Profile of Clifford Ranks McGill 1971

Profile of Clifford Ranks McGill 1971

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Article published in the Illustrated Bristol News Aug 1971 by Margaret Green.

On a COLD, dark winter night in 1936 young P.C. Whalley was on night duty. He was very happy with his lot. he had embarked on a career with the Bristol Constabulary and had just bought a brand new house in a quiet part of Bristol. His beat took him past the cul-de-sac where his new home was. It was an attractive house and it was with pride that he saw his new front door and his garden by the light of his torch.

But there was something else he saw with his policeman’s eye, a light burning in an upstairs room. It was four o’clock in the morning and he and his wife were not due to move in until the next day!

The front door was ajar, and very stealthily the constable crept up the stairs. It appeared that there was some unauthorised person or persons on his newly acquired premises.

Whoever it was in the big bedroom. Through a crack in the door, P.C. Whalley saw a young man with his back to him. A large policeman’s hand descended on the intruder’s shoulder.

‘Right, young man, and just what are you doing here’? The young man wheeled round, startled. ‘Er, I’m just finishing the bedroom off, constable. You are moving in tomorrow morning, aren’t you’? The intruder was Clifford McGill, builder, carpenter, decorator, and plasterer, living up to the motto he imposed upon himself: always finish on time, no matter what.

That was 35 years ago. The constable rose to be a Chief Superintendent (and still lives in the same house) and Clifford McGill started a tradition which has been carried right through to today, and he himself is chairman of the thriving Bristol-based builders, McGills.

Ever since he left school at 14, Clifford McGill had a hankering after making things, building things. He started as a youth re-decorating and, on his own, carrying out building repairs. He earned a name for himself around the city with his motor cycle and sidecar full of tools. He taught himself as he went along. He worked and saved hard, spending little time gadding about until he was able to buy an old, crumbling house, knock it into shape, on his own, and sell it. With the profit he made he went about buying another old house and another until, in a small way, he was in the property business.

With the money he had carefully saved he actually started to build in the early 1930’s.

Speaking to Clifford McGill in his garden, where his craftsman’s hands had gently tended dozens of rose bushes, he told me that he now has a little more time to spend in his garden and doing the odd job about his own home. His itchy fingers had cement on them even as we talked, he was in the middle of ‘touching up a room’ as he put it. In fact, he had completely stripped a room right down to the bare brick and was starting again from scratch.

He had found so many other things he could do with it. And to it.

During our conversation I found that his lifelong philosophy of delivering homes on time is most certainly being maintained by the company which bears his name. A company which is responsible for many important and inventive housing developments in and around Bristol.

‘Our slogan today is that McGills builds homes round people’, Clifford McGill told me. ‘And I honestly feel we are doing that. I am particularly fond of Trendlewood, one of our biggest and most successful developments near Stapleton village’.

I had been to Trendlewood before I met the chairman of McGills, and had seen what he meant. Using attractive natural wooded slopes on the banks of the River Frome, McGills has built some rather intriguing split-level luxury homes.

‘Although Trendlewood, and, indeed, all our present developments, embody the latest design and construction features, we always make sure that we keep the prices within everybody’s reach’. I found this to be true: for a four bedroomed split-level home, with central heating and a garage, the price is about £7,000. And, as a matter of interest, very few McGill Homes ever built have cost more than that amount and other smaller homes cost from just under £5,000.

Mr. McGill continued. ‘A turning point in our history came in 1954 when we introduced what we called the Low Cost Luxury home. This sold for £1,275 and it was a breakthrough in house design generally. It was, if you like, the beginning of a new era in house design and building throughout the country, and I feel proud that we helped to pioneer it. We’re still a private company, we’ve never amalgamated or been taken over. In almost 40 years we have grown rapidly but we have still been prudent. Today, we have our own architectural and design unit and every stage of planning and building is carefully watched by my executive directors’.

Suitably, the McGill headquarters is in a charming Victorian family house in Queen’s avenue, Clifton. Here there is, to me, a family atmosphere administration, executives, design, accounts and advertising all live together under the same comfortable roof.

It’s the sort of place you call in to do business, and have afternoon tea. I remarked that I seem to have seen McGill site boards all over the area, Pucklechurch, Stapleton, near Blaise Castle, Backwell, Brislington and else where.

Clifford McGill said: ‘If you like this is part of our prudence. We build in areas that locally handy”. Handy for town and yet within easy reach of the important places of work in and near the city. Being a Bristol company, and after spending our lives here, we think we know just where, and, most important what, to build for the present Bristolian and the new Bristolian’.

I left Clifford McGill, a wide six-footer, after a monkey-wrench of a handshake that told me more than a little about craftsmanship, guts, determination and capability.

McGills has come a long way from the young man with his motor cycle and side car and the paint brushes bought out of pocket money. But I can’t help feeling that, wandering around any McGill development, even at four o’clock in the morning, it will be very easy to find the spirit of Clifford Ranks McGill and his company hard at work building homes
round people.

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