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RICS 150

23 JAN 2017

Robert Collier Driver: Founding member and philanthropist

The year was 1868 and 53 gentlemen from the property profession met at the Westminster Palace Hotel in London. The main agenda item was a proposal to set up a formal association to be referred to as the ‘Institution of Surveyors’.

Shortly after this, 20 of the men who were present at that meeting went on to set up a professional association with the aims of:

  • Securing advancement and facilitating acquisition of that knowledge which constitutes the profession of a surveyor.
  • Promoting the general interests of the profession, and
  • To do so for the public advantage.

RICS was born.

Meet Robert Collier Driver

One of these founder members was Robert Collier Driver - a gentleman from a long line of property professionals. Robert was to be elected to the first council of the Institution on 15 June 1868 and had the distinction of holding diploma number 9.

If we roll forward to 1885, our distinguished member was later elected Vice President, with appointment as the 12th President following in June 1890. A position he held for two years (as was the norm at that time).

A look at the history of this man shows him to be one of the great surveyors of our past. His family line in the industry can be traced back many generations to the founders of one of our oldest and most prestigious firms and he was clearly also a generous and philanthropic member.

The story starts in 1816

His story starts with his birth in Southwark in 1816. His parents were from a long line of surveyors and were able to educate him well at a school in Epping. In February 1832 the 16 year old Robert went into the family business and was articled to Mr Marmont, a land surveyor in Bristol. On completing his articles he came back to London to join his uncle Samuel Driver in the family firm.

This firm, Drivers, was founded by Robert’s great grandfathers Samuel & Charles Driver (bakers, nurserymen and landowners) in 1725. In the late 1800s the firm had expanded into auctioneering and estate management, moving to a base in Richmond Terrace Whitehall in 1826, shortly after Robert’s birth.

In 1855 Samuel Driver died and Robert became the sole partner, changing the name to Driver and Co. This situation continued until 1876 when Robert was joined in the business by his son Charles William Driver, then in 1878 by his second son Robert Manning Driver and his son in law Henry Jonas – in 1907 the firm became Drivers Jonas and Co.

During this time the firm were involved in purchasing land for the construction of the railways, the development of many of the estates in the London suburbs, the purchase of the site of the law courts, the construction of the Holburn viaduct and, with the Corporation of the City of London, the opening up of Epping Forest to the public.

Robert: The President

On his election to President of the Institution Robert referenced the poor state of the economy at the time. His view was that the holding of property is a form of ‘stored savings’, representing the thrift and enterprise of people. Anything that shakes belief in its security, such as economic insecurity, is a ‘check upon thrift and enterprise’.

He also referenced legislation being passed at the time. This included the Tenants Rating Bill, which forced a division of rates between the landlord and the tenant; the London Streets (removal of gates) Act, which was causing fears that the removal of gates to allow the passage of traffic would interfere with peoples’ peace and quiet and the Housing of The Working Classes Act, which addressed unsanitary areas and unhealthy dwellings.

His comments on Rating may still ring true with some today:

"I continue to ponder on changes to the rating system and the idea that land and its increase in value should be the property of the community, not of private individuals… and that as much as possible of its value should be withdrawn from its owners, by transferring to them a larger share of the burden of taxation."

His speech in 1892 also references the fact that, in its first 25 years the Institution had gone through a ‘quiet revolution’. That it now boasted the following:

  • 23 volumes of transactions. 
  • 4 volumes of professional notes (12,000 pages) with scarcely a subject not dealt with ‘revolting practicality'.
  • The obtaining of a charter which entitled members to be accredited as qualified members of the profession and also resulted in the question being posed in the witness box – are you a member of the Surveyors’ Institution? 
  • The collection of information for the Royal Commission and select committees.
  • The assurance to the public that they can distinguish between a qualified and an unqualified practitioner.

The Institution's early days

In the early days of the Institution there had been no exam system or gateway for membership. This was later addressed in 1882, at which time Robert Collier Driver offered an annual of prize of £25 (later revised to £15) to go to the student awarded the highest marks in the Associate examination.

On his death he also bequeathed the sum of £500 for a perpetual endowment, the interest from which was to provide the ‘Driver Prize’ of books and instruments for the student with the highest marks.

During this time membership had increased from 535 in 1881 to 2268 in 1892.

His generosity continued with a donation of £140 to fund the construction of a stone portico at 12 Great George Street and also, on his retirement as president, the gift of a badge of office to be worn by future presidents on public or official occasions. This badge of office is still in use today.

Robert's other dealings

Not content with running a busy practice and setting up an Institution for Surveyors, our subject also had involvement with many other bodies, these include:

  • Hon Sec and Treasurer to the Land Surveyors Club
  • Deputy Lieutenant to the City of London
  • Burgess of Westminster
  • Master of the Worshipful Company of Cloth Workers (1880), whose assets were mainly property based
  • Vice President of Charing Cross Hospital, and
  • Junior Grand Deacon of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons

After a distinguished career and a long illness Robert Collier Driver died, aged 82, on 13 April 1898. At that time he was living at Melrose House, Cromwell Road London.

The firm Drivers Jonas continued for many more years until it was purchased by Deloitte LLP in January 2010.