Span Profiles

All about the key players in SPAN


Leslie Bilsby - Joint Managing Director SPAN

Bilsby was born in Spalding, Lincolnshire. He attended evening classes at Regent Street Polytechnic were he studied painting. However his interests turned towards architecture and design and he went to work for a builders merchants in London. In 1937 he set up his own building company working for Connell, Ward and Lucas, Wells Coates, Denys Lasdun, Patrick Gwynne and Erno Goldfinger.

After serving as an infantry officer during the War he worked for architect turned developer Charles Henry Brown completing restoration and conversion work on a number of properties on the Cator Estate, Blackheath. One property, The Paragon, consisted of a crescent of fourteen houses. Each of the houses were converted into flats and the individual gardens were unified into one complete landscape.

As a resident of the Paragon, Bilsby formed an association of leaseholders who were responsible for the maintenance of the building and landscaping. As secretary of the association Bilsby was responsible for collecting subscriptions. After purchasing land in Blackheath, Bilsby joined Townsend and Henry Cushman to form Priory Hall 1954. Townsend, Cushman and Bilsby (who gave up all his outside business interests) formed SPAN Developments Ltd. in 1957. Within the SPAN organisation Bilsby’s responsibities included buying land, generating ideas and concepts. His chief ambition was to provide SPAN with the opportunity to get involved in a large scale comprehensive development.

Robin Bilson - Executive Director Span Kent

Bilson was born in Highgate in 1927. In 1944 he worked for an advertising company in London before serving with the Royal Army Corps during the War. From 1953 to 1960 he was employed by Lintas - Unilever’s advertising agency. Bilson then worked for brief periods at a number of agencies before before becoming head of a large public relations organisation in 1965.

In 1967 he formed Grenfell Bilson Ltd. specialising in marketing and promoting the services of a number of design practices. During that year Grenfell Bilson Ltd. were employed by SPAN to publicise the ‘Topping Out’ ceremony for the first completed houses in New Ash Green.

Bilson came to recognise Span’s high standards of design and was similarly interested in the concept of ‘community’ and ‘comprehensive development’. Bilson was subsequently offered the job of General Manager of New Ash Green and became an Executive Director of SPAN Kent Developments Ltd. In fulfilling this role Bilson was chiefly concerned with sales promotion and the marketing of New Ash Green.

Ivor Cunningham - Architect - Eric Lyons & SPAN

Cunningham was born in Kent in 1928. He went to Dartford Grammar School and then pursued an architectural course at Medway School of Art. After attending the Architectural Association he studied for a Landscape Diploma at King’s College, University of Durham. In November 1955 Cunningham was invited to join Eric Lyons and Partners on the strength of his landscaping expertise. Lyons shared Cunningham's belief in the benefits of closely integrating buildings and their surroundings.

Providing landscaping schemes for the SPAN projects he become a partner in Eric Lyons practice in 1963.

Sadly Ivor passed away on the 15th March 2007.

Eric Lyons - Architect - Eric Lyons & Partners

Eric Lyons was born in 1912. His father was a toy designer.In 1930 he was articled to the architect Stanley Beard while attending evening classes at Regents Street Polytechnic (where he met Townsend). After qualifying he worked for T.P. Bennett and then Gropius and Fry. In 1938 he designed a small office behind the Odeon, Leicester Square for Andrew Mather. Later that year Lyons and Townsend formed an architectural practice. During the War Lyons worked for Harry Weedon designing factories and hostels. After the War he resumed his practice with Townsend. The housing scheme he devised with Townsend in1948 in Twickenham demonstrated how the landscaping of the common space could provide a visual link between the four maisonette blocks.

During the 1940’s Lyons designed the best selling Tecta Range for the furniture manufacturer Packet. With Townsend as developer and Lyons as consultant architect the building of Parkleys begun in 1954.By the early 1960’s Lyons had designed housing schemes for SPAN at Blackheath, Beckenham, Twickenham, Teddington, Putney and Cambridge. Eric Lyons and Partners had also been involved in the design of high density housing estates for local authorities in London and Southampton. Lyons approach was all embracing. He believed that the architect should provide a service to society. Lyons was convinced that residents’ societies helped engender a sense of belonging and community. Lyons performed the function of ‘architectural generalist’ taking an active involvement in the design, town planning and landscaping requirements of the SPAN housing schemes.

Geffrey Paulson Townsend - Joint Managing Director: SPAN

Townsend was born in 1911. His father was chief designer at the Royal School of Art Needlework. He met Eric Lyons at Regent Street Polytechnic, and discovered that they shared common interest contemporary design. Townsend formed an architectural practice with Eric Lyons in 1938.

After the War Townsend & Lyons became involved in war damage, house conversion and alteration work. Townsend began to investigate the idea ‘comprehensive development’ and the problem of maintaining and managing the common parts of this type of project. In 1948 Lyons and Townsend designed Oaklands a housing scheme in Whitton, Twickenham which comprised of four maisonette blocks set within landscaped grounds. For this scheme Lyons and Townsend established what effectively became the first residents’ society.

Townsend’s thoughts turned increasingly towards the organisational, administrative and legal complexities of communal management (it was these issues that came to define his role with SPAN). Townsend resigned from The Royal Institute of British Architecture and in 1953 formed a development company Bargood Estates Ltd. with Henry Cushman. This arrangement would allow him to put his ideas regarding communal management into practise and act as client for Eric Lyons. That year the company acquired a piece of land on Ham Common, Richmond. With Lyons as consultant architect this site became Parkleys (See ‘Key SPAN’ page). In 1954 Townsend, Cushman and Leslie Bilsby (who had acquired some land in Blackheath) formed Priory Hall Ltd. In 1957 the same personnel then formed SPAN Developments Ltd.

Ernest Haynes - (Chairman SPAN Developments Ltd) & SPAN Kent (New Ash Green)

Ernest Haynes was born in 1904 in London. After attending Alleyns School inDulwich, Haynes worked for a number of insurance and stock exchange houses. In 1937 he joined the Royal London Mutual Insurance Society. After being appointed to the Board in 1952, Haynes became Chairman of the Royal Londonin 1956. In his capacity as Chairman of the Royal London Haynes had been invited to provide funding for a number of private housing projects. As potential investment opportunities Haynes remained unintersted until he met Leslie Bilsby (see Profiles: Leslie Bilsby-Joint Managing Director: Span).

Haynes was already aware of Span’s reputation and had been to see Parkleys in Surrey (see Key Projects: Parkleys-Ham Common, Surrey). In discussions with Bilsby, Haynes was impressed by Span’s high standards of design and the ambitious concept of creating a new, integrated community. After deliberations with his Board, the company elected to provide Span financial assistance for the development of New Ash Green. In 1962 one third of the equity of Span Developments Ltd. was acquired by the Royal London and Haynes became Chairman of SPAN Developments Ltd & Span Kent New Ash Green.