Our History


Philip William Rygate was born in Wellington, N.S.W. in 1863. His father was a doctor in the town and had four sons, three of whom also became doctors. Philip was educated at Newington College and matriculated in 1879. He enrolled at the University of Sydney the following year in the Faculty of Arts and two years later he was the first undergraduate in Engineering. He went on to become one of the first three graduates in Engineering at that University in 1885. He was awarded the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Arts. He entered the State Public Service and was employed in the Public Works Department as a civil engineer and while there he qualified as a surveyor. A lot of his early work was associated with investigation surveys for the construction of weirs on the Darling River. In 1893 he left the Department and commenced private practice as a surveyor, civil engineer and valuer at Phoenix Chambers, No. l58 Pitt Street, Sydney.

Valuing comprised a substantial part of his practice in those early days. The year 1893 was a particularly bad year economically in New South Wales. The land boom of the 1880's burst, a number of banks closed and there were heavy retrenchments in the public service and elsewhere. It is not known whether P. W. Rygate was one of those retrenched or if he saw the writing on the wall and resigned from the public service.


In any case the year 1893 was not a good one in which to commence a survey practice. There was a great speculative land boom in the 1880's. In those days there was no proper control of subdivisions by local government or other authority, about the only restriction being the width of roads fixed at a minimum of 66 feet. The subdividers did not even have to clear the sites of roads, the main object being to create as many allotments as possible in a given area. Consequently land in what were then outlying places like Fairfield and Cabramatta, and even Kurrajong, was subdivided into 20 feet allotments and these lots were actually sold. In 1893 the bubble burst and in the following ten years or so, very few new subdivisions were registered.

Philip Rygate gradually built up his practice but later gave up the valuing side of it. Although he always maintained that valuation of land was primarily a surveyor's job, apparently it clashed with the interests of some of the City estate agents from whom he obtained a substantial part of his other work. He was a fine mathematician, scorning the use of calculating machines, such as they were in his time. He was expert in using contracted multiplication and division. Though recognised to be a skilled surveyor and engineer, he saw little need for business management practices. Having been brought up in the Victorian era with his father and brothers in medical practice, he considered it "infra dig" and "unprofessional" to send out accounts, that practice being for shop keepers and the like but not for the professional man. He would merely note his fee on one of the bottom corners of his report or covering letter.

He was in practice for ten years before being persuaded to keep a ledger or other proper financial records.

Philip Rygate maintained an active interest in the affairs of the surveying profession and was president of the Institution of Surveyors, NSW in 1917 and 1918. He was for many years a member of the Board of Examiners, the predecessor of the Board of Surveyors, and an examiner in mathematics for several other organisations including the Charters Towers School of Mines. His practice was primarily in and around Sydney and suburbs although he did a considerable amount of work in country areas, including surveys for the construction of Burrenjuck Dam and the incidental resumptions. Amongst his more well known Sydney subdivisions was the Archbold Estate which extended from the railway line at Roseville to Archbold Road.  He lived in Wyvern Avenue, Roseville.

Amongst Rygate's better known pupils in the early days was Patrick D. Walsh, State l00 yards sprint champion and later in private practice in Sydney almost up till the time of his death in 1977.


In 1914, Clarence James Lyle West was employed by Philip Rygate as an articled survey pupil. Lyle West's mother, who had been widowed at an early age, knew Philip Rygate, probably through several property dealings with which she had been involved, and it is believed she was responsible for introducing her son to Rygate. Lyle West was born in Sydney in l895 and attended Petersham Public School and later Sydney Technical High School where his name appears on the inaugural school roll. In August 1911, he commenced duties as a cadet draftsman in the Land Titles Office of the Registrar General's Department then located in the recently restored old stone building in Elizabeth Street adjoining the old Supreme Court building. He resigned from the Public Service in May, 1914 to join the staff of P.W. Rygate. From mid-1916 till late 1918, he served with the 12th Field Artillery Brigade AIF, in France, being mentioned in despatches in 1918. After the Armistice in November 1918, he attended the AIF Survey School at Southampton, sponsored by the First AIF Education Scheme. Following demobilisation on return to Australia, he resumed his former employment and was successful in qualifying in the Licensed Surveyor's Examination in September 1919. One day in January 1920, Lyle West arrived at the office to find a signwriter at work placing the sign "P.W. Rygate and West" in gold lettering on the glass office door. That was apparently the chief's way of letting young West know that he had been taken into partnership and that is the origin of the name "P.W. Rygate & West".


Clive Eric Anderson, born in 1883 in Bathurst, the son of a licensed surveyor and a cousin of Philip Rygate, joined the latter's staff in 1903. He served articles but failed to qualify for a licence. He continued to work as a surveyor on the staff and eventually became Philip Rygate's most senior and experienced assistant. Following the death of Rygate in May 1921, West and Anderson entered into a partnership and continued the practice of "P.W. Rygate and West". Following the enactment of the Surveyors Act in 1929 Clive Anderson was one of a small number of people who were recognised by the Surveyors Board and registered under special provisions of the Act to cover persons who had been practising surveying for a number of years, though not licensed.


The practice flourished during the busy 1920's till hit by the great economic depression of the early 1930's. Amongst the better known students who gained their qualifications with the firm in those days were J. F. McIlwraith, later Chief Surveyor at the Water Board, Cecil Rich, Charles R. Stoddart and Harold Preston-Stanley. The office was located in the old "Builders Exchange", No.12 Castlereagh Street (now part of the site occupied by the French Bank). The office overlooked the site now occupied by the Commonwealth Savings Bank in Martin Place. Evidently, it was not a common practice in those days to have a telephone on the building site and, during the construction of the Bank when the services of a surveyor were required, the foreman flew a certain coloured flag on his shed that was visible from Rygate and West's office. On completion of the bank building (then the New South Wales Government Savings Bank) the firm moved into office space on the fourth floor overlooking Martin Place and in later years, the small balcony was a very popular viewing platform for Martin Place parades. The rent was comparatively high but the decision to move was not unrelated to the fact that the firm at that time was receiving a considerable number of instructions from the bank's Home Loans Division.

Unfortunately, not very long after the move the depression struck, the number of staff was gradually reduced and the office space reduced to a minimum by sub-letting space to A.R. Lhuede, an agent and property dealer. For a few years, West and Anderson coped with what little work came their way, without any staff, assisting one another in the field or occasionally engaging casual chainmen when necessary.

In the early 30's numbers of business and professional people with little or no employment moved out of Sydney to take up rural pursuits and the Camden district was one which gained in population through this trend. Rygate and West established a "local office" in Camden which was attended on a regular day of the week. The "office" consisted of little more than a brass name plate in the office of R.A.C. Adams, a local long established solicitor. The Camden work really carried the practice through the worst of the depression years.

A commission to design a new dog racing track at Harold Park helped restore some stability to the practice. As well as designing the track, Lyle West was appointed the prime consultant, supervising the whole of the work including the installation of lighting and all the associated structures. He even designed a gate for starting boxes which he probably could have patented had he considered the future demand would have warranted such action. Dog tracks were not built every day.

When R.B. (Bob) Alderton started as an articled pupil in January 1937, West and Anderson were the partners and the staff consisted of field assistant Dick Gobert, chainman George Ford, who had been with the firm since about 1910, and Lyle West's niece Molly West, typist. Alan Wood, surveyor, was employed on a part-time basis by the day when required and if available. There were also in those days a number of experienced chainmen available for work on a casual basis and one or two of them would be employed by the day when required (in some notable cases, if sober). Bob Alderton was the first post-depression articled pupil in the firm, followed in 1938 by I.R. (Ben) Champion. About this time, a very senior and experienced draftsman, Stan Powys, retired from the Land Titles Office and was immediately employed full- time by the firm.

About mid-1937, West and Anderson dissolved their partnership, the former continuing the practice of P.W. Rygate and West. Thereafter, Anderson set up as a sole practitioner with an office in O'Connell Street. Dick Gobert went with Anderson and the remainder of the staff continued with the firm. By mutual agreement, Anderson took over the Camden work.

At the time of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the staff consisted of C.J.L. West, surveyor and principal, S. Powys, draftsman, G. Ford, chainman, Miss M. West, typist and Alderton and Champion, articled pupils. A big job then underway was the re-construction of Canterbury Racecourse which was completed about January 1940. A few weeks after the outbreak of war, an instruction was received from Beat Brothers, and old established firm of builders, to set out buildings at what was to become Ingleburn military camp. Time was the essence of this contract. Recruiting had commenced for the 2nd AIF and as units were formed, they were moved into the camp. The job involved the erection of several hundred weatherboard buildings on brick piers. Four pegs were set for each building and heights for the erection of piers were marked on each peg so that the bricklayers proceeded without using levels or squares, for there was no time for that. For the first few days, the bricklayers, followed by the carpenters, were literally on the heels of the surveyors leaving no room for mistakes. Over the Eight- Hour Day (now Labour Day) holiday weekend, West enlisted assistance from several other surveyors, including the late C.R. (Dick) Glanville and Alan Wood, and had four or five parties on the job. About two weeks later, A.W. Edwards, building contractor, got a contract (possibly a sub-contract to Beat Brothers) for a further several hundred buildings at the camp and the firm was also retained for these buildings. On completion of the work, the surveys for the land acquisition of several thousand acres were done for the Commonwealth Government.


Early in 1940, Alderton enlisted, followed later by Champion, leaving West with a somewhat depleted and ageing staff. About this time, the Taxation Department expanded its Sydney office in the Savings Bank building and all the private tenants had their leases terminated and were compensated by the Government. The office was moved to No.10 Castlereagh Street where it remained till about June 1942 when it was again moved, this time into part of Foxall and Lines' office at No.2B Castlereagh Street. West again enlisted, being commissioned in the War Graves Service and H.G. Foxall acted as "caretaker" of the practice for the remainder of the war years.


Lyle West returned to the practice in June 1945, first sharing premises with Foxall and Lines. The ever- faithful chainman George Ford was re-engaged and Roger Hogan was the first post-war articled pupil, commencing articles in July 1945. He recalls that within the first few weeks, he found himself at Sussex Inlet with George Ford pegging a subdivision, a job which had been dormant for the preceding six years. About this, time Alan Wood, having been discharged from the Army, resumed his earlier association with the firm. The office was moved to "Watson House" (later renamed "Lombard House") 9-13 Bligh Street. Alderton rejoined in December 1945, followed shortly after by Champion, and staff numbers slowly grew. Merv Crucie, chainman, was employed in February 1946 following his discharge from the Army "while waiting to be allocated a dairy farm in the Government's War Service Settlement Scheme". (He retired from the firm due to ill health in 1981). The next to join as an articled pupil was Gordon Fry - now in the private practice of McKittrick and Fry at Hornsby. K.J. (Keith) Smith resigned from the Public Service (Registrar General's Department) in August 1948 and commenced articles with the firm under the provisions of the War Service Education Scheme.

The early post-war years were years of feverish activity for surveyors. The combination of a chronic shortage of housing and an intensive migration programme called for rapid land development by both government agencies and private enterprise. The firm naturally got its share of this work and expanded accordingly. Shortly after the outbreak of war, West had been appointed surveyor to Greater Sydney Development Co. Pty. Ltd., which originally owned the whole of the Castlecrag, Sugarloaf and Castle Cove peninsulas in the Municipality of Willoughby. Development was suspended for the duration of war but in 1946, the company was anxious to proceed. A lot of preliminary work, contouring etc., and planning was done and the work proceeded as fast as finance would permit. About 300 lots were developed and sold before the company was taken over by Hookers and the firm's association with the development ceased.

West took Alderton into partnership in 1947 and about this time, Alan Wood resumed his own practice independently and moved his office to Roseville. In 1952, both Hogan and Smith joined the partnership, first as associates and later as full partners. In addition to the city and suburban work, quite a lot of country work was undertaken at that time. During the period 1947 to 1950, several large rural subdivisions were undertaken for the Lands Department under the War Service Land Settlement Scheme. Three of these were in the Monaro district. Having at least one survey party in that area, generally camping either in woolsheds or under canvas, quite a lot of other local instructions were received, mainly from solicitors in Cooma. In common with many other areas, it had been deprived of the services of a surveyor for the duration. For this reason, there was a considerable back-log of survey work in most country areas.

A member of the staff who left his mark in the 1950's was Jim Scott. He had been a senior draftsman at the Land Titles Office who reached the normal retiring age of 65 years during the war and, in company with other public servants at that time, was retained due to the acute manpower shortage. He eventually retired compulsorily about 1953, then being about 10 years over-age and was immediately employed by the firm. In addition to being a first class draftsman, he was a very keen mathematician and even at that age he was lightning-fast at computation. Unfortunately in later years, his eyesight failed and his drawing ability suffered, but he continued to work till he was well into his eighties. He finally retired to look after his wife who had gone completely blind.

Many students passed through the firm, earlier as articled pupils attending evening classes at the technical college and later as university students or new graduates. T.C. (Terry) Meakin, who having served under articles, gained registration in 1959, continued with the firm becoming a partner in 1968 but retiring in 1979 in order to employ his entrepreneurial skills in other fields. F.J. (Frank) Henville commenced articles in 1959 with the firm, qualified in 1966 and then spent two years overseas, firstly with the Canadian Dominion Government in Ottawa and later with a private firm in British Columbia. On returning to Australia in 1969, he was re- employed by the firm and joined the partnership in 1972.

In 1972, Lyle West retired from the partnership. Although over the preceding five years or so he had begun to "take it easy", up till that time he still took an active role in the affairs of the practice. He was retained as a consultant till his death in 1980.


In the early post-war years, the firm had several long-standing clients with properties at Sussex Inlet and Ulladulla. Both of these yielded quite a lot of subdivision work. In common with other country areas, the Shoalhaven area had missed the services of a surveyor and consequently, while working there, quite a lot of other work was picked up. From a small beginning the work grew until in 1966 it was decided to open a branch office at Milton. Terry Meakin was responsible for setting it up and R.W. (Bob) Barker, a graduate who had been with the firm since his student days moved into residence at Mollymook and took charge of the office with a small local staff. At first, the branch office was mainly concerned with several large subdivisions, the largest being Mollymook Beach Estate, whose owners were located in Sydney, but before long, quite a significant number of local instructions was being received.

In 1973, A.R. (Tony) Wright who had earlier served articles with the firm, had gained his qualifications and spent some time in Western Australia, returned to the firm and settled at Kiama where a small office was opened to handle several large subdivision instructions in that area. The work at Kiama did not expand to the extent that had been anticipated and when Bob Barker resigned to go to Local Government employment in l975, Tony Wright moved to Mollymook and took charge of the Milton office. The Kiama office was closed. Later, Wright moved back to Sydney and P.R. (Peter) Salmon, who had been with the firm for some time, moved to Mollymook and took over. The Milton office was moved to more modern premises in Ulladulla in 1981 when Salmon returned to Sydney and yet another product of the firm, A.C. (Alan)Doyle moved south and took charge at Ulladulla. He was followed in turn by John Mittelheuser, Greg Foster and Graham Beasley.


In September 1972, G.C.S. (Geoff) Foxall, who was the sole remaining partner of the firm, Foxall & Lines, amalgamated that firm with P.W. Rygate & West, becoming himself a partner in Rygate & West. Later in that year when more space was acquired in "Lombard House", the office of Foxall & Lines in "Aston House" Elizabeth Street was closed and the whole of the Sydney operation was physically amalgamated in Lombard House. In December 1973, following the breakdown in negotiations to get more space in "Lombard House", the office was moved to P &O Building, No.2 Castlereagh Street. It is interesting to note that this building was erected on the site of the former "Castlereagh House" which housed Foxall & Lines and its predecessors from its construction in 1912 to the time of its demolition and, of course, Rygate & West during the war years.

The practice of Foxall & Lines was the successor to that of Dobbie & Foxall, a practice originally established by S.R. Dobbie in the later part of the last century. Field Book No.l in the "Foxall & Lines" records related to the partnership Kemmis & Forster from 4th October 1890 to 3lst December 1890. It then appears that on lst January 1891, Dobbie who was registered in 1888, entered into the partnership known as Forster & Dobbie. Subsequently, this firm became Dobbie & Kenny. H.G. Foxall joined the firm in 1910 and the partnership became Dobbie & Foxall in 1914. O.H. (Os) Little was a partner from the early 1920's to the Depression in 1932. A.J. (Alf) Lines completed his training with Dobbie & Foxall in 1924 and on Dobbie's retirement in 1936, he returned to the firm as a partner of Foxall & Lines until his death in 1958. On the death of H.G. Foxall in 1966, Aubrey Ayres became a partner of Foxall, Lines & Ayres until June 1972 just prior to the amalgamation with Rygate & West.

Request a fee proposal

Ph: (02) 9262 6800   |  Email: surveyors@rygate.com.au

Get a Proposal