Edited by Allison Symes.
PART 4 SURVEYING
Becoming a Surveyor
Hello, Graham McLean again with the final part of my local history series. I’ve talked so far about my wartime memories, my friends and neighbours from my Chandler’s Ford years and my school days. Now I share my stories about my time as a surveyor and my time in the Territorial Army.
In the mid-1950s the time came as indeed it does to us all to work out what to do with my life long term. My father was all for a life at sea which most definitely did not appeal, having witnessed the loneliness of my mother over the years.
I can recall a bunch of us sitting on the river bank pondering upon this and life in general. One was for joining the Northern Rhodesian Police, another for the Hong Kong Police, and the most adventurous of us all the French Foreign Legion. We had barely started shaving!
In a moment of rare common sense I very quickly evaluated what I liked most in life. It was enjoying the nicer aspects of living in a very attractive part of England while at the same time being gainfully employed (just about in the surveying business!). I decided to become a Chartered Surveyor.
Now in those far off days of ‘right schools’ and degrees from a “good” university the same criteria was fairly loosely applied to undergoing training with the “right” firm.
The long established and most noble firm of Messrs. Richard Austin and Wyatt (founded in 1832 by Colonel Dickie Austin) seemed to foot the bill admirably. ‘Chartered Surveyors, Chartered Auctioneers, Valuers, Land and Estate Agents’ Offices in Fareham, Bishop’s Waltham, Southampton and Fawley. Most impressive! Further investigation revealed the emphasis was on rural estate management but less so at the Southampton office.
The professions in those days tended to recruit from those who had served Articles of Pupillage, there being only two or three universities offering degree courses in estate management. The system was much the same for the accountancy and legal professions.
My father duly approached a senior partner at this firm, not knowing the partner would be retiring shortly, and paid the requisite one hundred and fifty Guineas. After that the senior partner barely acknowledged my existence. It was rumoured he thought I was articled to somebody else!
For the first year or so it was little more than gentlemanly indenture servitude. I was required to carry out every menial task around the office bar cleaning and typing. I manned the switchboard on frequent occasions, delivered advertisements to The Daily Echo (Above Bar Office), delivered the more urgent letters and packages to local law offices and then there was the tea making.
I also collected rents astride a Lambretta Motor Scooter wearing a leather milkman’s flapped bag around my neck in all weathers. Some tenants were nice, others less so particularly if the man of the house had been laid off.
Within the office people were cordial and I and many other men much older than myself, were always addressed by surname only. The so-called highlight of the year was the sweepstake on The Derby and The Grand National.
So called Christmas drinks were to use a current term “cringeworthy”. Cheap South African Sherry served in cracked tea cups. Nevertheless somebody always managed to get inebriated and then the fun started with partners withdrawing discreetly to their own activities.
Editor’s note: Strange coincidence time again. I worked for many years, as a secretary, for a form of Land Agents in Winchester (Smiths Gore). They focused on Estate Management. A very interesting line of work as it shows how things are run behind the scenes. Those estates don’t just run themselves!
As an aside I admire the way Canadian, Americans and particularly Australians have for decades been able to be completely relaxed in each other’s company regardless of rank or pay. I have worked with them all.
Article Pupils were confined as regards day to day duties to the attic at the top of No. 26 London Road. Freezing cold in mid-winter and hot and humid during the summer months. Single dormer window permitted little light to enter. We all had a great time up there.
Editor’s note: Strange coincidence time again. Before I worked for Smiths Gore in Winchester, I worked for Michael J Dant and Company, Surveyors again. They focused on surveys and House Buyers’ Reports, the “bread and butter” of surveying in many ways. And their location? No. 18a London Road, above a Building Society, and yes, those upper rooms were cold in winter and hot in summer!
I quite quickly became something of a dab-hand at all forms of draughtsmanship and really enjoyed doing whatever was given me. Detailed building plans (farm drainage improvement schemes and the like) fascinated me. Much was done on blue indestructible linen using ancient closed calliper type pens (no ball pens or the like available or permitted). Kandahar Indian Ink and mapping pens or even quills were used on occasion. I could even produce dance and jazz club entry tickets!
See the attached image of my Swiss Drawing Instruments still in perfect condition. We even constructed our own primitive photocopier out of sawn deal planks with four 100 Watt bulb sockets screwed to the base. Cumbersome and slow to use but saved a lot of money.
I do look back at those days fondly as the scope of the very general practice was, to a young man whose disliked being enclosed, really good. Assisting in structural surveys of all types of structures, some more than three hundred years old, was where one had to use a degree of guess work on what was hidden away.
Then there was the crawling around roof voids in all weathers looking for rotting timber and woodworm, searching for dry rot (often difficult with crafty owners covering affected area with furniture!), and nasty things like drains tests with a sandwich lunch after!
Time spent in the front office doing face to face estate agency was interesting and quite rewarding in terms of trying to understand human nature.
Highlights for me were long days out in the countryside doing land surveys using a Theodolite and Levelling staff and then translating the notes into a detailed plan which would have legal status.
Even more fun was accompanying senior part qualified Surveyors and partners in preparing particulars for the auction of large country estates . These had to be as accurate as possible as what was set out in print was of immense importance and constituted a legal contract. Danebury House near Stockbridge springs to mind.
On these occasions we were on expenses paid in full by the often quite wealthy client via his lawyers. The actual auction of contents could often last three or four days attracting dealers form all over the country. On these occasions junior unqualified people like me acted as ushers and bid spotters. There was often a catering van and marquee were we could literally eat as much as we could hold. No alcohol however. Once again the client picked up the tab.
Pay for unqualified staff was pitiful. There was no formal training schedule. One had to pick it up as one went along. Partners who had received that 150 Guineas did not deserve it and had no real sense of responsibility for their so-called charges. I suppose their thinking was that was the way it always had been and it was all about the prestige of having trained with the ‘right’ firm. So different now it seems.
I received ten shillings a week for the first year and one pound a week for the remaining two. A part qualified Surveyor might receive six or seven pounds a week and a fully qualified one the princely sum of between seven and eight hundred pounds a year. A junior partner (profit sharing) around a thousand! The real mean area was expenses or working on a Sunday. I can remember working nine hours one Sunday to do a stock taking which I had set up. The firm’s fee was around ninety pounds. My extra pay precisely two pounds and no lunch allowance. That occurred at another firm.
That closing paragraph helps me to rationalise why I left private practice for ever to go into the corporate world and concentrate on commercial work. I never regretted that sudden and drastic step into the unknown. I learned fast. I had to as I was daily coming up against some exceedingly shrewd and tough people, particularly in the motor industry.
My time in the Territorial Army in the twenty years post World War 2
Volunteer soldiering was pursued with enthusiasm by veterans, those coming out of compulsory National Service and young men like myself particularly those in the engineering and surveying professions. Pay and expenses were reasonable with these having parity with regular army rates during annual camp attendance (including married man’s allowance) plus the Tax Free allowance of either 25 or 50 Pounds. There was good fellowship too.
At least two partners in my firm were commanding officers of The 5th Battalion The Royal Hampshire Regiment (“The Tigers”).
HQ was around the corner in Carlton Place. I was in total awe when I went seeking information and was interviewed by Major Le Patourel who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery at the Battle of Tebourba Gap (1943). He was exquisitely mannered and distinctly low key but with that certain almost indefinable steely look in the eye.
Anyway it seemed I would be better employed in a sister regiment, The Duke of Connaught’s Royal Hampshire Regiment, or 383 Field Regiment RA (TA) formerly the 6th Battalion. This I did and I enjoyed a Civil Defence camp at Millom and others at Larkhill and Sennybridge.
Looking back I would say this was more for an unmarried man and I at the tender age of twenty-six with a wife and three sons to support resigned my commission. I simply could not spare the time to undertake my duties effectively. Both regiments were part of The 43rd Wessex Brigade.
Editor’s note: Many thanks, Graham, for sharing your memories with Chandler’s Ford Today.