The Hong Kong Excavation, Pile Driving and Construction Company Ltd and the Charles L Shank photograph album

Tymon Mellor: The question was, “Who is Charles L Shank and what was his connection to the Shek Lai Pui Reservoir?”. A rather open question, but one that has led to an interesting journey.

The questioner had acquired a large format book with 122 professional photographs of pre-war Hong Kong construction sites. Sample photographs provided documented the construction of the Shek Lai Pui Service Reservoir, Aberdeen Upper Reservoir and Kowloon Byewash Reservoir. The cover of the bound book is embossed with the title, “Charles L Shank”, so who was he?

Hugh Farmer: May I provide a little background information about Tymon’s “questioner”? Charles Reading initially left this comment, “Who was Charles L. Shank and what was his connection to the construction of the reservoirs?” attached to our article, Shek Pik Reservoir – Construction. Intrigued, I contactly Mr Reading directly.

He replied, The reason I ask is that I have a very large format book with professional photographs documenting the construction of the Shek Lai Pui Service Reservoir, the Aberdeen Upper Reservoir and photos of various buildings and sites around HK with hand written captions generally addressing construction. The cover of the book has the name Charles L. Shank embossed in center. I imagine he was some sort of construction supervisor?

Charles added information about his wife and himself. We live in central/coastal California. Just above Santa Cruz in the small town of Felton. I retired last year from 35 years as a supervisor with the trash/recycle company that services Santa Cruz county. I told my people that photo collections, photo books, intact old magazines and newspapers (pre 1960), if found, were to be brought to me. Needless to say, over the years I ended up with some very interesting stuff such as Mr. Shanks photo album. I’m sure it was a product of a house clean out after someone passed away.

The photographs included in Tymon’s article below of Shek Lai Pui Service Reservoir, Kowloon Byewash and the Aberdeen Upper Reservoir, all come from the Charles L Shank photograph album and were kindly sent to us by Charles Reading. Both Tymon and myself would like to offer Charles our grateful thanks for this marvellous contribution to the industrial history of Hong Kong.

01 Book Cover

Common Theme

TM:It was common practise to prepare a book of project photos for key members of the management team, as both a memento and a visual ’CV’ for future projects. Thus, this collection could be either for the Government teams supervising the works or for the contractor undertaking the work. To establish which team the book was prepared for, it is necessary to determine what do the three projects have in common? The answer is simple. All were constructed by The Hong Kong Excavation, Pile Driving and Construction Company Ltd.

The Hong Kong Excavation, Pile Driving and Construction Company Ltd

The Hong Kong Excavation, Pile Driving and Construction Company Ltd, according to company records[i] was formed in Hong Kong on the 14 May 1921 and was dissolved on the 17 February 1956. Digging a little deeper also identifies a company of the same name registered in Shanghai[ii].

Shanghai

The founding Chairman of the company was Mr C Montague Ede[iii], a member of the Hong Kong establishment, member of the Legislative Council[iv] and General Manager of the Union Insurance Society of Canton Ltd.

Amongst his many good deeds, Mr C Montague Ede promoted the idea of improved housing conditions and proposed establishing a ‘Garden City’ in Kowloon. His initial plans floundered but he eventually secured a site and with his construction company, built Kowloon Tong.

HK EdeMemorialStone

Following the death of Mr Ede death in May 1925, his son Colonel Bertram Montague Ede, took over the role of company Chairman.

As an interesting side note, the elder Mr Ede bequeathed his estate to his wife Gertrude. When she died in July, 1937 her obituary in the South China Morning Post, noted that “During the war she identified herself with various charities and schemes for raising money, and was responsible for the organisation of tombolas”.

Enter the Shanks

The 1924 jurors[v] list identified three gentlemen named Shank;

Forename Occupation Company Address
Carl Bradley Manager Chino American Industrial Developing Co Repulse Bay Hotel
Charles Le Roy Superintendent Chino American Industrial Developing Co Kingsclere
Edward Dean Architect E D Shank Orient Building

 

The Chino American Industrial Developing Co was associated with cement and plaster products and became the Simplex Plaster Company Ltd, January 1924 when the latter company was floated on the stock market with Carl and Edward Shank as Directors. An article in 1924, describes Simplex as a branch of the Edward D Shank Co of Chicago[vi]. It would seem the Shanks came from a family of material suppliers from Chicago. Simplex erected a brick plant in both Kowloon Tong and Kowloon Bay, manufacturing bricks, roofing tiles, plaster board and plaster.

By 1925 the three Shanks had all joined the Hong Kong Excavation Pile Driving and Construction Co as Manager (Carl), Superintendent (Charles), and Architect (Edward). Charles’ role as the Superintendent would have made him responsible for getting the jobs done. He was the manager on site sorting out the day-to-day problems. All three would all remain with the company until 1930 when only Charles remained and had been promoted to the company’s Vice President.

The company had a number of major projects, but for some reason, in November 1931 a winding-up order was sought and issued to the company, one of the petitioners being Mr E D Shank[vii]. The 1932 juror list has no employees of the company in the register.

Hong Kong Construction

For the ten years that the company was active, it set a reputation for quality work within tight time frames. The company was recognised for its innovation, bringing new techniques and construction methods and equipment to Hong Kong. The dam designs, one assumes developed by Edward Shank have been recognised for their unique architectural features and as such have considerable heritage value[viii] and are now registered structures.

The projects the company undertook include:

1924 September – Construction of Kowloon Tong, “Garden City”, as promoted by Mr C Montague Ede and designed by Mr E D Shank. The company adopted an early use of a “steam-navvy” a steam driven excavating machine. The works management noted that it “makes the coolies look sick”[ix] .

1924 October – New gaol in Ngau Shi Wan requiring the driving of 2,500 Raymond Concrete Piles using a “giant pile driver”, which was sufficiently innovative for the Governor to pay a visit.

Raymond Piles

1927 Tung Shan Hotel – An eight-storey reinforced concrete hotel, faced with granite and Shanghai plaster.

1927 – Formation of 21 building sites on Hong Kong Island

1927 April – Sham Shui Po Camp – Construction of facilities for military authorities at Sham Shui Po in 45 days including 84 huts, brick guard houses and all the associated infrastructure. Mr C L Shank, supervised the 5,000 men mobilised to complete the works in record time. The structures included 36 platoon huts, each capable of housing 34 men, four big messes with kitchens and dining rooms, armoury, carpenters’ shop, and shops for a shoe maker and a tailor.

1928 Wong Nei Chong Nullah

As for the photographs that started this exploration in to the company’s activities, they covered the three projects described below.

1928 Shek Lai Pui Service Reservoir

Site formation works for the service reservoir with the new Kowloon reception reservoir dam and filtration plant in the background (January 1929).

Shek Lai Pui Service Reservoir

Construction of the eastern side of the service reservoir roof, the timber shuttering has been set ready for the placement of steel reinforcement, and note the ramp in the background to the concrete plant and the steel mast and cables to deliver the concrete to the roof structure (November 1929).

01 Image3 C

Completed eastern portion of the structure, ready to commence commissioning. Note the concrete delivery track in the foreground (April 1930).

01 Image4 C

Completed eastern portion of the Shek Lai Pui Service Reservoir (April 1930).

01 Image5 C

1929 Kowloon Byewash Reservoir

Clearance of the valley sides to locate the bed rock. Note the steep access roads and the lack of mechanical equipment, with everything being undertaken by hand (September 1929).

Image8 C

Excavation for the dam foundation to locate competent bed rock. Note the timber water channel on the left to accommodate the remaining stream water (February 1930).

Image9 C

With completion of the dam foundation, construction of the main dam continued with placing large rocks within the placed concrete. Note the wires and booms for the delivery of concrete from the batching plant (August 1930).

Image10 C

Dam construction progressing along with the completion of the draw-off pipe bridge. Note the steel masts and booms for materials delivery (September 1930).

Image11 C

Upstream view of the dam nearing completion showing the different water draw-off points and impounded water (May 1931)

Image12 C

Completed dam structure (September 1931)

Abd Image7

1929 Aberdeen Upper Reservoir

 Clearing the soil from the hillside to identify the location of the bed rock (November 1929)

Abd Image1 C

Slope clearing. Note the steep access tracks and use of rail cars to move excavated material clear of the site (November 1929)

Abd Image2 C

Excavation for the dam foundations. Note the timber water bypass on the right and temporary bridge to allow equipment to cross the valley (May 1930)

Abd Image3 C

Ready to commence placement of foundation concrete. Note the cut trench where a soft seam of slope material was located and had to be removed, and also the temporary mat shed accommodation (May 1930).

Abd Image4 C

Dam foundation complete and works continue with the main dam (December 1930)

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Construction of the water draw-off pipe bridge with the water cushion in the foreground and concrete placing boom (March 1931).

Abd Image6 C

Epilogue

It would seem that Carl and Charles Shank subsequently left Hong Kong, leaving Edward to continue his architectural practice. However, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) headlines indicate that he lead a colourful life, including:

  • No Rear Light, A motorist fined (Jan 1924)
  • Car in a Pond, Deserted after accident on Tai Po Road (May 1928)
  • Ferry Incident, Kowloon Residents Trouble with Motor Driver (October 1929)
  • Mr E D Shank Sued by an Employee (November 1932)
  • Claim for Loans, European Defendant Fails to Appear (May 1936)

Edward was clearly a man recognised in society, for a gossip section of the SCMP reported in July 1932:

“It is learned that Madam Shirley Noelte, who played over the radio the other night is the daughter of Mr E D Shank of Hongkong and step daughter of Mrs Shank”.

For a few pre-war years, The Hong Kong Excavation, Pile Driving & Construction Company Ltd with Charles L Shank were at the forefront of the Hong Kong construction industry. As a legacy to this, many of their works remain today, and which are now recognised for the great accomplishments of their time. A worthy goal for any organisation.

Sources

[i] https://webb-site.com/dbpub/orgdata.asp?p=154041

[ii] https://www.academia.edu/33539632/Gerschenkron_Redux_Analysing_New_Evidence_on_Joint-Stock_Enterprise_in_Pre-War_Shanghai

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Montague_Ede

[iv] SCMP Relief Appointments 24 Mar 1924

[v] https://gwulo.com/jurors-list-1924

[vi] SCMP Building Supplies 10 Jul 1924

[vii] SCMP An Oder for Winding Up Issued 25 November, 1931

[viii] Historic Building Appraisal Kowloon Byewash Reservoir (Dam & Value House) Kam Shan Country Park, Sha Tin, New Territories, Number 225

[ix] SCMP New Gaol Site 4 Mar 1925

This article was first posted on 9th April 2020.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Construction and Opening of Shek Pik Reservoir, rare French film 1962
  2. Tam Shiu-hong (譚肇康 1875-1961) – HK Construction Industry Pioneer and Supporter of Sun Yat-sen’s Revolution
  3. Cheong Hing Co/Cheung Hing Construction (祥興建造) – leading building contractor
  4. Wan Hin & Co (德榮建築) a.k.a. Tak Wing Construction
  5. The Hongkong Engineering & Construction Company Ltd 1922-1993

Related Indhhk articles by Tymon Mellor:

  1. Hong Kong Water Supply – The Tai Tam Tuk Scheme First Section
  2. Hong Kong Water Supply – The Tai Tam Tuk Scheme – Second Section
  3. Hong Kong Water Supply – The Politics of Water Supply and Rider Main Districts (1890-1903)
  4. Hong Kong Water Supply – Kowloon Reservoir
  5. Hong Kong Water Supply – Tai Tam Upper Dam (formally Tytam Reservoir)
  6. Hong Kong Water Supply – Kowloon Peninsula
  7. Hong Kong Water Supply – Pok Fu Lam Reservoir
  8. Hong Kong Water Supply – Mint Dam and Other Early Structures
  9. Hong Kong Water Supply – The Aberdeen Reservoirs Scheme
  10. Hong Kong Water Supply – Shek Lei Pui and Kowloon Byewash Reservoir
  11. Hong Kong Water Supply – Shing Mun First Section

Our Index contains many other articles about Hong Kong reservoirs.

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