Ask anybody in the street who Charles Boot was, and you’d probably meet with a blank response. But you might be surprised to find that one of his legacies is now world famous.
Born in Sheffield in 1874, Charles joined his father, Henry Boot, as a builder and eventually took over the business in 1919. He married Bertha Andrews in 1897 and lived at Sugworth Hall in Bradfield Dale. She died in 1926 and Charles married a second time, to Kate Hebb, and later bought Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire.
Charles made Henry Boot and Son one of the largest contracting and housebuilding firms of the time. In 1931, he was credited as having built more houses than any other man or firm (21,644 in total, one thousand of these on Sheffield’s Manor estate), a figure surpassed in the inter-war years by a staggering 80,000 properties.
The company also built airfields for the Government during both World Wars and opened offices in Belfast, Glasgow, London, Athens and Barcelona. In 1927, the Athens office secured a massive £10million contract for land protection and reclamation across Greece, a project finally completed in 1952.
However, Charles Boot should be remembered for another quite remarkable undertaking. In 1934, he bought the Heatherden Hall estate, amongst pine trees at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, and embarked on the design and construction of a British film studio. Using techniques from house-building and copying the unit system adopted by Hollywood, he managed to complete construction within twelve months.
The rest, as they say, is history. The site subsequently became part of the J. Arthur Rank Organisation and Pinewood Studios went on to become home to some of the biggest film franchises – James Bond, Carry On, Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Marvel Universe – as well as producing hundreds of other TV series and films. Next year, Walt Disney Studios will move in, taking a ten-year lease.
Charles Boot died at a Sheffield nursing home in 1945, and Henry Boot PLC survives as one of Britain’s biggest land, property, development and construction companies.