John Smith (1855-1926) was a controversial figure. Described as leading a quiet life and being connected with the Congregational Church on the Avenue, he was absorbed in his construction business. ‘By enterprise and keen business acumen’ he expanded his firm into probably the ‘largest of its kind in Southampton’. At his death, it was estimated that in over thirty years of activity, he was responsible for erecting more than 1000 houses in the suburbs of Southampton, notably in Shirley. He built many of the houses in Oakmount Triangle. His obituaries report that he was a ‘persistent litigant’, frequently in conflict with the City Council over the interpretation of building byelaws and permission for development.
For example, in January, 1920 he was found erecting two houses in Oakmount Avenue, even though the plans had been rejected in the previous October. Moreover, the joists were not of the quality and thickness required under the byelaws, while the road itself had not been laid out in accordance with the byelaws and no sewers had been provided.
The most celebrated case was over the erection of an apartment block in Devonshire Road. Smith ignored the building byelaws and the Council began to demolish the structure. Smith accused them of trespass and the case went to court in Winchester. He won and was awarded £1200 in damages, as well as an injunction to keep the Council’s men away from his property. The action seems to have caused him considerable stress. He died suddenly on 8 July, 1926. No fewer than 160 employees preceded the hearse from Avenue House to the Old Cemetery and formed into two lines when the cortège passed through the gates.