Tuesday, 27 May 2014

George Cross, Number 2 The Terrace Kilburn High Road, and Flying Boats

Coincidentally, we found another story connected with the Terrace, where Reg Weatherell had his bike company which we told you about in the previous story.

This concerns George Cross who moved to West Hampstead as a young boy in 1892 when his father bought a butchers shop at 263 West End Lane.  George was fascinated by the property business, but when he began work, age 15, it was for a firm selling shirts and camisoles - a job arranged for him, as he put it, by ‘a fat-headed, interfering Sunday-school teacher.’ He found the life hard and uninteresting, and after two years managed to get a job in an auctioneers and estate agents. George started to build his own property portfolio. One of the houses he bought (before he was 21), was Number 2 The Terrace, in a short street of 14 properties off the Kilburn High Road. The 1911 census shows some 140 people living here, all working class tenants.
Very early photograph of the entrance to The Terrace

Let George tell you what happened in his own words.

I purchased a weekly house (weekly tenants), No. 2 The Terrace, High Road, Kilburn, and this was a bad investment. Try as I would, I could not get good tenants, and was always loosing rent and time trying to collect it.

After I had owned it for two or three years I gave it up as a bad job. I tried every means I could think of to re-sell. I would gladly have made a small loss - a man who never makes a loss never makes anything – but without result. I hated to let a problem of this sort beat me and I considered it from every possible angle. I could almost sympathise with, and understand, the gentlemen who staged accidental fires.

Then I had one of my rare brainwaves – why not try and exchange? I could not get anything much worse at all events.

I drafted an advertisement and spent several pounds in giving it the prominence it deserved in the daily and Sunday papers. I had only one reply that was any good, and that was from someone who, I gathered, had a white elephant in country, in a village with the taking name of Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire.

It was an old house in an acre or two of ground, and needed repair. The value placed upon it was £500, and as I wanted £275 for my house, I should have to find a couple of hundred pounds in cash.

George travelled to Steeple Morden near Royston, on a bright autumn morning to see the property for himself.

As soon as I saw that cottage, I said to myself: ‘This is a deal my boy, but why are they anxious to get rid of such a lovely old place?’

Steeple Morden Church today (Wiki)

It faced the village street, opposite the church, a long, white-plastered wall at its side, with a circular headed door opening into the garden. Once inside my enthusiasm fell to zero. It was damp and musty; a lot of the woodwork was in the last stages of dry rot, and the plaster was crumbling off the walls and ceilings. It smelt of the grave; that smell was enough to put anyone off.

But after a careful examination George decided that if the owners agreed to take the Kilburn house, he’d go for it. All old houses had problems and he enjoyed putting this one into good condition. The exchange was arranged: the Kilburn property plus £150 on top. He renovated the cottage and sold it to a Reverend Porte, recouping all his money and making a profit as well.

The Rev. Porte was born in Ireland but spent most of his life as the vicar of St Matthew in Denmark Hill, Camberwell. His son John Cyril Porte was an interesting man who was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy and then a Lt. Colonel in the RAF. He spent some time in the submarine branch and was the commander of the B3, but he was invalided out in 1911. He became interested in aeronautics and built his own plane and taught himself to fly. He was best known for his work on designing flying boats with Glenn Curtis in America. They planned to fly across the Atlantic to claim the $50,000 prize offered by Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail but the outbreak of War in 1914 stopped the race. 

John Cyril Porte, 1914 (Wiki)

Despite his poor health, Porte was given command of the RN training unit at Hendon and later the flying boat base at Felixstowe. Here he designed the Felixstowe long range Flying Boats. Porte died of consumption (TB) at his home in Brighton in 1919.

A Flexistowe Fury with a Sopwith Camel in the foreground to compare the size, about 1919 (Wiki)

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