A brief history of 160 years in property

This article is very much a ‘work in progress’ as I am still researching various old documents and still scanning, and getting scanned, old material. If you are reading this and know anything about any of the people mentioned or have photographs of anyone, particularly Mr Harvey, I would be very pleased to hear from you. I am particularly indebted to both the genealogist, Shaun Jones, and my cousin, Keith Sherwood, for correcting a long held misunderstanding. The person we always believed to be George Fitzroy-Francis is in fact George Futvoye Francis. This discovery, and the discovery of an entry in the London Gazette of August 1878, has led to further information about the origin of the firm.

– Gareth Martin, February 2018

The firm was founded in 1855 and we believe bought by Mr Harvey & Mr Wheeler in 1919 from George Futvoye Francis. George had taken over from his business partner John Lacey Davies on the 10 th August 1878. At that time the firm was called Davies & Francis and was situated at 54 Buckingham Palace Road. We are lucky enough to have a photograph of George, which is dated 1919 on the back of the frame.

I don’t know if they knew him or had worked for him before the First World War and bought him out afterwards or even if he continued to work with them, but they renamed the company Harvey & Wheeler in 1919.

Harvey & Wheeler were both surveyors and met during the War. As far as I can find out Mr Harvey was in the 13th London Regiment and Mr Wheeler was in the Artists Rifles. Mr Harvey qualified as a surveyor in 1912 with Mr Wheeler qualifying in 1924.

   

Their first large sale was Morley’s Hotel in Trafalgar Square.

This is actually a very good painting, it’s a water colour, and has an interesting tale attached to it.

I have always believed it was painted by Will Longstaff. He was certainly working in London at this time and had a studio here. The story I was told was that he was renting the flat above our office at 17 Lower Belgrave Street, which could well have been his London studio and pied-à-terre when up here (his family house was in Sussex at this time). He may well have shared it with another artist, I seem to remember my father mentioning this. Anyway he, or they, couldn’t afford the rent one month so Mr Wheeler asked him to paint Morley’s Hotel, which they had just sold, instead.

It’s impossible to verify as the painting is unsigned. I am hoping to have it restored very soon so maybe they will be able to tell me more. The lettering was added by an overzealous employee of the firm in the 1930’s unfortunately.

Other notable pre war sales include Inveresk House in the Strand sold to Prudential Assurance in 1935 and a property in Market Street Manchester sold to Montague Burtons , 1936. The story goes that the office manager had been closely involved with getting the instructions and securing the sale of Inveresk House which had been sold for the then fantastic sum of £750,000. Mr Wheeler asked the office manager if he’d like some sort of bonus. He replied that he would really like to take his wife on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary so Mr Wheeler phoned up Cunard-White Star and bought two first class return tickets to New York for them.

Mr Wheeler of Harvey & Wheeler Estate Agents

The 1920’s and 1930’s had been a good time for Harvey & Wheeler despite the economic problems of the period. We dealt mainly with commercial property in London and around the country. Sadly I don’t have a picture of Mr Harvey but I do have one of Mr Wheeler which I’m guessing was taken between the wars.

Interestingly Mr Harvey and Mr Wheeler would never employ women. This is of course quite unthinkable today but the practical consequences were that nothing was typed and pretty much everything including letters was written out in longhand. The property director of Montaque Burton even wrote to them asking for the letters to be typed and, as he said in his letter, “your handwriting is ruining my eyesight”.

There was also management which included these cottages in Fulham. As far as I know these were bought by a client in 1856 and managed by us for some considerable time. Unfortunately I don’t have a record of their sale.

It’s difficult to know if these properties still exist as I’m sure that, at the very least, they have been renumbered since 1856 and Fulham High Street been extensively redeveloped. So I’m not even sure where 7 & 8 were.

The firm rolled down the shutters sometime after War was declared in 1939.

On the 18th September 1939 Lt. Wheeler joined the Royal Army Pay Corps as a paymaster stationed in Sidcup where he lived. By the end of the war I believe he had become Major Wheeler and this was where he met my father. Major Wheeler was my father’s commanding officer, when my father, Sgt. Ivor Martin, left the army and went straight to work at Harvey & Wheeler’s office at the invitation of Mr Wheeler.

My father always said that he was sent by Wheeler to meet with Harvey, who took him to a ‘bombed out basement’ at 17 Lower Belgrave Street with water dripping in – he dug out the pre war files, and started bashing out, on a typewriter, letters to the old clients. Which included Boots, Dunn Bros etc. This was a letter informing them that “Following the cessation of hostilities we are recommencing operations and should be pleased to hear from you with a list of your current property requirements”  He received many favorable replies eg “we are pleased to hear that you are recommencing business. Our current requirements are shops of X sq ft in the following town……’

Once he had a number of enquiries for the same town, he would go to that town, draw up a street plan (which are all now on permanent loan to the University of Liverpool) and then, judging from the look of the shop frontage (i.e. old fashioned or unmodernised ones) worked out which were the family owned shops, go to the rates office and get the names and addresses of the ratepayer (all in public domain in those days) before going back home.  The following day he would bang out on his typewriter the same letter to all of those he thought might be willing to sell their premises including the line “in the event of a successful transaction we will be looking to you for payment of our fees which will be…..”.

One of the things that made this possible, and which he said in those days was like’ gold dust’, was a large box of pre-war envelopes.  So much so that when someone heard he had them he was offered a hefty sum of money for them however, he refused as they were too valuable to sell.

After the war Mr Wheeler continued to work but the day to day running of the office was carried out by my father. Mr Harvey retired to Broadstairs after the war due to ill health. The sea air must have done him some good as he died on Christmas Day 1961 aged 77.

On a typical day Mr Wheeler would leave Sidcup after nine to avoid the crowds, arrive at Victoria and walk up to his club, the Reform, for sandwiches and coffee, then walk back to the office which was at 17 Lower Belgrave Street, open the post, discuss business with my father and leave early to again, avoid the crowds. Mr Wheeler was diagnosed with cancer and died on the 3rd May 1952 aged 61.

Following the death of Mr Wheeler, Mrs Wheeler and my father created a new partnership in order to keep the firm trading. This was despite the advice of her solicitor at the time to sell the business. She told her solicitor ‘it was always my husband’s intention to sell the business to Mr Martin’. Mrs Wheeler had little to do with the trading side but clearly her involvement kept the business running during the difficult 1950’s. I have the old accounts for most of the 1950’s and it was only from the middle of the decade that things start to turn around. In the sixties and seventies she gradually became less and less financially involved with the company.

The sixties and the early seventies saw the business expanding and moving premises during the 1960’s, to new offices at 65 Ebury Street in Belgravia and just around the corner from Lower Belgrave Street. It was a very nice building and I remember it well as a child. Dad had a Trimphone on his desk for his private line. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen! We were the agents for the controversial Tricorn Shopping Centre in Portsmouth, the agents for the redevelopment of the New Broadway Shopping centre in Coalville as well as selling and acquiring several landmark buildings around the country.

One of the partners at that time was Godfrey Young who was an auctioneer. And one of our more famous sales was Bertram Mills Circus.

Bertram Mills Circus

From its Belgravia base the practice continued to evolve providing a consultancy service throughout the U K  to a wide variety of clients not only in the retail sector but also industrial, offices and leisure. We were dealing with a diverse range of properties from factories to Cinema’s on behalf of clients such as Honeywell, Crane Fruehauf and Mecca Entertainment. Harvey & Wheeler were the agents for Honeywell, Army & Navy stores, Crane Fruehauf, American Hoist and its subsidiaries, acquiring properties from Dundee to Accrington and South Wales. Ivor Martin had a strong interest in the arts and we also acted for Contemporary Films, the oldest independent film distribution company in the UK, and with Mecca acquired or disposed of Bingo Hall, Bowling Alleys and even a Casino in Derby. We also sold Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson’s house in Belgravia.

In 1977 we moved again, due to redevelopment of the Ebury Street offices by the Grosvenor Estate, to 82 & 83 Chester Square.

The partnership now included Bob Carini who had been working for Harvey & Wheeler for some years. At about the same time Ivor was asked to deal with the sale of a Georgian house in Gibsons Hill SW16. Although we had been dealing with a small amount of residential property in Belgravia, this was our first house sale south of the River. The house was sold very successfully and a friend of the owner phoned my father up and asked if he could sell his Georgian house in Dulwich Village and this was what really led to our specialisation in, and eventual move to, Dulwich. We sold a lot of the Georgian houses in Dulwich during these years and quite a few in Camberwell Grove too. In 1979 I sold Mark Knopfler his first house which was in Camberwell Grove. He no longer lives there however.

The first Dulwich office was at 133 Half Moon Lane which we moved to in 1983 just after my father had retired. There was a new partnership with Bob Carini and my brother Malcolm Martin, both Chartered Surveyors, and myself. The early 1980’s were an exciting time in the UK property market and we sold a huge number of houses and flats in Dulwich, Herne Hill and much of the surrounding area, with the emphasis on period and unusual properties. We opened another office in West Dulwich at Croxted Road and finally consolidated the business and moved into Dulwich Village. By this time Malcolm had left the partnership to concentrate on another project and the partnership consisted of just Bob and myself with a slimmed down staff including Cathy Burns who is still with me today. Bob retired in 2008 and I have carried on as sole principal.

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