David Wallis in Masters robes

Past Master David Anthony Wallis 1932-2022 Obituary

David was Master in 1995 having become a Liveryman in 1977. He died on 7 August 2022.

David was born in a nursing home in Beckenham, Kent on the 24th November 1932. At that time his mother and father were living in Forest Hill, South London, over a parade of shops they owned in Dartmouth Road, where his mother ran a dress shop by the name of Jerry Dean as well as a lending library under the name of Wallis & Wallis.
By 1932 his father had given up his office at No.5 Hatton Garden, where he ran a successful high class jewellery business, with David’s mother as his assistant.

David commenced formal schooling at the age of 5 going to St Winifred’s Junior School in Mayow Road, Forest Hill, where he stayed until the age of 8 when he and his mother moved to Coulsdon, Surrey, together with a very newly arrived baby sister, this was due to the dangers from German bombing raids on London.

Unfortunately, his mother had to go into hospital for an operation, a few days after which she died from an embolism. Leaving both children to the safe-keeping of David’s father. Due to the very young age of David’s sister she was taken by an aunt to bring up within her family, David was kept in the excellent hands of a loving father. David and his father moved to Watford after their London home was extensively damaged by a landmine falling on the nearby railway station.

David continued his education at Victoria School, Watford. Up until he and his father left to return to Forest Hill to supervise the reconstruction of the family house, while living in a caravan in the front garden.

When the house was eventually made habitable his father invited Mrs. Beatrice Williams to join him from Watford as their housekeeper.

David left school at 14 to commence apprentice training, arranged by his father, with the microscope maker, Charles Baker of High Holborn. At that time Baker’s was a leading firm of scientific instrument makers and dealers, with a large showroom next to the Old Holborn Empire, which was demolished after receiving a direct hit by a German bomb.

David served a four year apprenticeship with Charles Baker, which covered every aspect of instrument making, as well as their application, including microscopes, surveying instruments, astronomical telescopes, and professional photographic equipment and ophthalmic’s. After serving his apprenticeship he was called up for National Service, entering the RAF as a flight instrument technician serving his two years at RAF West Raynham in Norfolk in the Air Fighter Development Squadron, which was attached to RAF Boscome Down.

Just before the end of his two years of National Service he decided to join a small firm called
C.S. Pyser, with an office at 329 High Holborn, who were distributors for Wray binoculars and photographic lenses, as well as a small range of educational microscopes, sold under the name of Britex (Ex British) made for them by Chandler & Dicker of Boxmoor, as well as hand magnifiers and pocket telescopes.

C.S. Pyser was a real family business, consisting of the father Charles Pyser, his two daughters Clarice and Anne, their cousin Dennis Pyser, Nat Esterman and Albert the storeman/packer.

David was able to join the Pyser family at £10 per week, a great increase on the 25 shillings he was getting from Charles Baker and the £3-10 shillings from the RAF. The job also included the use of a new quarter ton Ford van (Heater and passenger seat were extra). The job was to call on shops selling optical instruments and photographic equipment. The territory covered was above a line from the Wash to Pembrokeshire and up to the Scottish Border.

Expenses were limited to spending no more that £1 per night for accommodation; however a basic hotel room in a commercial hotel was around 10/6 plus 2/6 for dinner. These rooms were listed in a magazine called “On The Road”, published by the Commercial Travellers Association of which David was a member.

During his travels around the country he was able to visit shops that had instruments sitting on the shelf, which they had been unable to sell. David’s knowledge of the instrument business enabled him to make an offer these items, which he could then sell back in London at a profit. This led to attending government surplus auction sales, where the company could purchase Ex. WD Binoculars and telescopes at bargain prices.

One day there was a government surplus sale at the \/YD depot at Rotherwas near Hereford. In which were 125 A4 Vernier Theodolites (Still in the protective wrapping), which he knew he could sell, due to the demand by the construction industry engaged in re-building programmes after the war. In those days UK manufacturers were unable to keep up with the demand and customers had to endure a delay in delivery of about three months.
With the trusting support of the Pyser family, David was able to have a loan of £3000 from the Westminster Bank, with the proviso that they could have the money returned within twelve months; this loan enabled every lot to be purchased. The demand proved to be such that the investment was returned within three months and the total sales over the year were four times the initial investment.

Such was the success of this enterprise it was decided to form a separate company, which was called Survey & General Instrument Company of which David was given a 25% share but instructed to work for it only part time.

This was proof positive that there was a continuing demand for surveyor’s instruments, if only one could find a manufacturer who could supply the right equipment at the right time. Good fortune prevailed, a Swiss company called Kern was looking for a UK agent and having heard of SGI called the office and asked if there was an interest in becoming their UK agent. At that time Kern was unknown in the UK and was comparatively expensive and of unconventional design.

It was agreed that David should travel to Switzerland to investigate this opportunity (The air fare was £42, A lot of money at that time) The Kern Company was located in the town of Aarau, about an hour by train from Zurich. When David arrived, he was amazed at the size of the Kern factory, which covered a considerable area, employing some 1000+ workers. David explained that he could only afford to purchase one theodolite and one surveyor’s level as samples, and when they were sold he could buy their replacement.
Because of the inability to stock a number of instruments, it was not expected that Kern would choose SGI as their agent.

A month went by and a letter arrived from Switzerland saying that they wanted SGI as their agent (Many years later David found out that SGI were the only company offering to represent them}

Armed with his sample instruments he commenced to call on construction companies demonstrating the unique Kern instruments, which at the time were much more expensive due to the then 45% import duty.

Kern instruments were also unconventional, with cams rather than levelling screws, utilising levelling head tripods. However these disadvantages were overcome by SGl’s ability to supply on demand.

The fact that Kern had appointed SGI as their agent for the UK encouraged other Swiss instrument manufacturers to entrust SGI with their representation for the UK market. Within 10 years SGI became the largest Kern agent in the world, outside the USA, with a turnover of many millions of Swiss francs.

As Kern developed new instruments for diverse applications it was necessary for SGI to employ specialist sales personal who headed up new divisions within the company, including Photogrammetry, Metrology and Industrial Fine Measurement.

However David never invested in a new venture without first testing the potential market himself, before making any investment in terms of money and personnel. It was necessary for him to go on crash courses to take onboard the technology, sufficiently to be able to demonstrate the features of a new instrument and its application.

He joined the British Photogrammetric Society, eventually becoming its President as well as the British Cartographic Society, The Society of University Cartographers. The Field Survey Association (Military Survey} for which he served 40 years on their Council as Secretary, Treasurer and Chairman, changing the name to The Defence Surveyors Association to reflect better the membership profile as well as commencing the publication the of DSA “Ranger” magazine.

David served on the Divisional Council of the land & Hydrographic Survey Division of the
RICS, for which he was made an Associated Member in 1989 and in 1998 he was given the honour of being made an Honorary Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (HonRICS}, very few of the membership have this title.

From 1956 to 1990 he worked with Prof. D.J. Hodges of the Mining Dept. Nottingham University in the application of precision Gyro Theodolites for underground correlation, which was also used on the survey control of the Channel Tunnel. Nottingham University Senate endowed in perpetuity an annual student award and called it The Wallis Award. David was one of a team appointed by the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG} to endeavour to re-establish the Struve Meridian Arc as an International Historic Monument by UNESCO. This successful project was led by Prof. Jan de Graeve and Jim Smith as President and Secretary, David was in the background looking after the finances.

Always being interested in sales and marketing he become a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, being appointed President of the Surrey and South East London Branch, which he held for a number of years. He also conducted seminars for the RICS on marketing the profession.

In 1976, he was sponsored by Past Masters Charles Handrott and Arthur Smith (Wray Optical} to apply ‘for membership of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers of the City of London.
He was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1977 and entered the Livery the same year.
I after serving on a number of committees, in 1995 he was elected as the 40th Master of the Company. In 1998 he was also made a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers.

In 1962 David was made a Freemason in the Star Lodge and maintained a close association with Freemasonry for a period of over 50 years. He was Master of a number of lodges and Chapters, the most recent being in 2012 as Master of the Farriers Lodge in the City of London.

In 1996 he was invited to become the President of The Association of the Laboratory Supply Industry (BLWA).

He retired in 1992 as Chairman of what was now Pyser (Holdings) Ltd and handed over the group of companies to the management, assisting them in achieving a management buyout. Just after retirement he was approached by the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development. (Turn Around Management Programme), asked if it would be possible for him to take a two year contract to turn around a large Russian optical factory, which was about to close down due to lack of orders and management direction.

With the agreement of his wife Edna he took up the challenge and signed the contract. It would take too much time to explain the details of this venture, suffice it to say it was a great success. The company in question was the Jupiter Optical Works, employing some 1000 workers, with no work; it was transformed into a workforce of 600, with a full workload, and just at the end of David’s contract, Jupiter was qualified as an ISO9001 approved company.

He married his wife Edna in 1956, who he met while working in the North West. They have been an inseparable couple making a very successful team, both socially and in business. In 1995, when David was Master of his livery company, by a million to one chance he was united with his sister Gina, after 55 years, when his friend, City Toastmaster, Bernard Sullivan and his wife Rosie attended a wedding in Switzerland and happened to sit at the same table as David’s sister and her husband during the reception, where David’s name came up in conversation.

After retirement in 1992 David and Edna moved to Bexhill-on-Sea where they developed many lasting friendships, involving themselves in local clubs and social activities.

Other activities:-
Coin Operated Telescopes Fujinon TV Lenses Satellite Trackers etc.