party wall job in Shaftsbury Avenue and eventually received a fee of 15 guineas. A little later he asked me to assist his architect, Norman Aylwin to design a rather complicated war-damaged building in Soho, on the corner of Broadwick Street and Berwick Street. One major problem being that the corner had not been damaged and was a thriving chemist, which proved difficult to access the site. I think that Norman Aylwin was quite pleased to hand the job to a fresh mind.
I designed a showroom and office development and obtained full planning approval. While waiting for the approval, Rees-Reynolds asked me to redevelop another war-damaged building in Lambs Conduit Street and, at the same time, offered me a small flat in his building for £85 per annum to use as an office. I therefore left Conduit Street, which hadn’t helped me produce much work. I felt that I needed some assistance, as this new job was too big for an inexperienced architect. I managed to persuade David Branch to leave S & P as my assistant on £700 p.a.
Soon after, I got a call from the managing director of W. Harold Perry, the main Ford Dealers, who I gathered had also met Charles Williams. Over the years we designed a number of car showrooms and workshops for his company.
I was also asked to design a mews house in Red Lion Yard at the back of 3 Audley Square for my cousin, Eileen Andrews. On completing the house, she promptly sold it to an American millionaire, Huntingdon Hertford, who owned the Atlantic Pacific supermarkets in the U.S.A. From time to time his secretary would phone from New York, wanting alterations and additions to the tiny mews including an alternative way of hiding the dustbins. They sent, by air, a container, which would be dug into the forecourt! I then had to persuade Westminster City Council Cleansing Department to accept this radical new idea, but they refused. I decided to install it instead in my own house in Hampstead, where we had now moved. He also decided that he would like to have a mature tree in the tiny back yard. The only way we managed to satisfy his requirements was by somehow maneuvering a gantry crane and lifting the tree over the roof. One day I noted in the Evening Standard the headlines that he had imprisoned his mistress in that same mews flat for a week.
A few months later, my cousin told me that she sold her property in Audley Square to a couple of Americans. I suspect that they had been in touch with Mr. Huntingdon Hertford and I was asked to meet them, as they appeared to be in a great hurry to convert the mansion into offices. David Branch and I met Mr. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and his partner, Irving Allen and received their instructions to convert the house and construct a preview theatre backing onto Red Lion Yard. They did not appreciate the planning restrictions in this country but somehow, we managed to obtain all the necessary approvals, with the exception that the Council insisted that the top two floors would be for residential use only. (In 2008, Joanna Lumley said on television that, when she applied for a job as a ‘Bond Girl’, Harry Saltzman interviewed her in his office on the top floor, now the offices of Warwick Film Productions).
One day, Cubby Broccoli rang to say that they would like a sauna in the basement. At that time there appeared to be only one Public sauna baths in London. David Branch & I tracked it down and decided to treat ourselves to the full works at the premises in Kensington High Street. We were so invigorated by the experience that we walked all the way back to Charterhouse Square.
We were also invited by him to build a barbecue in the basement of his large house in Chester Terrace, in Regents Park. The only problem was that the old chimney was some 70 feet high and, after great difficulty we had to get the builder to drop a 70-foot length of stainless steel fluepipe down the original chimney. I have no doubt that he had many good parties down there as, at that time, his partner, Irving Allen was producing a film called ‘Fire down below’ with Victor Mature.
We also designed their dubbing theatre in Soho Square. I lined the walls with doors which had acoustic tiles attached on one side, which could be adjusted to change the acoustics so that the operator at his consul could re-record an actor, who had fluffed his lines, back onto the soundtrack, to syncronise with the film.
I was introduced by Rees Reynolds to Sydney Corob, a young developer determined to make his fortune in a hurry while at the same time extract his pound of flesh. We designed two small offices in Old Street and he insisted that we used Harold Waterman as the structural engineer. From time to time he would ask me for a drawing and I would suggest that he walk down the road to Charterhouse Square. We would meet halfway and I would give him the drawing and he would reluctantly pay. Twenty-one years later, when the lease on the two office buildings expired, I met him outside the offices and he arrived in his Rolls Royce with number plate ‘SC2’. I asked him where was SC1, to which he replied that that was owned by his wife.
A short time later, Harold Waterman suggested that I might like to meet a good friend of his at his club. His acquaintance was a Frenchman in the extended family of the Roussel Pharmaceutical Company in Paris, as they were hoping to extend their small factory in London. Arrangements were made and I met their company secretary, Gordon Davidson (ex SAS). Neither Harold Waterman nor his French friend were present at the meeting, which was a bit of a mystery. They both appeared to be persona non-gratis with the company. I was told that Roussel were desperate to enlarge their pharmaceutical business but they were having great difficulty in obtaining an Industrial Development Certificate from the Board of Trade for any site in the south of England. I would spent many a fruitless day traveling as far north as Liverpool to look at sites recommended by the Ministry.
However, they did have a subsidiary company in France hoping to expand in England to develop silicon chips for the newly emerging computer age. I was assured that the Ministry of Trade would be anxious to help, and, without much difficulty, we obtained all the necessary approvals in a very short time on a reclaimed refuse site south of London. We met M. Bourgois, an ex-submarine captain, and we received the brief for the building. Soon after, we produced a set of drawings and at a meeting were told that they were completely wrong. I asked if we could borrow a room and a drawing board, and David sketched out an alternative solution. At a meeting, only two hours later, this was approved without reservation. A local contractor, J.T. Luton was employed for this complicated job, which included the installation of a bank of 6 large transformers to supply the necessary energy.
Felicity & I were invited by Lord Mottison to the Consecration of the church I had designed at Oxley. I think I made the right decision to leave that firm (S & P) and the barrel concrete roof produced terrible acoustics.
At about the same time I happened to meet Bob Chapman who had taken over from me at Guy Morgan and had completed the work on the building in Piccadilly that I had designed. He had installed a car lift between the basement, ground floor and mezzanine, and converted it into showrooms for the Jaguar car company. He suspected that the flats above had been let to ‘ladies of the night’ with the Madame in the penthouse flat above! He had also walked out from GM office, taking John Taylor with him. They had a thriving practice including the building of New Scotland Yard, in Victoria Street and also offices for De Beers in High Holborn.
We now felt we needed an accountant so I asked Christopher Bostock, who had been in the army with me and had joined his family accounting firm. One evening, he invited Felicity and I to meet his wife at their home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. After dinner I asked him how he managed to afford to live in such a nice house. At that time we were still living cooped up in Charterhouse Square with two young boys. He gave me the name of the secretary of the HGS Trust. I met Mr. Canfield and he kindly placed my mane on his waiting list. A short time later he offered me the lease on the house at 17 Thornton Way, which had recently become available. Although on the phone it sounded ideal with 3 bedrooms at £120 per annum, when I visited the house, on my return from a meeting at Harold Perry’s, I found that it was in very poor repair. I felt obliged to thank Mr. Canfield but told him that I was rather unhappy with the state of the house as I had very little cash to undertake the remedial work necessary to render it habitable. He explained that it had recently been de-requisitioned by Finchley Council and that they would pay for all the necessary work, including repainting the windows, and that they would give me a grant of £50 towards the interior redecoration. We couldn’t wait to move in. Nine months later Miranda was born!
When I was still a student I bought a Triumph motorcycle from Commander James in exchange for the hand of his daughter, Felicity. After we were married, she would ride pillion, and when I went down to Bovington on a weekend gunnery course, she would follow by train and stay with friends. In the evening, we would tour Dorset and, one afternoon, rode down the bumpy lane to Winspit. We were confronted by a very large quarryman, reminding us that the road was private. However, on seeing my lovely young bride, he was charming and offered to show us around his quarry and masons yard under the ground. When we asked him if he knew of a local B&B were we could stay for the night, he rang up his wife, Frances and we stayed with them on this, and many other occasions, in their Council house in Langton Matravers. Later on, when the family arrived, we would spend holidays at the Vicarage at Worth. One year, however, we were unable to book the Vicarage and Bob Harris gave me the name of his brother, George, and so we stayed at Craig-y-don in one of his holiday flats. After one summer holiday, when leaving, I asked George to keep an eye open for a plot of land where I could park a caravan.
Back in London, the staff had increased in number from David Branch, Richard Callaghan and ‘Shady’ Lane with Priscilla as a temp with her typewriter on the draining board in the tiny kitchenette with the drawings etc stacked in the bathroom with hardly any space to go to the loo! We therefore decided, as due to the increased amount of work, to look for a new office, and we found floor space in a new office block in Great Duke Street occupied by Westminster Press. Almost overnight the staff grew to 12 including Joan Glen, David Roberts, Harold Warren and two Poles, Jonathan Sass and Paul Piglofski (who introduced Felicity to vodka at a staff party) as well as the glamorous receptionist, Grace, who had a following from members of the Westminster Press.
It was while we were in Great New Street that Mr.Luton came to see me to tell me that, apart from working on the silicon chip factory, he was also working for Yardley at Stratford East and that they were considering adding a soap-making department to their extended perfumery works. He suggested that I might like to meet the Works Manager, Mr. Keegan. This was duly arranged and while I was in his small office the Managing Director happened to look in to see him. I was introduced to Rodney Gardner and within a few minutes I was in his Bentley looking at a piece of land near Shenfield (I had not the faintest idea what all this was about). He explained that the existing factory had been in the family for some 200 years and they were looking for an alternative site to build. He also complained of the inability to get an Industrial Development Certificate from the Board of Trade except somewhere in the north of England. In view of his large workforce, some of whom had been with him all their working lives, he naturally wished to relocate somewhere more local.
One evening, I was invited to the Sergeants Mess after a T.A. drill, and by chance I happened to talk to a young soldier who happened to be the son of the Director of Peachy Development Company. I told him that I had a possible client but no I.D.C. By coincidence he told me that his father’s firm owned a large slice of land near High Wycombe which had been given an I.D.C. but their client had decided not to proceed with the development.
The following day I was asked by Mr. Gardner to join him at a meeting in palatial offices to meet a professional lobbyist to see how he could persuade a Minister to make an exception to their legislation due to the needs of their staff to remain fairly local. After the meeting, I mentioned the site at High Wycombe, but this was obviously in the wrong area for their purposes. However, I then went to Bond Street to meet the chairman to discuss the situation and it was ultimately decided to buy the land for £500,000. I was not involved in negotiations with the Board of Trade, but ultimately it was agreed to exchange the I.D.C. for a site in Basildon in Essex.
Sometime later I happened to see Kenneth Rees Reynolds. He asked me if I’d heard from a Mr. Minsk as he had sold the site at Broadwick Street to Louis G. Minsk (designer of gowns for larger ladies) together with my design. He suggested that I contact his solicitor, Sidney Tatchell and I met him at his offices in Cliffords Inn. A few weeks later I received a cheque for £2000 i.e. 4% of the estimated cost of the development. I did not however have to prepare working drawings as I gathered that they had already started building. This was a good deal as Nichola had recently been born! I sought the advice of Mr. Mead the bank manager who advised that I invested in stocks & shares but I decided instead to buy a walled garden with a wilderness, 200 feet above Durlston Bay with a dilapidated corrugated iron garage, which George Harris found for me next to his home in Craig-y-don. With the help of Eddie Corben, it took some 9 months to persuade Mr. Roger Brown to sell. However, when the landslip occurred a couple of hundred yards away, taking matron’s cottage at Hillcrest School down the cliff, he readily agreed to sell without conditions in March 1961.
Mr. Campbell Horsfold came to visit us at Great New Street. I gathered later that he was a retired director of Johnson & Johnson and had been asked by Rodney Gardner of Yardleys to help them decide which firm of architects they should employ as they had acquired a large site in Basildon New Town. After we were appointed, he told me the names of 3 well-known firms that he had visited. To ensure that we kept the design to within £1,000,000 they appointed a well-known firm of quantity surveyors. Gardner & Theobold, But we were allowed to choose our own structural engineers. We persuaded John Bunce to leave Harold Waterman and set up his own firm. We designed and built the first phase of their production and warehouse development and as a result met John Cannell, the Q.S. responsible for the finances to happily turn out to be in budget. Over the years we built phase two and doubled the production and warehouse. Later a soap-making department and office block, which at that time took a large slice of office space for the IBM computer, with a strict temperature control and air quality requirement. Now, 40 years later, probably no more than a desktop computer would be needed.
Sidney Corob introduced me to Mr. Shane, a solicitor, with offices in St. James’ Place up the road from the Palace. He had started, as a sideline, a development company, Equitable and Debenture, and had taken on Shady Lane as his Q.S. advisor. David and I met him and he explained that he proposed tendering for a shopping development in the suburbs of Cheltenham. The tender had to be accompanied by a drawing showing the design in Coronation Square. He asked us to prepare a design (no job, no fee). We prepared a scheme including a cardboard model, which we took down to the Council Offices.
Sometime later, we met Mr. Shane again at his offices with Shady and told that the tender had been approved. He then tried to persuade us to reduce our R.I.B.A. scale of charges. We refused and walked out of his office. Three agonizing days later, he called us back and agreed to our full fee, also agreeing to employ John Bunce as the structural engineer. As there was insufficient room in our offices in Great New Street, and the distances involved were too great, I decided to invite Peter Blair to set up a small practice for us in Cheltenham, as there might be some spin-off work. He found a small office in the Parade and he undertook the detailed work and site supervision. I would travel down by train or car from Time to time. On one occasion, I had 3 days previously bought a new Ford Zephyr car from W. Harold Perry and drove down to meet Peter. He followed me in his car to the site. On arrival he asked me if I knew how ‘trafficators’ worked as, every time I signaled left or right I went in the opposite direction. They had connected the cables the wrong way round!
Kirk & Kirk did a good job on the shopping centre and flats, the only problem that I can remember was that they covered the roof of the supermarket with Isocrete Insulation. Someone had forgotten to include the cement so all the liquid had to be removed by hand and re-laid.
We then went on to build a smaller shopping centre at Plymstock and K & K were once more employed. On occasions, David, Shady, John and I would travel down to Cheltenham on the morning train, which served up wonderful kippers. After visiting Coronation Street we would take the evening train to Plymstock, a 3-hour journey across lovely countryside. We were probably the only passengers in the restaurant car, with the chef bringing us samples of steaks to choose from and bottles of the best G.W.R. wine. David and I spent the night in Plymouth and the next day, took the train back to London. On that journey I possibly made the best decision (bar one, Felicity). I realized that although I designed practical solutions, it was David who added the architectural spice to a design added to which he was an excellent draughtsman who could conjure up sketches to illustrate ideas to clients. I suggested to him that he might like to be a partner. ‘Morgan and Branch’ was thus born on the train to Paddington.
Out of the blue I received a telephone call from a Mr. Harman Hunt who I had never met but knew he was Rees Reynolds’ partner. He told me that the large flat opposite to his in Balfour Place had become vacant and was I interested. After the War, Westminster City Council gave permission for some residential flats to be used as offices due to lack of offices in the City caused by wartime bombing. We moved to this large flat on the ground floor and basement. It was in the centre of Mayfair, not far from the Dorchester in one direction and Grosvenor House Hotel in the other, and just behind South Audley Street where we had worked for Cubby Broccoli. Apart from Harman Hunt, our neighbours were Field Marshall Lord Harding and Stirling Moss who had their pied-a-terres upstairs.
At this point in time I decided that the family would move from Hampstead Garden Suburb to a house that Bob Harris was building for us at Durlston Wall. In retrospect, I can now understand why the Suburb Trust were so anxious to let the house to an English family. A few years later they granted us all a 99year lease, in our case £7,000 because they were worried that Mr. Charlie Claw, a multi-millionaire developer was trying to buy up the suburb and make a few more million by redevelopment. We sold the house to Robin Leaf and family and I bought a flat in Hamilton Terrace. I would commute each week from Swanage, sometimes by train, usually with my ration of ‘kedgeree’ in a Tupperware container from my wife.
David and I suggested that we each invested in new cars: he bought a Jaguar and I decided on a Buick, which I had imported from the States. On one occasion we went down to the boys’ sports day at Forres. While talking to the headmaster, John Strange, David and Adrian were showing off the finer points of the car to their friends; electric roof up and down, front seat backwards and forwards etc. I was concerned that the batteries would be flat and that we would have to be pushed home. Luckily all was well. On another occasion I went down to Springfield Boys Club in the East End of London to attend a committee meeting with Jackie Stewart (the club is supported by the Racing Drivers Club) and I left the car in the road. (Incidentally, only last week I read in the paper that Lewis Hamilton had visited the club). I was called out of the meeting by a lad who had seen my car halfway down the steep hill, having felled a lamppost. No one admitted responsibility. Next morning the Club Leader, Anthony Marsh, rang to apologise on behalf of the boys. He also reported seeing an old aged pensioner walking with his dog who couldn’t understand where his favourite lamppost had gone!
One evening, Shane asked me to advice him on a residential site in Harrow that had been re-designated for commercial use. After years of contesting the council’s decision, the owners of the 40 detached houses united and sold the Triangle site to Shane for £500,000 who promptly sold a 50% share to Sir Edwin McAlpine for £500,000! David was involved with the development of the three tower blocks; the only problem being that Lord Robin leased one of the buildings for the National Coal Board and requested that the heating should be coal fired. This proved to be impossible due to the amount of coal bunkerage required. So after a lot of discussion, a tanker would arrive with ‘coal derivative oil’ painted on its side. We also had to drill holes through 4 floors to provide a chimneystack for the coal fire he required in his boardroom on the 6th floor.
Having toured the country with Mr. Helm of Roussel, looking at sites recommended by the Board of Trade, they eventually found land within the residential area of Swindon, which was ideal for their purposes as they employed women operatives. David and I went to Paris to meet their directors and M. Michel, the project manager to receive our brief for a new pharmaceutical factory, offices and laboratories. Somehow we found it difficult to interpret their requirements as they kept referring to a factory that they had recently built in Mexico. On my own initiative, I took flight to Chicago. Met my ‘secretary’, Felicity, and after a few days, we flew off to Mexico City. While my secretary was touring the sites, I was entertained by the manager of the Roussel plant. I was not particularly impressed, but I did see what Paris were looking for. On my return, David and Harold Warren prepared the designs & detailed drawings. As another large development was being considered, we took additional offices in Mount Street to put the work in hand. All in all this was an extremely successful development and, as with Yardleys, we built a number of extensions including a ‘highbay’ automatic warehouse for the storage of their products.
At about the same time, John Cannell phoned me to say that a new neighbour had arrived from Indianapolis, with instructions to find a site somewhere between London, Heathrow and Basingstoke where they already had a factory, to build a research laboratory. I was introduced to John Larson and a meeting was arranged at their London offices. We were told that they had found a site near Slough and would be sending detailed drawings to us from the States. However, two days later, John Larson rang to say that the proposed site had been acquired by Granada for a hotel. So, once again, we had a prospective client but no land to build on. John then enlisted the help of every estate agent that he could find and I would take him round the countryside, inspecting many useless sites. Being an American without knowledge of our planning laws, he could not understand why he was unable to build anywhere in the Green Belt.
While reading the Times at breakfast one morning, I saw a small three-lined advert of a site for sale in Windlesham. At the end of a fruitless day looking at sites, I suggested that we might find ‘Earlwood Manor’. In the dusk, we located the mansion, which included a vast walled garden in 18 acres adjacent to the A30. It was occupied by British Oxygen, but they had decided to sell, as they were unable to obtain planning consent for a small office extension. I learnt by this time that Eli Lilly was a very large pharmaceutical company in the States and that the Ministry of Health were willing to help in getting the necessary approvals but could not influence the local planning authorities’ planning control. Eli Lilly made an offer for the site, which was accepted. We now received a wealth of information from Charles Hewitt in long lengths like loopaper rolls. David and I shared a large office in Balfour Street and I spent my time, on hands and knees, laying these strips of paper in some sort of logical order.
It soon became apparent that the so-called ‘large walled-garden’ was not large enough. I finally produced a solution that met their needs and David added the Portland concrete columns to provide a walkway, which gave it a classical finish. The problem then was how to present this large development in a prestigious part of the country to Bagshot Rural District Council and approval from local residents. Luckily we had 18 acres of site, which was fairly well screened, and access was from a spur off the A30 and car parking could be contained within the small wood adjacent to the manor house. We had a professional model made of all 18 acres and trees, and the development looked reasonably small. This was presented to the local council. McAlpine built phase one on time. I made two trips to Indianapolis to discuss further phases with Bob Smith, their architect. I took this opportunity to hire a car and traveled to Denver, Colorado, and up into the Rocky Mountains to see the result of the Gold Rush, 100 years previously. We went on to develop phases two, three, four and five. At this very moment, the company has now completed a complete makeover at a cost of some £40,000,000.
I went to Shane’s office to discuss the problems we were experiencing on the building of the offices for the Inland Revenue on the main London to Brighton road at Redhill. The builders, Wyatt, had encountered flooding in the basement to a depth of 4 feet, and the old retaining wall holding up the main road was subject to collapse, taking all the cables (GPO, television, gas electricity etc.). The contractor was doing excellent work under very difficult conditions to shore up the retaining wall so all appeared to be well. Shane then suggested that we walk up the road to the Ritz, for tea. He called the waiter and tea duly arrived. He then proceeded to take all the sugar lumps out of the bowl and put them in his pocket, call back the waiter and complain that there was no sugar. The waiter duly apologized and brought another bowlful! I had already heard of some of his antics, for instance, every Monday morning he would call in his chief accountant to determine the number in the office for that week. He would go to his safe, take out the coffee jar and sugar and dole out the weekly supply.
I can understand why Pat King and Jeff Perkins left Shane’s office and both set up their own development company, and over the years, both asked us to work on various projects they had in mind. Pat King introduced us to the Co Op, who were proposing to build a supermarket in Grimsby. Brian Rae and I dealt with the design and it went successfully and we were invited to the official opening and lunch at the Town Hall. The Guest of Honour was Tony Crossland, MP, Minister of Works for the Labour Government. He gave a long speech at the well-attended luncheon, all about Labour and the Co Operative movement, and how his government was tackling the country’s problems. Being rather bored, I hoped for some light relief from the next speaker. Looking at the menu card to see that I was the lucky speaker! My first reaction was to run, the second to crawl under the table and then get drunk. I feel that my speech of reply was adequate but I am sure it was never reported in the local press.
David Dugworth was a fellow member of the TA and he had been left, by his father, an old cinema in the centre of Derby, and asked for my help to redevelop the site. He had just returned from the U.S. and thought that a motel would be a good idea. Unfortunately, being in the centre of town, it was unacceptable to the local authority so he decided on a hotel. He tried desperately to get local interest in the idea, including meeting with Rolls Royce and other large companies but without much joy. Although sometime later a hotel was built on an adjoining site, he reluctantly decided to build a small shopping centre of about 20 shops. David Roberts took on the job and Costains built the work successfully. The problem was that the development was just off the main shopping street with no through access so it became a bit of a backwater. Eventually he sold the shops at a loss to a development company. I attended the meeting at Carlton Terrace in the offices occupied during the war by General De Gaulle and his free French forces. By chance the meeting took place on the day that Russian ships with missiles were heading for Cuba. At the end of the meeting the secretary informed us that the ships had turned back for Russia, the World breathed a sigh of relief.
When the Redhill office block was completed, I signed the final certificate, which I passed on to Shane. I met him at his offices and we had a basic disagreement on the extra time I had agreed for the contract due to the extenuating circumstances (flooding). I refused to change my mind as Wyatt had done everything in their power to complete the building under very difficult conditions. I walked out of the meeting, deciding never to deal with Shane again. Unfortunately, he was still dealing with another contract with the office. However, I did inform my partners of my feelings towards him. At that time we had started a shopping development in Doncaster, which David had designed, and it had included a cinema for ABC. One evening, David was invited by Shane up to his large house in Hampstead, to discuss some detail. David thought it a good idea to take a bottle of wine with him. When he handed it over, Shane looked at the label, expressed that it was too good, took it to his cupboard and they drank plonk!
It took a long time for the penny to drop. David and I had little idea how to run an office, which had now grown, to some 25 staff. I suddenly realized that we relied on our secretary, Joan Glen, to look after us all. At the end of each year we would meet our accountant and agree the accounts. Joan had done all the hard work, wages, V.A.T. rates, bills, rents etc. I walked in the office one morning and decided to double her wages to the same scale as a senior assistant. Later, when she got married, Maureen McGee took her place and we adopted the same policy.
After 6 years in Balfour Place our lease terminated but we managed to find a set of offices at 7 Tilney Street, some 30 yards from the front entrance to the Dorchester Hotel. We had our own front door onto the street with a nice entrance hall and reception desk in an alcove for Jennifer, our receptionist and telephone operator. Offices were on the ground floor and basement and two more offices on the first floor for the 3 partners. By this time we had changed the name to Morgan Branch Roberts.
Dick Ashenden, managing director of Kirk & Kirk, asked to see me. I thought it might be due to the work they did for us at Plymstock. However, he told us that he had worked for Kodak for many years, receiving his instructions from their in-house architect, Jeff Knight. The management had decided to adopt the American practice of contractors ‘tendering’ on a design and build contract. They now wished to build an extension to their film-finishing department, so would we do the designing so that they could price the work and submit a tender. We were delighted to help. We were introduced to Reg Jenkins, the project manager at Kodak who explained the brief. All the work in the FFD department was done in the dark as the operation required large rolls of sensitized film being cut, spliced and packaged in complete darkness. We were taken on a guided tour, with white hats, coats and boots, taken down into complete darkness, a lot of noise from the cutting/splicing equipment, tiny pinpoints of red light, and we came out the other end, none the wiser. Their problem was that they could only shut down that department once a year when all the light-sensitive film had been removed.
Having completed the design for the film-finishing department, we were then asked by Kirk & Kirk to inspect a site on a trading estate at Withenshall, near Liverpool. I decided to drive up and stay with a KDG friend in the Wirrals. Next day I met Ed Waller, the Kodak project manager, as well as a representative from K&K and told that they wished to build a ‘small’ (by their standard) distribution centre with offices and warehouse. We did a design for the contractors who tendered for the work and built it. Luckily we did not have to supervise the development but got paid our fee.
In the meantime we had a number of other smaller jobs. I was asked by John Cannell to help Western Glass Company to relocate from the east end of London to Basingstoke. I met David Crawley and we designed phase one and then phase two for their offices and glass-packaging warehouse.
As a result of David designing the shopping centre in Doncaster he met Jack Foster, the architect for ABC Cinemas and, at the end of the contract, he asked David to design a twinning of two cinemas, one in Staines and the other in Leicester. He also suggested that we employ Don Berry, who had all the cinema design experience we needed. He turned out to be a great success. David also designed an attractive restaurant overlooking the Thames and got involved with a young developer who had great ideas long before time to develop the Docklands. We both trudged round the vast area, dreaming up schemes for the site. There was also a large warehouse at Bucklers Wharf, not far from St. Paul’s, which had great potential for development. He produced a comprehensive scheme, but here too, we were some ten years too early. All the warehouses including Bucklers Wharf have been redeveloped over the years.
One day we met Reg Jenkins at his offices in Harrow. He wondered if we would be prepared to be working directly with Kodak as a client rather than through K&K. Naturally this came as a complete surprise but we were delighted and readily accepted.
It transpired that they were proposing to build a research laboratory in the corner of their large site at Harrow. The only problem was that the shape of the site proposed was spoilt by a couple of terraced houses still owned by two old biddies, who obviously realized the value of their site. We tried to overcome the problem by preparing alternative shapes without success but eventually Kodak managed to buy the site and the old ladies probably moved to the south of France! Once we had the whole site, we managed to design a large square building with darkrooms on the inside and offices on the perimeter. Once again, we clad the building in Portcrete. The building was well received and we had a grand opening with directors in attendance.
David was also a master of interior design and rearranged Bowring Bank at Tower Hill, some work for a Mrs.Van Geest in designing their flat in Mayfair and also one for Harry Hyams, the multimillionaire of Centrepoint fame. Irving Allen invited David & I up to his house in Hampstead to meet his wife. He had recently directed the film ‘The Towering Inferno’ (foretaste of 9/11). He had bought some land in New Market and wondered whether we would design him a ranch-type house which would include a basement cinema and swimming pool with a large lounge and five or six bedrooms. I then asked Mrs. Allen what she would like, which was a Queen Anne-style house! Thank goodness they didn’t proceed any further as I couldn’t imagine designing a Queen Anne style ranch!
We had a very private meeting with Reg Jenkins at Harrow. Kodak had recently been unionized and they were worried that some of their ideas for improving production could be prejudiced, in particular, the FFD which required a large staff to operate. They were also finding difficulty for further expansion at their site in Harrow. With the help of the Ministry of Trade, they had acquired a 500-acre site outside Mansfield at Annersley, in the centre of the declining coal industry. Alternative employment in the area would be of benefit to the community when the coal industry in the area closed down.
They supplied us with an aerial survey of the site with all the contours recorded, the wood in the centre of the site, the stream running through the centre of the valley, the position of the high pressure gas main (no development 30 metres either side) and two public foot paths diagonally crossing the site and the proposed access from the main road. David and I visited the site, and as he was fully engaged on other commissions, I started to prepare sketch designs of the development for the clients. These had to be delivered with great secrecy; however, one set of drawings was delivered to the wrong department. Luckily, as they did not understand the drawings they eventually passed them on to Ed Waller who had replaced Reg Jenkins, who had by now retired.
I managed to persuade the local authority to reconsider the access to the site. With the help of a contour map I laid out two plateaus, each one approximately the same size as four football pitches on two levels. I suggested to Severn Trent Water Authority that a lake in the valley would help to regulate the flow and provide an attractive feature, and a reservoir for fire-fighting purposes. There was almost an impossible problem to solve the two public footpaths. These were hardly ever used but the Law of the Land is very strict. We produced a large number of alternative plans to reroute the paths thus skirting the development but the client had to employ a barrister to fight our case, and we spent 3 long hot days in the courtroom while the Ramblers, Friends of the Earth and many others objected to the new routes including a list of over 100 people who had recently used the paths (these turned out to be school parties bussed to the site to bolster the protesters). We had to wait an agonizing two months to get the approval from the Ministry.
Mc Alpine had, in the meantime, been appointed for the large-scale earth work and were anxious to start and complete before the winter. Kodak USA could not understand all the delay due to a couple of paths. Once the go-ahead was given, the contractors moved at lightning speed with about 40 large diggers, scrapers and dumper trucks connected to laser beams to reach the right levels. They also produced the service roads and the bed of the proposed lake, which was later lined with polythene.
While this was proceeding, we were slowly receiving our first briefing from the client. Their idea was that the development would be divided into independent modules of 100 metres square each with its own plant room but fed from a central oil house. They also required an attached office and administration building, and once again, David designed the exterior Portcrete and lozenge-shaped windows.
Brian Rae became my assistant and we would travel to Annersley weekly for site meetings. With the great help of the site agent, Vince Burns, we managed to incorporate all the various changes that the clients asked for from time to time. The internal layout of each module was very complex as to improve production each machine was contained in a light-tight compartment with its own services. The special light-tight metal partitions were imported from Germany, and the ceiling tiles from France. I employed a long-suffering assistant who spent all his time drawing and redrawing all the changes in the panel layouts, which these days could be done on a computer. The development was completed on time and on budget at £7,000,000.
We held a lunch in a private room at the Savoy attended by Norman Brick, the MD, Reg Jenkins, now retired and other members of the team. However, I didn’t include Frederick Brand, the structural engineer who had caused me so much anguish. He had been appointed by Kodak in spite of my request for John Bunce. I gathered that he was about to retire and tried to place his son (not an engineer) in charge of the practice, much to the annoyance of his more senior staff. As a result, we did not get the engineering services that we were used to receiving from John Bunce and partners. Since we built the FFD building at Annersley, the photographic world has changed to the digital age and I understand that Annersley has now closed.
As I already lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb, Paul Mendel, Chairman of the Institute, persuaded me to become the architect for the Institute and Henrietta Barnett Girls School, which had been designed by Sir Edward Lutyens. My duty was mainly to advise on minor maintenance, however, one day, John Mead, the bursar rang, extremely worried that the cupola and church tower looked as if it was falling, as one of the columns had disintegrated. I dashed up to Hampstead, climbed the stairs to the roof only to find that the oak column had lost its copper collar and split like a banana skin, exposing the steel support. This was easily remedied.
The Institute and the school were in desperate need to expand and I was asked to advise how this could be achieved. Having looked at all the options I decided that the open space in the centre occupied by tennis courts was the only available space as it could connect the Institute, the school and the junior school. I prepared design drawings for a hexagonal building on two floors. The idea was approved by the Trust and submitted for planning, who then prepared their own scale model of the whole site. When this was shown to the public, all hell let loose. Everyone condemned the design including a letter in ‘Private Eye’. I then had to appear before Sir Hugh Casson and his committee at the Fine Arts. I am not sure what the outcome was but the scheme was gently dropped. I am sure that anything designed adjacent to a Lutyens building would have received short shift. As this was in the depth of the Cold War, people were more interested in building atomic shelters. David Roberts and Mike Barham did eventually produce two additional classrooms within the existing buildings.
David had a difficult job to redevelop Watergate House on the Embankment, on the site of the original Watergate on the Thames (about the same time as Nixon’s ‘Watergate’). The Victorian building needed rebuilding but after attempting to build and rebuild, it was decided to gut the interior and retain the external walls and rebuild to meet present day requirements.
At about the same time, Shane decided to develop a site in Ashford, Kent as he anticipated that one day the railway from the proposed Channel Tunnel would pass through the town. David designed an 11-storey office building and during one of the financial recessions, obtained a very competitive tender from William Moss. Before allocating the curtain walling to a sub-contractor, he ensured that the design would be appropriate, and a full-scale section was built to test against wind and rain. As a result he recommended Alpine Windows for the job. William Moss completed the work under fairly difficult circumstances as the recession was now receding and therefore the cost of materials and labour increased. The Ministry of Health occupied the building and started to complain of leaking windows. Alpine returned to remedy the defects but without success. Shane then sued William Moss for £2,000,000 damages.
Having driven in my Buick ‘Skylark’ over 10,000 miles a year up and down the country visiting sites, and then weekends in Swanage, I was eventually caught for speeding. Ironically only going up the golf course and I was fined £40 and my license was taken away for 3 months, so I decided to tae a sabbatical. I discussed the idea with David and decided that we would both retire at the age of 60, in my case the following year and he the year after. For the first time in 24 years we discussed Partnership Agreements, not for ourselves as we had worked amicably all these years without a single financial argument. We decided to make David Roberts, Brian Rae, Mike Barham, David Poole and Don Berry Partners. As they had not paid into the practice to become partners, which is fairly normal practice, we decided that they would pay us each a pension for 5 years. This was all agreed. I then enjoyed my sabbatical, sailing with Hugh Wilson and arranging Miranda’s wedding to Tim Ford.
On my return to the office, John Cannell, once again contacted me to design a laboratory for De Beers Diamond Trading Company. We met their directors at head office in High Holborn including the chairman, Mr. Oppenheim. We were shown round the diamond sorting department and museum and introduced to Mr. Butler who would be the clients’ representative. Once again, the client had no site in mind except a miserable old building in Saffron Hill (memories of ‘Oliver Twist’). Richard and I scoured the country including an impossible building immediately under Heathrow flight path. The vibration from a 637 could well have shattered all the delicate instruments and the diamonds would have been scattered all over the floor.
Eventually, Richard found the ideal site in Maidenhead, a sports ground in the centre of a residential area, but, during the War, someone had built a semi-basement square structure, camouflaged with two tennis courts on top. This was ideal, as not only did it provide workshops and storage space in the semi-basement but adequate space above to design the research centre. It is hard to imagine now, but then there was considerable opposition from the local residents as at that time Apartheid in South Africa was very unpopular in this country and De Beers received a bad press.
The company embarked on a publicity campaign and with the help of the Ministry of Trade (1% of UK export was due to De Beers) approval was given. By chance, I was in the office when the chief planning officer rang to complain that some objector to the design had calculated that the overall size was a few square metres than the IDC approved. I replied that, if only he would look at the details, he would see that we had cut out a section of the existing ground floor to provide a double height plant room but had also omitted part of the roof above the fans, thus remaining well within our permit. We had no more complaints and the work was quickly completed as all the foundations were in place.
I was now 60 years old and I had set up a small practice with my eldest son, David. However, the problem at Ashford was still ongoing. William Moss sued Alpine Windows who checked their drawings and calculations only to find that they had made a mistake in the thickness of the mullions so that in a high wind the curtain walling would flex and water would penetrate. They then decided to go into liquidation. Under the Law of Tort, MBR became liable for damages, and as Shane knew that we had a Professional Indemnity Policy, he took us to Court. Litigation is a long process and this ended in the High Court. David and David Roberts spent many weary hours and days with the solicitors and barristers discussing our case.
Meanwhile, down in Swanage one day, I saw an article in ‘The Times’ stating that Shane was about to sell £20,000,000 of property to Mr. Ritblat of Land Securities. I was so incensed that I wrote this letter to Shane:
22 May 1985
Dear Mr. Shane,
I saw in yesterdays Times that you are proposing to sell your interest in E.D.A. to Ritblat for £20 million.
I hope you appreciate that a measure of your good fortune must rest on the great endeavor on M.B.R.’s part in helping to develop your enterprise over the years. As a direct result of your action, M.B.R. has now been dissolved and all our efforts to continue and transfer the partnership to a new generation have now been shattered.
My partners and I have little to show for 32 years of hard work, except some memories of a very loyal staff, and a few photographs!
But unfortunately we end with a bitter taste in our mouths with which I cannot reconcile myself.
John D. Morgan A.R.I.B.A.
I sent a copy to David who passed it on to our solicitors, and received an irate phone call as to how unprofessional it was to contact the Plaintive directly as it could damage our case. The judge decided that we were liable to damages of £600,000. Adding the solicitor’s and barrister’s fees the total was just short of the £1,000,000 cheque we had received as full and final settlement from Lloyds some time earlier as they were worried that the settlement would be excessive. We therefore received a refund of £64 to divide between the 3 of us which helped pay for Miranda’s wedding! We breathed a sigh of relief. However, when David Branch went to renew our policy, our Professional Indemnity Policy had increased tenfold.