Once in charge of the company, Richard proved himself every inch his mother's son. Strong-willed, clear-headed, exacting yet fair he was dynamic and extremely successful. He bought property he could improve for profit, speculated successfully on the railways and became chairman of a raft of local companies. Under his leadership, Durtnells grew rapidly, both in size and scale of projects and profitability. Richard was also something of a pioneer, being proud that his house was one of the first to have a special room for a bath - he was fond of remarking that he had stolen a march on Queen Victoria, since Buckingham Palace could not boast of such a luxury at that time but subsequently followed suit.
Richard had four sons, but only Richard born in 1866 and Harry (b 1867) joined the company. In the 1920s, wishing to retire and bind his two sons into the business, he formed the firm into a partnership. Although theoretically a good idea, it proved to be an unhappy move. After years of quietly increasing conflict, the two brothers quarrelled irrevocably - probably on account of Harry's penchant for wine, women and song - and the company split in two. Harry took the Bat & Ball Brick and Tile Works (now closed) and Richard the building business.
In 1937, Richard registered Richard Durtnell & Sons as a limited company. Given the state of relations with his brother, this was probably a shrewd move, but it was the nineteen thirties and a difficult time for everyone. The situation was considered serious enough for Richard's son Geoffrey (b 1903) to come down from Cambridge (where he had been reading cricket, according to the present Chairman!) in order to help his father pull the company through. There followed a period of very hard work and considerable change. However Richard and Geoffrey were a successful combination, because under their stewardship new branches were opened at Sevenoaks and Oxted; the works and transport were mechanised and new working methods were introduced.
Head Office, R Durtnell & Sons Limited, Rectory Lane, Brasted, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1JR
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