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British Industrial History

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Norman Edward Wates

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Norman Edward Wates (1905–1969), builder and contractor

1905 born in Streatham, London, the eldest of the three sons of Edward Wates, house furnisher and builder, and his wife, Sarah, née Holmes. His younger brother was Sir Ronald Wallace Wates.

Educated at Emanuel School, Wandsworth

1922 Worked for a year with a firm of chartered accountants

c.1923 Joined the building firm (Wates) started by his father and three uncles.

The firm had expanded rapidly after the First World War, building housing estates in south London, and in 1926 it embarked on an estate of 1000 houses in Streatham Vale, which took five years to complete.

1929 Married Margot Irene Sidwell; they had three sons, the eldest of whom was the builder and environmentalist Neil Edward Wates, and three daughters.

By 1930 Wates had been joined by his two younger brothers in the firm.

1935 The firm began to look beyond the building of houses to public works, including libraries, fire stations, and drill halls.

1930s Wates made several trips to the United States to study American building methods and business and management techniques. He was one of the first builders to reduce the amount of casual labour.

1935 He was a founder member of the National Housebuilders Registration Committee.

By 1939 the firm had over 100 contracts with the War Office, the Admiralty, and the London boroughs, including contracts for air raid shelters, lining units for trenches, and the construction of army camps and airfields.

WWII Wates advised the Admiralty on specialist concrete structures; during the war the firm made pre-cast concrete barges and the first pre-cast concrete floating dock. It was also involved in the construction of units for the Mulberry Harbours used for the Normandy landings in 1944.

Post-WWII With the post-war housing shortage and the shortage of traditional building materials, including bricks, timber, and steel, as well as that of skilled site labour, the government subsidized the building of houses using non-traditional materials. The Wates firm was one of the leading builders of temporary, prefabricated bungalows for local authorities all over England, as part of the temporary housing programme from 1945 to 1948.

Wates built on experience acquired during the war; using the pre-casting works built for production of war materials, he developed a system of making large load-bearing concrete slabs, one storey high, for bungalows. This was especially useful in areas where there was a shortage of site labour.

When the subsidies ended, and the prohibition on building for private ownership was lifted, Wates built permanent pre-cast concrete houses; between 1945 and 1955 the firm built nearly 20,000 of these, 9.6% of the total output in the country.

The Wates Group remained a private company, one of the largest family businesses in the construction industry, with Norman Wates as chairman.

1969 Died in London.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography of Norman Edward Wates, ODNB