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Spence, Glover & Ferguson: 1946 to 1951.

 
Paper presented by James Beveridge.
Presentation notes provided by James Beveridge.

 

In early October 1945 I answered an advertisement in the local newspaper for an apprentice architect. Two days later I received a letter from Rowand Anderson Paul and Partners requesting that I attend an interview on the following Saturday morning (they used to work ion Saturday mornings) at 16 Rutland Square. I duly appeared along with 3 others, together with my portfolio of drawings (that’s 2008-speak for a roll of drawings with a rubber band around it). This being my first experience of an interview, I was a bit nervous. I needn’t have been, for I was interviewed by two of nature’s gentlemen – Basil Spence and William Kininmonth, who immediately put me at ease, chatted about why did I want to be an architect, and made one or two comments about my drawings, some good and some not so good. This was my first meeting with Basil Spence. The following Monday morning I received a letter offering me a 5 year apprenticeship at a salary of £20 per annum for the first year, then £30, £40 and £60 for years 2, 3 and 4, and in the fifth year a salary commensurate with my worth to the practice. Two weeks later I started work.

In the Autumn of 1946 I was told that Basil Spence and Bruce Robertson, under whose guidance I had worked in Rowand Andersons, were leaving the practice and going into partnership, and I was given the opportunity of either staying with Rowand Anderson, or joining the new firm. I elected to join the new partnership

In November 1946 we moved to 40 Moray Place and I started work in the firm of Basil Spence and Partners, as Basil’s first apprentice. Incidentally, 40 Moray Place was the address of the firm until it closed on my retirement in May 1992.

The ground floor of 40 Moray Place was occupied by the practice, and the Spence family lived on the first floor. A resident husband and wife caretaker occupied the basement. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries were on the second and third floors.

The office accommodation consisted of two large rooms, a smaller room, and a unisex toilet. One of the large rooms was shared between the drawing office which had eight spaces, and a space for the secretary and telephone switchboard. Basil and his secretary occupied the other large room, and Bruce Robertson was in the smaller room.

Shortly after, Leslie Roworth, a qualified architect, joined the firm as chief draughtsman. Leslie, after losing a leg, had been invalided out from the army.

The chief draughtsman occupied a berth beside the window, and his walking stick, which on occasion was used to give the apprentices a friendly prod, lay on the windowsill. The secretary occupied the other window space. Leslie, being ex-army, was a strict disciplinarian and the two things which I remember to this day are his insistence on discipline and tidiness, which, even as the number of people in the office increased, were strictly maintained. Another feature in the office was the quietness, apart from the chattering of the manual typewriter in the corner. If you wanted to ask a question, or converse with someone, you didn’t shout across the room, but instead went around to their drawing board to speak to them. This may seem a bit regimented but resulted in a very happy and relaxed atmosphere.

An open fire heated the drawing office, and the coffee and tea breaks were held around the large fireplace. The electric kettle was boiled in the hearth and the cups stored on the mantelpiece, but coffee and tea were kept well away from the drawing boards and from any drawings!

As an apprentice, it was great experience to be in at the outset of the practice and be involved in setting up the various systems – drawing registration, job numbering, drawing filing and storage and setting up a catalogue library, together with all the other day-to-day activities in running an architects’ office.

The apprentices’ time in the office was limited to three days a week during term time. Two days were spent at the College of Art, and three evenings a week at Heriot Watt College.

With all the staff being together in the one room, it was the hub of the office and everyone was involved in the day-to-day activities. When Basil was at home he regularly came round the drawing boards to chat about what you were working on, and give the apprentices some friendly and helpful advice. His infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on all the staff.

As an apprentice I was overawed by Basil’s drafting skills. His presentation drawings and perspectives influenced me greatly.

Exhibition work featured largely in the early years of the practice - Britain Can Make It in 1947 at Olympia, Enterprise Scotland 1947 in Edinburgh and the Scottish Industries Exhibition in 1949 in Glasgow. Housing schemes at Dunbar and Selkirk and University work in Glasgow together with numerous smaller projects.

In 1947 Hardie Glover joined as an assistant and became largely involved in exhibition work and also the first phase of the natural philosophy building at Glasgow University.

1948 saw the departure of the Department of Agriculture, and the office spread its wings into the upper floors.

My involvement as an apprentice in these early days was with the smaller jobs, carrying out building surveys and preparing drawings for Dean of Guild submission, together with preparing detailed drawings on the housing schemes at Dunbar and Selkirk.

1950 was the end of my apprenticeship and I decided to go full time to the College of Art to complete my architectural education.

The first four years of the practice were a happy and exciting experience which looking back greatly influenced my architectural career, so much so that I returned to the practice in January 1955 after qualifying and completing a post graduate degree in town planning.

Andrew Merrylees joined the practice, as a student, in 1952 and remained until resigning his partnership in 1985. He was, and is, a great enthusiast, benefiting from, and contributing to, the development of the practice.

Andrew spends a large part of the year painting in France. He is there at the moment but earlier he co-ordinated this section and wrote a paper which will be read by his daughter-in-law, Fiona Merrylees; herself an Architect who worked with him for some time and has just started her own practice in Glasgow.