George Drewitt was a jobbing builder, painter & decorator in the 1850’s. He worked with his son Charles Henry Drewitt until 1877 when Charles Henry started his own painting and decorating business in New Maldon, Surrey.
As well as setting up a new business in 1877 Charles Henry married Emma Jackson and their eldest son Charles James Jackson Drewitt was born in 1880. In the meantime Charles Henry ran his business from a builders and decorators workshop and store in New Malden and lived over the premises.
Charles James (now know simply as James Drewitt) left his Father’s business around 1898 and set up on his own account in New Malden. He married Millicent Woodlands in 1900 they had four children their only son being Charles George Woodlands Drewitt.
At the beginning of the 20th Century both Charles Henry and James Drewitt were seeking out pastures new and in 1909 Charles Henry moved his business from New Malden to Winchester, Hampshire and in 1910 James moved to Bournemouth where he obtained work as a journeyman painter.
In the early 1900’s Bournemouth was a fast developing seaside resort and James Drewitt & his family settled in the Southbourne area of the town. Soon name boards were seen in Southbourne and Pokesdown indicating that James Drewitt was in business as a builder and decorator.
James Drewitt, Builder & Decorator
James Drewitt was invalided out of the army after 18 months service during the Great War and he came back to Bournemouth to resume business in 1916. Business continued to flourish and by the end of the Great War in 1918 turnover for 6 months was £312.6.6d. In 1918 James’ son Charles George started work as a carpenters apprentice. It is interesting to note that in his memoirs Charles states that “most of the time I was pushing a builders hand truck loaded with steps and ladders, paint pots and the like”.
The business continued to expand and a telephone was installed in the family home which also acted as an office where James’ wife, Millicent, looked after the books. During this period most of the building being carried out was new housing constructed under Prime Minister Lloyd George’s Housing scheme. Subsidies were offered by the Government of £50 per house started in 1919 and James Drewitt took full advantage by purchasing land in Newstead Road, Southbourne. The first house to be completed was No. 17 and James Drewitt always claimed to have built the first house in Bournemouth after the Great War.
The housebuilding business continued to expand rapidly and it was not long before James Drewitt purchased 6 old houses in Seabourne Road and on the corner of Darracott Road, Southbourne. He redeveloped the site, building 5 shops with flats over, stores and a small office in Darracott Road. Stable accommodation was also provided for two horses hauling a tip cart and a builder’s dray!
Other family members came to Bournemouth to help including James’ own Father, Charles Henry who had been living in Winchester.
New Clients, New Opportunities
Always looking for new avenues of business James Drewitt asked to be put on Midland Bank’s Premises Department’s contractors list. One of the first jobs carried out was the building of the Midland Bank (now HSBC) in Winton in 1923. Banks at Charminster Road in 1926, Lower Parkstone in 1927 and Southbourne Grove in 1928 followed. James Drewitt also managed to get onto the contractors list of the Ministry of Works and in 1925 built the new Post Office in Cardigan Road, Winton.
During the 10 year period between 1920 and 1930 more Estates were being opened up and sold for housing development in Bournemouth & Poole. Roads were being cut through the dense pine woods of the Portman Estate and plots of land were put up for sale. James Drewitt bought plots on the Wentworth Estate in Wentworth Avenue, Montague Road, Cliff Drive and Portman Crescent. He also bought plots on the The Cassell Estate at Branksome Dene, the Leven Estate in Talbot Woods and other plots in Winton and Pokesdown.
Housebuilding to Contracting
In 1926 the economy was in a poor state and there were no buyers for the houses that James Drewitt was building so the move to contracting began with James Drewitt & Son getting onto the building lists of Hampshire County Council & West Sussex County Council amongst others.
The Government of the day instructed Local authorities to build houses to let and the company secured a contract to build 100 houses on the Westham Estate, Weymouth. In 1928 another housing contract was secured to build 100 properties on the Knole Estate, Hove, Sussex for Hove Corporation. James’ son Charles supervised this contract and lived in Hove for the duration with his new wife Marie Stephens whom he married in 1928.
Charles and Marie had a son Michael James, born in 1932 and the firm was busier than ever. More contracts were secured for a variety of projects and customers including schools at Totton, Hayling Island for Hampshire County Council and major alterations and extensions were carried out at Digby House, Sherborne to convert the building into a County School for Girls. A new automatic telephone exchanges were built at Bassett and West End, Southampton. The offices of Ordnance Survey were rebuilt after they were destroyed by fire in 1935. Hospitals and more schools followed as well as work at Southampton docks.
In 1936 an important local contract was won. The Old Winter Gardens in Bournemouth was to be demolished and in its place was to be built a new indoor bowling rink. (In 1946 this was converted by the Company into a concert hall for the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra). Also in 1936 James Drewitt & Son successfully applied to get onto the War Departments list of contractors and numerous barrack blocks, cook houses, transport garages, officers mess and quarters were built at Old Sarum, Bulford, Tidworth and Larkhill camps, Dorchester and Albany barracks. The company also built the Garrison Church at Larkhill Camp.
Second World War
With so much work being carried out more extensive office accommodation was required and the last two houses were demolished at 125/127 Seabourne Road, Southbourne and a modern office block built with two flats over. However, the company never moved into their new offices as in 1939 air raid precautions were put in hand and the ground floor was requisitioned by the Local Authority for an air raid shelter. The Company of course carried out the necessary reinforcing and strengthening strutting under the first floor and the construction of sandbag blast walls.
The war years were spent in completing War Department and other Government contracts and other major works were closed down. There was a small number of staff carrying out local works, war damage repairs and construction of air raid shelters and the like.
End of an Era and a New Generation
James Drewitt who had laid the foundation for the future prosperity of the company died on 15 March 1946 aged 66 years. Up until his death he had been in partnership with his son Charles. He left his share of the business to Charles and on 2 July 1947 the firm was incorporated into a limited liability company, James Drewitt & Son Ltd. In 1948 Charles’ son, Michael James Drewitt was 16 and spent two years at the Brixton School of Building. He joined the family company in 1950 and was appointed a director upon reaching the age of 21 in 1953. After a period of National Service, Michael resumed his duties with the Company in 1957 as Contracts Director.
Also in 1948 construction began on a new Garage Building complex for Bournemouth Corporation Transport Department. In construction terms this was to prove to be one of the biggest challenges faced by James Drewitt & Son Ltd. The new building consisted of a column free covered space of 45,000 sq ft being 300 ft long and 150 feet wide.
At the time the span of 150 feet was the largest yet constructed in the UK with pre-stressed edge beams and shell roofing. The concrete beams were post-tensioned a first in Britain. Even today in architectural and engineering circles this building is still acknowledged as one of the most advanced construction techniques of its time. This has been recognised by its listing by English Heritage in the late 1990’s – Listing No. 1244305. The bus company moved out long ago and the building is currently occupied by “Homebase” and is part of the Mallard Road Retail Park.
The Swinging Sixties
By the 1960’s the Company had moved into new purpose built offices at 865 Ringwood Road (where the Drewitt Group remains today) and under the guidance of Charles and his son Michael the Company completed a wide range of contracts for many clients including:-
- Factory extensions for Max Factor & Co, Wallisdown, Bournemouth
- Construction of new office block for Bowmakers Ltd, Bournemouth
- New Medical Centre, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Winfrith, Dorset
- New Class rooms at Talbot Heath School, Bournemouth
- Construction of Laboratories & offices for IBM, Hursley, Hampshire
- Construction of Neuro-Surgical Unit at Southampton General Hospital
- Erection of Marine Training Centre, Royal Marines Depot, Hamworthy Poole
- New Telephone Exchange, Weymouth, Dorset
- New Office Block, Portman Building Society, Richmond Hill, Bournemouth
The 1960’s was a period of expansion and the Directors felt it would be desirable to have a development company and so Drewsons Ltd was created. It purchased land and developed a number of blocks of flats during this decade some of which it still retains today. It was also during the 1960’s that both Drewsons Décor Ltd and Drewlec Ltd were formed. Charles Drewitt semi-retired in 1969 and Michael Drewitt took over the reigns fully.
The 3 day week and Mrs Thatcher
James Drewitt & Son Ltd celebrated it’s 100th Anniversary in 1977 but construction’s golden era was coming to an end. During the 1970’s the country was in great economic difficulty with industrial unrest throughout the decade. The general election of 1979 saw Margaret Thatcher elected as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister with a Conservative government. The recession that followed in the early 1980’s nearly bought the downfall of the Drewitt Group of Companies.
By 1984 it was obvious that James Drewitt & Son Ltd was struggling for survival and Michael Drewitt took the courageous decision to stop general contracting. With hindsight this must have been a very hard decision to make bearing in mind the history of the business built as it had been upon contracting. So the last major contract that the Company worked on was the construction of a new Art & Design College at Wallisdown – now known as the Arts University of Bournemouth. Instead Michael decided to redevelop the builder’s yard at 865 Ringwood Road into a small industrial estate and to let out units to tenants. This was a highly successful move and by the late 1980’s the Drewitt Industrial Estate was firmly established.
The 5th Generation
Michael’s son, Richard, joined the business in 1989 after completing a degree in Quantity Surveying at Portsmouth Polytechnic and gaining experience with Laing’s and Herbert H Drew of New Milton. He originally joined Drewsons Décor Ltd and altered it’s emphasis slightly to incorporate all types of building maintenance works. This was reflected in a new trading name, Drewsons Building Maintenance. He also became Managing Director of Drewlec Ltd and developed the fledging fire alarm and emergency lighting aspect of the business.
After a spell at Fox & Son’s in Bournemouth, Gillian, Richard’s sister, joined the business in 1993 as a Chartered Surveyor. She became and remains responsible for managing the Estate and administrative matters within the Group. Sadly, Michael Drewitt died in 2005. He steered the Group through some difficult times and his foresight placed the Group in a very strong position going forward.
Richard and Gillian Drewitt still own and jointly run the Drewitt Group of Companies. Drewsons Building Maintenance and Drewlec were joined in 2011 by Drewsons Mechanical Services. The new division complimented the services already offered to our clients and the Drewitt Group could now offer a total package of electrical, mechanical and building maintenance expertise under one roof. Initially this was a very successful move but ultimately Drewsons Building Maintenance & Drewsons Mechanical Services were closed down in 2018.
Drewlec Electrical Services still operates very successfully, providing clients with excellent electrical, fire alarm & emergency lighting services. The property portfolio also remains as an important part of the Drewitt Group and in recent years this too has expanded beyond the confines of the original Drewitt Industrial Estate.
Richard’s son, Alex Drewitt, the 6th generation of the Drewitt Family has also joined the Group with Drewitt Construction operating in the West Midlands area. Over the years The Drewitt Group has evolved and changed and is looking forward to the future as it heads towards it’s 150th Anniversary.