Retirement and Other Things – The Life and Times of David Meaden

Retirement and Other Things – The Life and Times of David Meaden

On 2nd May, we bid a fond farewell to David Meaden, stalwart of the Symonds & Sampson Professional team for the last 25 years. He has written this account of his passage into and journey through the world of surveying. David will keep a close eye on the department during a hand-over period, but between times we wish him a peaceful, happy and healthy retirement.

The Start

It all started in 1966 on leaving school with a clutch of ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels and thinking that I would perhaps like a career in either architecture or surveying, which had been something of a family tradition with a grandfather and great uncle who were architects and a father who was a surveyor and brother who, at the time, was in town planning.  I did investigate whether there was any University courses available but, at that time, they were very few and far between and although I applied for one at London University, I was told that they wouldn’t recognise my ‘A’ Level in Technical Drawing and that I should go back for a third year in the Sixth Form to get a better pass at Applied Maths.  This did not appeal and I found myself with a job as a Junior Surveyor in the Building Surveying Dept of Pearsons in Farnborough, Hants.  Although I decided to become a student of the RICS, I still needed a better pass at ‘O’ Level English Language, which meant going to night school for a year before I could become a Student Member.  Meanwhile, I had started my career and one of the first jobs I can remember throughout a quite long, hot summer was a chain and level survey of a large site on a hillside on the main road between Guildford and Godalming.  This entailed carrying out a triangulated land survey using a 100 ft chain, which is a piece of surveying equipment used at the time, made up of 100 1 ft/12 in links, marked at 10 ft intervals with brass tallies to identify the length involved.  These would be stretched out in a straight line determined on site with ranging rods with the triangles measured and offsets to the boundaries or points of importance taken at appropriate intervals and marked in a survey book.  Levels were also taken and recorded but, being on a fairly sloping site, this entailed a number of change points which require great care to be taken so as to avoid problems and having to return to carry out the survey later if any mistakes materialised.  Now, of course, such surveys and equipment are history and one merely phones up the most competitive firm of specialist land surveyors to carry out a survey with total survey station, GPS and CAD design. 

Moving On

Before moving on, I should say that if you are easily bored and are having difficulty in staying awake reading this, go straight to the end or even to the next article that might be more interesting.  However, time for a change came about and being encouraged to work in London, I then found myself there for the next 5 years working initially for Strutt & Parker in their London office, originally in Park Street but latterly in Hill Street, W1.  Strutts acted for a number of landed estates and throughout London, which involved quite a lot of travelling throughout the Home Counties and was rewarding at the time.  For the last 2 years, I moved to a small firm of Architects’ and Surveyors in Gloucester Place, which runs parallel to Baker Street, and two of the main jobs I recall in London were in Greek Street, Soho and Bouverie Street, just off Fleet Street, and involved refurbishment of office premises.  Another project was in Winchester, being a new office block.

After 5 years and being married and starting a family, the travelling to London was becoming rather trying, especially working through the 3-day week which was imposed upon us at the time.  I had kept in touch with my colleagues in Hampshire and, as they were enlarging the department, they asked me to re-join them, which I did for a couple of years, then moving on to Guildford. 

Surrey in the mid-1970s

In Guildford, I worked for a Surrey firm of Estate Agents and Surveyors called Gascoigne-Pees who, after I left them, were taken over by the Black Horse, one of the early acquisitions of estate agents by the Banks and Insurers.  Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, I was still studying via the College of Estate Management, in what we then called a correspondence course, but I now suppose is distance learning, taking the RICS’s own exams, which meant sitting these in London, which was during the Irish troubles, and quite often one would be sitting in an exam hall only to be told there was a bomb scare nearby, but carry on, we’ll shut the Venetian blinds!  However, I vividly remember when working in Guildford the two pub bombings that took place in October 1974 at The Horse and Groom public house and Seven Stars pub.  The Horse and Groom was actually on my route between the office, which was at the top of the High Street, and where I used to park my car, which was at the bottom.  The Seven Stars was lower down the High Street, between this and another road.  Rather ironically, my then boss, the Head of the small Building Surveying Dept, was instructed by a local solicitor to act on behalf of what became known as ‘The Guildford Four’ to prepare some reports relating to the bombing of the Guildford pubs, but also the one in Woolwich, which occurred at the same time at a pub called The Kings Arms.  There were fatalities here and also at The Horse and Groom, but I seem to remember that The Seven Stars bombing was less serious.  I don’t know if the reports that we prepared were of any help but, of course, much later, the convicted Guildford Four were released.

I managed to complete my RICS exams and was elected a Professional Associate in 1976. 

Move Back to Hampshire

By now, I was for some reason looking for advancement, which I wasn’t going to get in Guildford, so I moved back to Hampshire and joined a firm of Building Surveyors and Commercial Property Consultants known as Pilgrim Miller & Partners in Fleet.  I was with them for about 5 years and worked on some very interesting projects, some with other professionals, including Quantity Surveyors and Architects, one being at a private school in the Cotswolds and the other being for Ford’s Tractor Division in Essex.  Latterly, another job was for a private client who lived in a small village just to the south of Basingstoke, from where he flew his own helicopter to work every day in Brighton.  We had already built two quite large extensions to the original property and then set about converting a large series of barns, firstly for accommodation for the live-in housekeeper and separate cook.  The client, however, wanted one particular barn to be adapted so that he could use it as a hangar for his helicopter, the theory being that he would land it on a flat bed truck, which would be set on rails and could then be moved into the hangar itself.  Despite having a scale model of the helicopter and making up a model of the barn, this eventually proved to be impractical, as we could never manage to get the whole helicopter with rotors inside.  Eventually, what the client decided to do was use the barn to house his collection of vintage/veteran cars.  Near the end of my time with Pilgrim Miller, I moved down to Bournemouth with another Surveyor, and opened an office in Yelverton Road and one job I dealt with in the Bournemouth/Poole area was the refurbishment of a light industrial building where I met a family firm of local building contractors, who later I worked with on a number of projects for them, which was after I had found myself starting my own practice in December 1985.


As a family, we moved to Bournemouth in 1984 and unfortunately found that the partnership I was in locally with Pilgrim Miller was dissolved after about 18 months, and I started working on my own account, initially from home and then later from some office premises in Winton.  I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time for employment by a number of clients, including British Telecom, Bournemouth Borough Council and Dorset County Council.  I undertook a number of surveys for BT and then was involved as Contract Administrator on a number of alteration and refurbishment projects on telephone exchanges and other BT buildings.  Two involved the construction of some new telephone exchanges (albeit quite small) in Collingbourne Ducis and the Donheads.  With Bournemouth Borough, I also carried out surveys of about 50 of their buildings from humble groundkeeper’s sheds or changing rooms at playing fields, through to both Boscombe and Bournemouth piers.  With the piers, my inspection was only above the deck, not the bit that sits in the sea, but these were obviously quite interesting and with Bournemouth pier turned into refurbishment of the buildings on the pier, including the ‘glazed conning tower’ which used to leak quite badly and involved new patent glazing.  Another project for them was re-roofing of the fairly new, at the time, Littledown Sports Centre, where the original designer must have got the design wrong as the timber roof deck was rotting from the inside out. 

Move to Symonds & Sampson

After 9 years of being self-employed, I joined Symonds & Sampson 25 years ago, at which time I seem to remember we had 4 offices and about 40 staff.  The rest is perhaps history but I have been involved on a number and variety of interesting projects, one of which is perhaps particularly unusual and involved the conservation of a freestanding dovecote (pictured) in the Piddle Valley.  The poor condition of this meant it was on the English Heritage At Risk Register, but our client had managed to obtain a generous grant towards its conservation, which was carried out with the support of the Conservation Officer at West Dorset District Council and involved quite a lot of research into dovecotes generally.  This particular one had hundreds of nesting boxes around the inside circumference of the structure, and it was necessary to provide a new potence (rotating ladder) which would have been used in the past to gain access to these for collection of eggs and squabs etc.  I must say it was quite interesting trying to draw the potence and also specify its construction.

I suppose I have always had an interest in historic buildings in particular and in 2000, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a Masters Degree course at Bournemouth University in Building Conservation, where my tutor was Carole Ryan, whom I am sure some of you will remember from her days as Conservation Officer at NDDC.

Two other things that do stick in the mind, unfortunately relating to acts of terrorism.  One was when I had to go to London to meet Counsel for discussions about a case in which we were involved acting for the defendant in an issue relating to a Listed property near Wimborne and, on travelling to London and getting a taxi from Waterloo to Counsel’s chambers, we drove past the remains of a bombed double decker bus.  I also happened to be in London on 7th July 2005 when 3 tube stations and a bus were bombed and has since been referred to as 7/7.  I was there to attend a seminar/conference at the Headquarters of English Heritage/Historic England, but fortunately, one might say, my Underground journey did not take me through the particular stations that were bombed.

In conclusion, I hope, for those of you who have managed to read this far, it has not been too boring, and I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all well for the future, at a time when our work is becoming more and more controlled by legislation, potential litigation, the need for compliance and, in a climate where some are risk-averse.

With very best wishes to you all……

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