History of Scrutton Bland

The Scrutton part of Scrutton Bland dates back to the partnership of Alfred Scrutton and Francis Goodchild who began their firm in Ipswich in 1919 when they saw that many men returning from the Great War had tax problems. Income tax during the war had risen from a standard rate of 6% in 1914 to an astronomical 30% in 1918. A serviceman would have earned £18 five shillings a year so would not have met the income tax threshold, but those earning over £160 a year would have been liable. So, for example, a lieutenant who earned £355 and seven shillings per year would be liable for income tax and after the tumult of war there were many thousands of people whose financial affairs needed sorting out.

Alfred Scrutton’s grandson Tean Butcher still holds the family papers, and says that his grandfather is remembered as an entrepreneur who started Scrutton and Goodchild as a young man in his twenties, when he saw a timely business opportunity. Alfred was one of nine siblings; two of his brothers had died in the war, and tragically his sister Eva, who was a nurse during the conflict, died in 1919 when the Spanish influenza epidemic swept the country. A strict Methodist and a Freemason, Alfred was teetotal throughout his life, although Tean says “he did lapse a bit in his later years”.  His routine was always to have a good lunch with his clients followed by a half hour’s nap in the office, when the staff had to tiptoe past his door. Alfred gave up practicing accountancy in the 1950s, although he continued to look after his favourite clients until well into his retirement.

Scrutton and Goodchild set up their offices at The Thoroughfare in the centre of Ipswich, above what is now Coe’s newsagents and from certain angles and at particular times of the day you can still see the traces of the gold lettering that spelt out the company name.

The business prospered during the 1920s, and soon needed to move to larger premises on Museum Street. These offices had originally been the Black Bell Inn which was then knocked down to create a new building which opened in 1938, designed by Baker and Burton and built by H Everett and Son. The Black Bell had been a Cobbold’s pub, which sold locally-brewed Tolly Cobbold ale. The Cobbold family were an audit client of Scrutton and Goodchild, and every year a team of auditors would stay in a cottage in the grounds of the brewery, and on their arrival would find several crates of Tolly Cobbold, carefully labelled as ‘auditors’ samples’. Needless to say, this was an auditing job with no shortage of volunteers. One year the audit team were having a quiet afternoon and decided to liven things up by making paper planes. Aerobatics were in full swing when the door opened and one of the Cobbold family directors entered the room. Attempts to cover up what had been going on were futile – would this be the end of their favourite job? Far from it, Mr Cobbold enthusiastically picked up a paper plane and joined in.

Like most businesses of the time, the practice was run on strict hierarchical lines, with very different methods of working than today.  Mr Scrutton would park outside the office on Museum Street, leaving his keys in the unlocked car, and go in for work, confident that nobody would dare to touch it. At lunchtime he would go home to dine, then have a sleep (never to be disturbed) and return to the office for the afternoon at about 3pm. There were sometimes arguments between the partners, which in the days before email was a problem if they refused to speak to each other, and Cyril Smith recalled regularly being used as a go-between to convey messages.

The war years inevitably caused some major upheavals in the staffing of the business. Accountancy was a ‘reserved occupation’ which meant that staff were not obliged to enlist, although many of them did serve in the armed forces.

Scrutton and Goodchild partner Cyril Smith was a signalman in the Royal Corps of Signals but was captured during the Desert War in November 1941.  His son Graham still works in Scrutton Bland’s Ipswich office, and recalls that after his capture his father was initially transferred to Italy and then to Stalag 4B near Dresden where he remained until the German camp was liberated in May 1945. The living conditions were appalling although Graham says that his father always spoke about the kindness of local people who provided soap and other small luxuries  in exchange for cigarettes which had been sent to the prisoners from home. One interesting result of his internment was that Cyril became fluent in the German language. After he returned to Scrutton and Goodchild, if he needed to write a confidential document it would always be in German, which made it almost impossible for anyone else to understand.

The business continued to prosper, so much so that in 1968 they merged with their Ipswich competitor, Nankivell & Sanderson to create Scrutton, Goodchild and Sanderson with branches in Dovercourt, Diss and Saxmundham. The merger meant that the firm doubled in size, and there were now two buildings on either side of Museum Street. The original building (the ‘old’ building) was cold and draughty, although complaints by the staff fell on the deaf ears of Gordon Goodchild who favoured thick tweed suits in the winter and told them that   they should simply wear more clothes. 

In 1972 John Pickering joined the firm, and worked his way up to become a partner in 1983. John got to know some of the older partners over the years, and recalls that Gordon Goodchild revealed to him that he didn’t want to be an accountant at all originally, and had taken eight years to pass his exams: “In those days you followed your father’s expectations”. According to company legend there was one occasion when one of the partners was ‘accidentally’ locked in the strong room, although the circumstances of how and why it happened are now forgotten.

Over the county border in Essex, the ‘Bland’ part of the firm was also going strong, the result of an equally long heritage. Charles Bland was a co-founder of the Colchester Permanent Building Society in 1877. But in 1919, his son Frank, after distinguished military service in the First World War, saw that the town needed an insurance company as well as the building society and set up his own practice at 356 Crouch Street in June that year. 

A few years later in 1926 ‘The Limes’, a large eighteenth-century former school, came up for sale on Sir Isaac’s Walk in the centre of Colchester, and Frank moved the business to the handsome new premises where it remained until 2007. When James Herbert (always known as Ben) joined the firm in 1937 at the age of fourteen, the premises housed three partners: Frank Bland (managing partner), Cyril Lupton Fielden and Russell Wray. 

The building also briefly accommodated an office for the Forresters’ Brotherhood, but the demands for space meant that Bland Fielden and Co, and Bland & Son soon had to add an extension to the main building. This was followed by several other office additions and soon the cottages in the grounds, plus the house to accommodate the growing firm. Ben remembers working to an office routine of 9-6, with one-and-a-quarter hours for lunch. Thursday was a half- day, however, everyone had to work a full day on a Saturday. All staff had to sign in each morning, usually under the watchful gaze of Mr Bland, and it was not until after the Second World War that the working day changed to 9-5.30 (with an hour for lunch) and the half- day switched from Thursday to Saturday, which remained a working day until 1976. 

The 1930s saw a period of national economic depression, which perversely saw an increase in business for Bland Fielden and Co with financial liquidation work for firms that were closing down. Branch offices were opened in London, Frinton, Halstead, Sudbury and Witham. One slightly unusual new business connection was with the organisers of greyhound racing in Essex who required a company representative to attend every race meeting in Walthamstow, Dagenham. and Southend  in order to verify the tote dividends. It was not until several years later that someone realised that Essex County Council had mistakenly awarded the contract to Bland Fielden instead of the local bookmakers JJ Bland.

Like Scrutton and Goodchild, many of the staff at Bland Fielden in Colchester served in the armed services when war broke out in September 1939. Ben Herbert joined the RAF in 1941 when he turned 18, but before then was placed on firewatching duties in the firm’s offices each night, ready to deal with the incendiary bombs that were dropped over the town. The lawn and part of the gardens were turned over to “dig for victory” which was the lunchtime and evening task of staff not on active service. Once the war was over Bland Fielden was forced to build more offices to house the returning forces personnel, including Eric Bland, who came in after the death of his father, Frank Bland. Eric had served with distinction as a fighter pilot and was awarded an immediate DSO following a courageous raid on a German U-Boat in October 1943, which culminated in the loss of two engines of his B-24 Liberator, and having to ditch the plane into the sea with the loss of two crew members. 

As well as the additional financial work, there were also opportunities for social outings and events. Mr Fielden had a connection with the operatic society and Ben Herbert remembers the office staff going for a Christmas meal at Jacklins restaurant (now part of Williams & Griffin) followed by a show at the Hippodrome (now a nightclub). There were also cricket matches played against other local firms such as Luckin and Sheldrake (accountants) and the occasional football match. In 1948 Colchester Town played Blackpool in the FA Cup and Bland Fielden paid for two coaches of employees to travel north to see the match. Colchester lost 5-0 and to make matters worse one of the bus drivers nodded off at the wheel so the journey was further extended while he was made to have a nap in a layby.

Accounts executive Brian Waller joined Bland Fielden and Co. in 1970. This was still a pre-computer era: ledgers were typed out and duplicated with carbon paper, items were manually posted as debits and credits, and of course all the accounts were balanced by hand. Brian had to tear up the unwanted documents as there were no shredders, and all the secretaries dreaded being handed paperwork from Russell Wray which would be covered with his annotations and crossings-out and had to be retyped from scratch. At the end of each day all the desks were covered with white dust sheets and each morning Brian had to uncover partner Clifford Robins’ desk, dust it, and then manually write out the FT index from the Daily Telegraph for him.

By now the building was showing considerable signs of wear and tear. Brian recalls the day the glass car port collapsed (thankfully no one was injured) and also has memories of numerous boiler breakdowns and power failures, the latter often caused by overloaded circuits as staff used electric fan heaters to keep warm. Despite the many extensions and additions to The Limes, the gardens and lawn were still superb and maintained to an excellent standard by Doug Inns the gardener, although walking on the grass was absolutely forbidden.

Customer service, then as now, was an integral part of the business service, and this meant accommodating the clients when they brought in their annual accounts, no matter how their books were delivered. Brian Waller was called on to deal with the yearly paperwork for a fish merchant based in West Mersea. Their accounts had been delivered in fish crates, and Brian says, “The smell was so bad that we couldn’t bring them indoors, so they had to be stored in the old air raid shelter in the grounds”.

Eric Bland finally retired in the late 1980s, and with his departure the Colchester Permanent Building Society work ceased, as that part of the business merged with the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society. In 1990 after just over 70 years of business, and with some clients who had remained with them for the whole of that time, the two firms of Scrutton, Goodchild and Sanderson (in Ipswich) and Bland Fielden (in Colchester) merged to create Scrutton Bland. Their geographic range now covered Suffolk and north Essex, with branch offices in Ipswich, Colchester, Saxmundham, Diss, Witham and Frinton-on-Sea. Services included accountancy, tax, audit, corporate finance and independent business advice across multiple sectors ranging from agriculture, transport and distribution, construction, education, charity, medical and many more. 

The new century brought fresh changes as Scrutton Bland consolidated its position in the financial services sector and enhanced its credibility within the global financial field. Merrick Hill, a well-known local insurance broker based in Diss, was the fifth acquisition  to the Scrutton Bland group in 2004. In 2006 Scrutton Bland became a member of Nexia International, a worldwide network of independent firms of accountants, which enables the firm access to international referrals and high-level technical input for complex tax and audit issues. In 2007 Scrutton Bland Limited joined the Willis Commercial Network, part of Willis Towers Watson, the fourth largest insurance broker in the world. There were physical changes to the firm too as the Ipswich, Diss and Colchester offices all moved to new premises. Merrick Hill moved to a more convenient office space on the outskirts of Diss, and in February 2007 the seventy or so members of staff in Colchester relocated to a brand new open-plan office building in Colchester Business Park.