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RICS 150

18 JAN 2016

Meet our president from a century ago: John Henry Hanson FRICS

John Henry Hanson FRICS became President of the Surveyors’ Institution for the years 1915/16, and took pride in being the first Yorkshireman to achieve this status.

His life is not well documented, though it appears he was born in 1851 and was educated in Birmingham.

In his early years as a surveyor he was articled to John H Abbey CE of Huddersfield (designer of Huddersfield Town Hall, Huddersfield Borough Surveyor, and one of a long line of Yorkshire surveyors); from there he took the role of Borough Surveyor of Barnsley.

On the death of J H Abbey in 1880, John H Hanson took over the practice, which was established in 1835, and remained a senior partner of Abbey & Hanson until his death.

Land, water and acting on pollution

As a surveyor his areas of practice were: acquisition of land for public purposes, protection of water rights for the mill owners of West Riding, and acting on river pollution (he gave evidence on this subject to a Royal Commission).

Records show that, at this time, the first section of the Huddersfield Co Operative building (1886/7) was designed by Hanson, for the Huddersfield Industrial Society and that in 1887 Hanson and his associate, Joseph Armitage, purchased the Thornton Lodge Estate in Huddersfield for £6,250.

The surveyors then set about developing the estate with high density, low value, back to back housing, shops and industrial units. This area, to the south west of Huddersfield town centre, is still called Thornton Lodge and parts of the original lodge house still exist. Hanson became the sole owner of this estate on the death of Armitage soon after their purchase.

"Hanson was both “local and global” - and that still informs AHR today. On the one hand, he cared about Huddersfield and played a major role in shaping the town, At the same time, as President of the Surveyors’ Institution, he was concerned with professional excellence on a much broader scale. Of course, RICS is now a global presence, which I think he would have appreciated. AHR has followed a similar path, going global and taking up new opportunities, and has never lost sight of the solid foundations Hanson helped lay — it still has its feet firmly planted in Yorkshire soil" - Former AHR Chairman, Malcolm Ellis

Constructing Victoria Tower

Other notable projects of the firm, which today trades as AHR, include the monument on top of Castle Hill, near Huddersfield. Constructed in 1899, and known as Victoria Tower, it was built to celebrate 60 years of the reign of Queen Victoria — Abbey & Hanson were the supervising surveyors. This contrasts notably with the Al Bahr Towers, Abu Dhabi, for which the modern day AHR were the architects in 2013.

Abbey Hanson also had the distinction of completing the first valuation for the Halifax Building Society, whose HQ building the firm helped design in later years, dated 13 May 1882.

Elected as president, 1891

At the age of 40, Hanson was elected to membership of the Institution, followed by election to the Council in 1909. At this time, the firm was recorded to be based at 11 Cloth Hall St Huddersfield, now the site of a jewellers shop in the centre of the town.

In his speech on being elected President of the Institution, Hanson was concerned to report that, for the first time in the history of the institution, there was a recorded drop in membership numbers (5,482 in 1914 to 5,385 in 1915). This was put down to the impact of the war and also to changes in the entry requirements that had just been implemented. These changes had meant applicants must pass both the intermediate and final exams before being accepted.

His speech reported that 1,063 Institution members were serving in the forces (including four members of staff) and that 29 members had fallen in the war. In his next speech six months later, this had risen to 46.

Also of note was his reference to a request by the War Office and the Admiralty for the Institution to find experienced building and quantity surveyors to volunteer to work in England and France in order to assist in providing temporary buildings for hospitals, stores and troop housing. That year, as a mark of respect, the Institution’s dinner and annual country meeting were cancelled.

Hanson's legacy to the profession

Our records indicate that Hanson died in October 1941, just short of his 90th birthday. During his career he had also been a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a president of the North of England Land Agent and Valuers Association.

Hanson’s legacy is longstanding. 175 years on, the firm he helped to establish is still going strong, and while it has been through a number of transformations — from Abbey and Hanson to Abbey Hanson Rowe, then Abbey Holford Rowe, and finally trading as Aedas before, in 2014, returning to its roots as AHR — Hanson’s values still inform the practice today.