When, in 1924 seventeen year old Bournemouth boy Donald House took more than a fleeting glance at two men busily engaged in a property survey, little did he realise that was the trigger to determine his destiny and launch him into a profession as a surveyor, valuer, estate agent and auctioneer, and a career that would last over 60 years. “I wanted to be a solicitor” revealed Donald House, “but when I saw those two surveyors engrossed in their work, I thought to myself – that’s for me!” In the ‘20s there was already a well-established firm of surveyors and estate agents called Hankinson and Son whose premises dominated the North West side of the Square in Bournemouth, and it was his to them that young Donald applied for a job…and got it. His drive, determination and hard work were soon spotted – and rewarded – and it wasn’t long before he qualified as an associate member of the Chartered Surveyor Institution (now the RICS) and the Society of Valuers and Auctioneers.
It was Major Rebbeck of Rebbeck’s, the first ever estate agents in Bournemouth, who was one of those who signed his application form to study for the professional exams. When, in 1939 Hankinson’s ceased practising, Donald House left with a glowing reference from the firm and was immediately approached by the owner of recently built, Lansdowne House in Christchurch Road and asked to manage it. Sixty years later the firm that bears his name House & Son, is still there though, as from October 1984 – sixty years on from the month he first crossed the threshold at Hankinson’s – he handed over the reins to his son Terry. On moving into Lansdowne House at the start of the Second World War, Donald House had no sooner put up his ‘brass plate’ when his services were requested by the District Valuer. He had what was termed as a ‘reserved occupation’ and as a result was drafted onto the panel of surveyors to deal with war damage compensation. His professional qualifications also led him to work with SAQC responsible for requisitioning buildings in the area, for the purpose of troop billeting and various other uses. Lansdowne House was one of the first of the modern purpose built buildings for flats, shops and chambers in the Lansdowne area of Christchurch Road, and on the other side of the road at that time there was mainly large, detached Victoria and Edwardian villas revealed Donald House. “I was one of the first tenants in this vast and partially empty building, and no sooner had the first residents moved into the flats, then most were off again – inland, and to safer domains to avoid being sitting targets for Hitler’s bombers. By late October 1939 not only had I established a professional practice of surveyors and valuers, helped by Miss Watkins who up to then was secretary to the principal at Hankinson’s.
I had also opened up our auction salesrooms. But then the war changed the market completely. With my special ID card I was able to travel all along the Wessex Coast on various projects and at night. I donned uniform and tin hat to do my bit as a fire warden. We were always losing windows in the Lansdowne area of Bournemouth, but I’ll never forget that Sunday when Hitler’s bombs wiped out the Metropole Hotel with a hundred or more Canadian troops inside. It was tragic – quite sickening.
“Once the war ended business began to pick up for House & Son, though the government by then had introduced a price control on furniture which naturally affected income in the auction salerooms. “The auctioneer would have to disclose the reserve price and if the bidding started or ended with a number of people in the running then they would have to draw cards to see who had ‘won’ the piece in question” revealed Donald House.
Such was the situation with price control. The extraordinary things is that certain collectables such as grandfather clocks didn’t fall into the category of furniture, and so in those days you could pick them up for 30/-, now they realise anything from £300 to many thousands of pounds.
Donald House has three sons and a daughter. The oldest, Terry, joined the firm in 1951 and became partner in 1962. The two made the firm into one of the most respected establishments in the area – and buyers from all over the country visit the fortnightly auctions held in the Lansdowne House sale rooms. “The first ever lot realised 6/- on January 2nd 1940 on behalf of someone called Rivas, though the records don’t say what it was. Its probably been in and out of the sale rooms quite a lot over the last seventy years, which means good business for auctioneers!” chuckled Donald House at that time “But apart from the prices of collectables, the property market has changed out of all recognition” he continued.
“Since I was young the whole area around Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch has witnessed enormous growth and development. Bournemouth’s East Cliff was always very refined and there used to be a very much-extended winter season with families, including the nobility taking longs lets on furnished property. Castle Lane in Bournemouth was a gravel track before that area was built in: and whatever happened to the Indian Hut at Five Ways in Charminster?” Donald House can look back with some satisfaction and know that his mark is on several major projects in the area. He did the surveying for the construction of new roads for part of the Branksome or Durrant Estate, and Terry were also were also involved in negotiating the sale of four acres of prime sea-facing East Cliff land on which has since been built a block of 133 luxury flats – Elizabeth Court. Born in Bournemouth in 1907, Donald House moved to Throop and then on to Brockenhurst where he attended the local school. The signs from his early days were obviously good particularly when the House family lived at 43 Talbot Hill Road, Bournemouth.
With the name ‘House’ and the fact that number 43 was chosen for the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1909 – what better profession to follow that one in property!