There is one FMB member firm – Sykes & Son Limited which has been in business since 1759. It’s an astonishing length of time for any company, here we tell you a bit about their fascinating history and also delve into the very early years of the FMB, quite a baby by comparison, but both are strong, healthy businesses who have weathered considerable storms.
THE BIRTH OF THE FMB
In the second week of October 1940, the London area was devastated by the German Luftwaffe, especially badly hit were the East End docks. In response to numerous calls from builder members who were anxious about their legal and financial position when carrying out emergency repairs to bomb damaged property, Leslie Venning, the Secretary of Islington Chamber of Commerce called a meeting of local builders.
There was no recognised war damage contract and many builders were not being paid for work they had done, so their cash flow suffered. Similar problems started to surface in other parts of the country, but it was the sheer intensity of the Blitz on London which pushed its builders into action.
At this first Chamber of Commerce meeting in Islington, 15 small building firms were represented, all worried that there was no specific trade association for them to turn to for help and advice. It was decided that Mr Venning would initially examine ‘the problems of representation for smaller builders in London’ and within only nine months the FMB was constituted as a registered company, and was set on the path of becoming the largest trade association within the construction industry.
FMB, THE EARLY YEARS
Mr Venning had realised that without some formal organisation, small builders faced endless muddle and confusion, and that as pressure on resources grew, they stood little chance of getting access to licensed materials. He also knew they would struggle to avoid being pressganged into providing the labour for the large main contractors who were being lined up by the Emergency Services Organisation (ESO). He felt that by bringing teams of local builders together under the direction of the regional reconstruction panels that were being established by the ESO, they would be able to respond rapidly to emergencies on their own doorstep.
Leslie Venning called the next meeting in November 1940, which was attended by 37 builders. He told them: “There is only one existing organisation for builders – the London Master Builders Association. It has about 250 members who consider they are the elite of the industry.” He went on to say that it seemed the association was reluctant to allow smaller builders to join. Reg Ricketts, one of the builders at the November meeting said: “If we want help we must provide it ourselves. I propose we form our own group under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce and we should call it the North London Master Builders Association.”
Soon, this group was being joined by builders from all over London and in 1941 with nearly 700 members; it changed its name to the Federation of Master Builders of Greater London.
News of the federation soon spread and similar groups were being set up around the country. Leslie Venning toured the country to unite all these groups and ‘Greater London’ was dropped from the title. So the Federation of Master Builders can be said to have arrived in 1943 with a national membership of 2,300, each paying subscriptions of £3.3s per head. The first FMB National Council was established in February 1944, with four regions represented – London, South West, Southern Counties and the North West. From the North West region came the FMB’s then youngest member, Gordon Fisher, a name still inextricably linked with the FMB and one that will be familiar to every member.
Arthur Dove, a Director of Dove Brothers of Islington, a firm noted for its church restoration work in the City of London became the Federation’s first President.
By February 1946 membership had risen to 5,000 and eight regions were represented on the National Council. Mr Venning had provided the Federation with a strong organisation which provided many useful contacts with local authorities throughout the UK, social functions also paid a very important role, and subscription rates were kept affordable. In 1957 subscriptions rose to £6.6s and only rose again in 1968 to £8.50.
HOMES OF THE FMB
As membership grew, a suitable head office was needed. When the FMB first became an independant body it had been housed in the offices of Newton, Bruce, Venning (of which Leslie Venning was a partner). These offices were destroyed in an air raid, but Arthur Dove came to the rescue by providing accommodation at his offices at 23 Compton Street, until a move in April 1957 to 26 Great Ormond Street, Holborn. The need for larger premises encouraged the FMB the following year to buy the freehold of 33 John Street, Holborn, a fine 18th century building, where it stayed for the next 30 years. A final move in 1989 was to 14-15 Great James Street in Holborn, and it is here, at the re-named Gordon Fisher House that the FMB remains today.
As we look forward to celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the FMB shortly, we will bring you more fascinating insights into the history of the FMB in forthcoming issues of Master Builder magazine. If you have any pictures or stories of FMB events during its long life, please contact the editor, Nicky Rogers at email@example.com or call 01778 391128 This article has been compiled with the help of Mary Jones, FMB Director of Administration.
This article has been compiled with the help of Mary Jones, FMB Director of Administration.