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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lewis, Allen Charles (1891–1970)

by John Perkins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Allen Charles Lewis (1891-1970), businessman, was born on 16 April 1891 at Chatham, Kent, England, son of Allen Lewis, builder's clerk, and his wife Ann Jane, née Platt. Young Allen was educated at Frogmore School. He described himself as a man of 'independent means' when he married Beatrice Monica Atkinson on 13 July 1912 at the register office, Kingston, Surrey. Soon after, he sailed for Australia as the representative of the Indented Bar & Concrete Engineering Co. Ltd, London. He helped to form (initially as company secretary) Country Concrete Constructions Ltd (registered 1916). Most of its contracts were for rural projects.

In 1920 the firm was reconstituted as Concrete Constructions Ltd but it remained a private company. Lewis built up a substantial shareholding and served as chairman. Projects in the 1920s included the reconstruction of Mark Foy Ltd's store in Liverpool Street, the grandstand at the Royal Agricultural Society showground, the Government Savings Bank building in Martin Place, the Menzies Hotel, Melbourne, and reinforced concrete highways. Dubbed 'Concrete Lewis' by the Bulletin, he visited the United States of America in 1927. On his return he opened relations with insurance companies and in the depressed 1930s won contracts for office buildings, including the new headquarters of Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd at Durban, which was the basis for Concrete Construction's development as a major building firm in southern Africa.

Under Lewis's control as chairman and managing director, Concrete Constructions operated as a contractor for building projects rather than as a 'developer'. The company submitted tenders, used subcontractors and relied on progress payments to finance its projects. 'A.C.' (as he preferred to be known) acquired a thorough knowledge of developments in construction methods and a considerable interest in finance. He was an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London. Nevertheless, his skills were essentially in the areas of information, costing and organization, and in negotiating contracts, supervising large construction projects and selecting personnel.

Lewis was a director of Colonial Mutual, the Perpetual Trustee Co. Ltd and Australia Hotel Co. Ltd; he was later to become chairman of Mercantile Mutual Insurance Co. Ltd and a State director of the National Bank of Australasia. In October 1939 he was appointed to the Commonwealth government's Capital Issues Advisory Board. Thirteen months later he was made honorary 'business manager' of the Australian Army, with a seat on the Military Board. His responsibilities incorporated the acquisition, storage and distribution of military equipment, other than ordnance and explosives. After a month he became seriously ill and retired. By that time, however, he had produced an interim report on the army's supply organization and some of his recommendations were adopted. His entrepreneurial talents were subsequently applied to constructing Fairmile motor launches for the navy. In the postwar period the impact of his company on Sydney was even more pronounced: among his projects was the Australian Mutual Provident Society Ltd's building on Circular Quay, described as Australia's first 'skyscraper'.

For relaxation, Lewis enjoyed tennis in his younger days, followed an almost daily routine of a few rounds of boxing with Joe Wallis at his gymnasium, took morning swims in the surf with the Bronte Splashers and played golf. He acquired an enduring passion for horse-racing and won the 1952 Caulfield Cup with Peshawar, which he owned jointly with Sir Sydney Snow. Lewis belonged to the Australian and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 6 December 1970 at his Bellevue Hill home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was sworn for probate at £1,523,707.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Angly, Concrete Constructions (no date)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 1927, 7 Jan 1930, 17 Oct 1968, 9 Apr 1971
  • [M. Zvirblis], submission to the Australian Bicentennial Authority, '200 Greatest Stories Never Told' (MS 7461, 1988, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Perkins, 'Lewis, Allen Charles (1891–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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