The war years
With war being declared against Germany on September 3, 1939, as with every other company in Britain, GMS was to face six tough years before it could start to rebuild. At 67, CH was too old to join the services and concentrated his efforts on running GMS.
There were daily reports of damage to GMS property, especially in Kentish Town. During the war several Bayswater properties were requisitioned by the local council to rehouse blitz families, some of which were not returned to GMS until the early 1960s.
The end of the Blitz in the spring of 1941 left cities throughout Britain shattered and smashed. War damage repair could not be started in earnest until the end of the conflict in 1945. Meanwhile, with almost no materials available, the job of trying to repair those houses that remained was a mighty task. However, one way or another GMS had struggled through the Second World War. Even by 1946 the properties were little greater in balance sheet values than 1933.
The war had prevented all but first-aid maintenance and had left the company’s properties far from well repaired, quite apart from any war damage But the company had survived, it had properties and it had a future.
Following the end of the war, GMS, like other property companies, was anxious to repair and rebuild but was again hampered by shortages and a raft of regulations. There was also a major and urgent need for capital to pay for the repairs. Thanks to the post-war income tax system, it was possible by substantial claims, to mitigate part of these costs with tax rebates, but it was a very considerable undertaking and demanded courage from the board at the time, since the rents were still not much greater than pre-war levels.
It was important for the board to discover the exact extend of damage to GMS properties, particularly for war damage claims, and the firm of Gibbon & Rogers (see The Turning Point for GMS) was retained to carry out a detailed assessment of the damage to all GMS properties.
In Bayswater there were three houses in Queens Gardens that were severely damaged. By the early 1960s they were demolished and rebuilt as flats and named Crastock Court; a war damaged site in Kensington Garden Square was demolished and rebuilt as flats named Bentley Court; 32 & 33, Cleveland Square was rebuilt as flats to match the rest of the square, and similar renovations took place in 24, 25 and 26, Cleveland Square, and at 1-4, Cleveland Square. In Kentish Town many of the houses were by now little better than slums, and lack of money hampered any major works. The bomb damaged sites were left pretty much as they were, and the others repaired as best as possible.
CH and Ralph Moore looked after GMS in the post-war years, assisted by a small team of office workers and maintenance staff. CH died in 1953, and was replaced as managing director by Ralph Moore.
The Turning Point of GMS
In 1955, GMS instructed Edward Saunders, senior partner of Richard Ellis & Co, to carry out a full appraisal and valuation of the company’s portfolio. A detailed and illustrated valuation was produced together with a series of recommendations regarding the management of the properties. From January 1955 until August 1960 EE Saunders attended most board meetings, and the involvement of his firm continued until 1962.
Richard Ellis & Co was involved in the disposal of the company’s property at 54 Victoria Street that was eventually sold to Land Securities Investment Trust in August 1960 for £260,000. The firm also planned and supervised the conversion in 1960 of 32–33 Cleveland Square into flats, at a cost of around £43,000, and the construction of offices at 249 – 255 Kentish Town Road. Edward Saunders advised the board on many other matters including the purchase, sale and reletting of a number of properties, together with the possible sale to the local authority of the ‘back land’ at Ealing which was eventually jointly developed by GMS and Haymills.
The mid 1950s also saw the government at last abandon its system of building licences – a scheme which was intended to divert scarce building materials to projects defined as essential – and then the so-called property boom took off, particularly in London.
The 1960s were a major turning point in the history of the company.
Gibbon & Rogers was formally appointed as the firm of surveyors to the company on January 1, 1963. Brothers Bill and Robin Gibbon (both surveyors and great grandsons of Septimus Gibbon) immediately started a detailed survey of all the properties owned by GMS – in one of the worst winters for years. It took over two months to detail the condition of the several hundred buildings in the company portfolio including a valuation of each property, detailed maps and photographs and a wealth of other information.
They were, in fact, following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather, both surveyors and both involved in working for either GMS or its founder Henry Gibbon. Grandfather ‘Willie’ Jacomb Gibbon, who was born in 1860, was an architect and surveyor, and the nephew of Henry Gibbon. He carried out surveys and prepared schedules of properties in the Bayswater area for Henry Gibbon. His son ‘Bob’ Gibbon, who was born in 1897 and died in 1956, was a chartered surveyor, and carried out surveys for GMS from its formation in 1925 up to the Second World War. It was Bob who had in the 1930’s gone into partnership with Claude Rogers (father of Andrew) to form Gibbon & Rogers.
In 1964 it was Ealing that GMS turned its attention to. A large plot of land, mostly owned by GMS, had been earmarked by the council for a new school and other development. The company also owned most of the old properties, then largely apartments, purchased as part of Henry de Bruno Austin Portfolio, around the perimeter of the plot. However a sudden about-turn meant that the council decided not to go ahead with its school plan, and a major development opportunity arose for GMS on the vacant site.
GMS agreed to enter a building agreement with the Haymills Group. GMS purchased the remainder of the development site. In order to beat the introduction of Capital Gains Tax planned for the second half of 1965, all documentation had to be ready in time. GMS made the deadline and it meant that proceeds from the properties could be used in a series of commercial property investments to complement the mainly residential portfolio. The second time in the company’s history that a major tax deadline was beaten.
The emphasis of GMS was slowly shifting from a heavy reliance on residential properties to a mix of commercial and residential, a change that continued over many years. The balance sheet improved, leaving more funds available for acquisition of the right property. GMS was also changing from a company that had no plan to enlarge or expand the portfolio to one that was starting to carry out deals with developers thereby raising cash for future projects.
The Civic Trust who had started giving awards to ‘outstanding examples of architecture and environmental design’ awarded the Ealing development a commendation in 1973. The awards are unique because they particularly take into account the benefit each project brings to its local area as well as considering the quality of its design.
Much of the poor-quality property in Kentish Town which had been expensive and difficult to repair was acquired by Compulsory Purchase Order. The compensation was poor, but it meant a maintenance and upkeep problem had been solved.
One of the problems facing GMS was the right of relatives to retain their tenancy even after the death of the main tenant. It meant widows and widowers could stay in the property at an original rent, but it caused particular difficulties when sons or daughters took over the tenancy at what was by then little more than a peppercorn rent. The situation was not helped by the Labour government’s move in March 1965 when it introduced the Rent Act. However, GMS decided to stick with the bulk of its residential portfolio. Some other landlords, however, adopted a different approach and decided to bail out of the residential market by selling their flats to sitting tenants at discounts of up to 50 per cent – a decision they almost certainly later regretted.
Meanwhile, GMS was also moving ahead with its acquisition of freeholds of those properties in the Bayswater area where it already held leasehold interests. By the late 1960s it had bought the freeholds of many properties in Cleveland Square either from the Church of England Commissioners or the Royal Liver Insurance Company. The freeholds had been bought in stages with the company at first acquiring under-leases, then full leases and then the freeholds.
The early 1970s saw some important board changes with Robin Gibbon taking over as managing director from Ralph Moore in 1971.