Bell Ingram celebrates milestone 120th anniversary

H. J. Bell.

Bell Ingram has witnessed and adapted to significant change since Henry J. Bell established the company in 1899. This has included devastating global conflict, periods of acute financial uncertainty and great advances in technology.

One hundred and twenty years ago, the country was in the final years of the Victorian era. People had not yet felt the strain of World War and the motor car had only just been invented. Train and steamer had, however, opened up the Highlands. The landed estates were in their heyday and sporting opportunities were being developed. Large scale private land ownership continued to thrive relatively unchanged through most of the 19th century.

It is interesting to note that an official survey of land ownership in the United Kingdom carried out by the Government in 1872-73 discovered that only 7,000 people owned 80% of the entire country. However, the situation was even more extreme in Scotland where 659 people owned 80% of the land area, 118 people owned 50% of the land area, and over half of the Highlands was owned by only 15 people.

Over the last 120 years, the extent of the very large estates has declined with, for example, the break up of the vast Sutherland Estates and also Lord Leverhulme’s Estate on Lewis and Harris. The average size of estates is now much smaller and there has been a significant decrease in the number of owners holding estates larger than 5,000 acres. In fact, it has been estimated that fewer than 500 people own half of all privately-owned land in Scotland. That is one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in Europe.

1899: H.J. Bell’s letter announcing the formation of the company.

The last 20 years in particular has presented some very spcific challenges and opportunities in terms of the new Scottish Parliament, land reform, National Parks, information technology and climate change. However, Bell Ingram is ideally placed to adapt to the continuing pace of change. The company has expanded considerably since those early days in Charlotte Street and our team now embraces all aspects of rural land and business management with expertise spanning forestry, GIS mapping, estate agency and architecture.

What will the next 120 years hold? It is an exciting, maybe even frightening prospect, but the good land agent will have to keep up with whatever it holds, and one suspects that the speed of change over the next 120 years will certainly be now slower than the last 120.


Victorian beginnings

Henry J. Bell began practicing on 13th November 1899 at 18 Charlotte Street, Perth. The notification letter (pictured) outlines the nature of work that Bell would willingly undertake, ranging from preparing Estate Plans to Civil Engineering work. The notice clearly illustrates his marketing style. It further indicates the style of writing at the time with the finishing phrase of ‘Your Obedient Servant’.

Cecil W. Ingram

Cecil W. Ingram founded his Surveyors practice at 90 Princes Street, Edinburgh, in 1934, having previously been a partner in that office with Knight, Frank Rutley. In 1951 the firm became C.W. Ingram and Sons when his sons Paul and John joined the practice as partners. The practice specialised in the sale, purchase and valuation of landed estates, farms, hotels and country houses, latterly moving to 7 Walker Street in the capital in 1964.

The Merger

Announced in the press as “Two Major Scots Firms to Merge’, the merger between H.J. Bell & Co. and C.W. Ingram & Co. Estate Agents in Edinburgh occurred on 31st March 1971. In a handwritten letter to John Darling Jnr, then Bell Ingram Chairman, following their merger discussions, John Ingram points out their willingness for the merger to be formed and starts planning the strategic ‘plan of attack’ for the publicity campaign and how best to tackle the forthcoming property season of Spring 1971.


H. J. Bell & Co. moved from 18 Charlotte Street to Durn in 1962. This magnificent riverside mansion was originally built for Surgeon Major Frederick Robert Wilson around 1880, and during its long history also housed the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Inland Revenue.

Bell Ingram today

Bell Ingram has a team 130 professional staff working across 11 UK offices (Perth, Aberdeen, Ambleside, Ayr, Bonar Bridge, Forfar, Inverness, Morpeth, Northwich, Oban and Thirsk). 2019 saw a new face at the helm when Mark Mitchell moved into the Managing Partner role and Graham Lumby assumed the position of Chairman. Graham’s tenure as Managing Partner saw the firm through from buy-out to a thriving business from a turnover of £1.7 million to £6 million, opening five new offices and more than doubling staff numbers.

Published on 13th November 2019