Engineer of the Week No.53: Verena Holmes B.Sc. (Eng.), AMIMechE, AIMarE. MILocEng (23 June 1889 – 20 February 1964)
On her 120th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the Society she founded, today we remember Verena Holmes, practical mechanical engineer, patent holder and entrepreneur.
Verena Holmes was the Women’s Engineering Society’s first practicing engineering president, who had a life’s career in the field.
Verena Holmes was born in 1889 in Kent, where her father Edmund Holmes was a schools inspector and author. She attended Oxford High School for Girls and after initially working as a society photographer found her true vocation when the First World War opened the door to engineering. Her first job was building wooden propellers at the Integral Propeller Co., Hendon, whilst attending evening classes at Shoreditch Technical Institute. She then worked at Ruston and Hornsby, an aero engine firm in Lincoln, as their Lady Superintendant responsible for the selection, control and welfare of 1,500 female employees. However, her real interest was engineering and she persuaded the directors of the company to let her start as an apprentice in the fitting shops. Holmes gained experience as a turner and completed an apprenticeship as a draughtsman before the end of the war. In 1919 she was the only woman who was allowed to stay on with the firm. She attended Loughborough Technical College, and gained a BSc (Engineering) degree extramurally from London University in 1922. From then onwards Verena would produce a steady stream of inventions, of which 17 were patented. One of the more significant was the Holmes-Wingfield pneumo-thorax apparatus, which she designed and made for for Dr RC Wingfield, for his work at Brompton Hospital tuberculosis sanatorium.
Engineer of the Week No. 52: Margaret Dorothea Rowbotham (I9 June I883 - 23 February 1978)
Today we remember engineer and WES founder-member Margaret Rowbotham on her 136th birthday.
Margaret Rowbotham (pictured on the right with Margaret Partridge on the left, and Tilly Shilling in the centre) was a mathematician, engineer and campaigner for the rights of women at work, and founder member of the Women's Engineering Society. Born 19th June 1883 at Park Villas, Plumstead, Woolwich, daughter of John Edward Rowbotham, a shipbroker, and Miriam Ann Isaac, and sibling to William Bevill, Claude, Violet Mirelle, Mildredand Ella.
Margaret attended Blackheath High School (1893-1902), where she gained the London Matriculation Class 1 certificate, enabling her to go to Girton College, Cambridge (I902–05).She passed the Mathematics Tripos Part I, Class. II. Correctly assessing that a teaching career would be possible for a woman with such qualifications, she then took the Cambridge Training College's Teachers’ Diploma.
Her first job was as an assistant mathematical mistress, rising to mathematical mistress at Roedean School, Brighton (September 1906-August 1913). Roedean is one of the top academic girls' boarding schools in the country, so this would have been an excellent starting post for a young teacher, and she seems to have lived at the school for much of that time. On leaving Roedean she spent the next year studying motor engineering and gained the Royal Automobile Club's Driver's Certificate, which seems to have been her first foray into the world of engineering which would later make up so much of her life. In September 1914 she crossed the Atlantic to spend2 years as one of the first mathematics mistresses at Havergal College (also known as Rupert's Land Girls' School), Winnipeg, Canada, before returning to the UK in the summer of 1916.
Engineer of the Week No.50: Alice Tredwell (nee Pickering) (5th January 1823 - 14th June 1867)
On the 152nd anniversary of her untimely death, today we remember railway contractor, Alice Tredwell.
Alice Tredwell was another one of our ‘Engineers-by-marriage’. Born into a family of building contractors, as her father John Pickering and all his sons were in the railway contracting business in Cumberland. The family were quite prosperous as they had servants, but they lived at Beck Brow in rural Cumberland, to the southwest of Carlisle, so Alice was probably educated at home. Her father died when she was eighteen and from the time she was married at the age of 21, in 1846, her mother and various of her brothers and their families lived with her. The man she married, Solomon Tredwell, was a self-made man from relatively humble beginnings but who was a very successful engineer, who worked with both Isambard Brunel and Robert Stephenson, working as a railway contractor. After their marriage the Tredwells leased Highfield Hall, a large country house in Leek, Staffordshire, owned by silk manufacturers and now demolished. Alice’s daughter, also Alice, was born there in 1849. Solomon Tredwell, with his company Tredwell & Co did construction work for many railways in the Midlands and North of England and in 1859 took on the contract to build the Bhore Ghat line for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, after another contractor had failed.Solomon and Alice sailed to India, arriving in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 16th November. The Ghats were a series of steep escarpments, with a rise in height of over 1800 feet in a length of 15 miles, which were difficult for the railway builders, calling for25 tunnels and 8 viaducts. Some 25,000 workers were employed and were exposed to cholera epidemics in 1859-60 which claimed about a third of the workforce.
Engineer of the Week No. 49: Cleone de Hevingham Benest [Miss Clayton Griff] (1880-1963)
Cleone, motorist, engineer and metallurgist, was born on 13th June 1880 in Forest Gate, London E7 to George Philip Benest and Edith Maria Powell. Almost immediately her mother took her to live with her parents Thomas and Eliza Powell at St Aubin, Jersey, and Cleone's father, a landowner, seems not to have been part of the family from then on.
By 1891 she, her mother and maternal grandparents were living in Ryde, Isle of Wight and by her early twenties she was already well-known as a pioneering early female motorist with her own vehicles. She had a home workshop equipped with a Drummond lathe and other essentials enabling her to care for her own cars and even build a small steam engine. In addtion to the 1906 12HP Lanchester tonneauand a 12 HP Fiat of her own, she also persuaded the short-lived Isle of Wight Express Motor Syndicate Ltd to let her drive their Milnes-Daimler and Thornycroft buses in Ryde, an achievement which gained her a photo in the Illustrated London News.
Engineers of the Week No.48: The Weinling Women
Anne, Matilda, Elizabeth and Eugenie Weinling – the first women at the Royal Balloon Factory
In the 19th century it became apparent to the authorities that there were military applications for the use of hot air balloons, especially for spying and reconnaissance.The Army School of Ballooning, first established 1878/9, by 1905 had become a balloon factory on the site that would become the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough.
If it took ‘guts’ to go up in the first military hydrogen-filled balloons, it took many actual guts to even make the balloons - ox guts. When balloonists started to use hydrogen gas as the lifting agent, instead of heated air, they sought a material that would be impermeable to the hydrogen’s tiny molecules. No such a fabric became available until the 1920s.In the meantime the solution was a product known as ‘Goldbeaters’ Skin’. Although this was, as the name shows, a long-known product, its use for hydrogen balloons was a secret known only by the people who made the balloons for Mr Herron, the Weinling family.
Engineering Woman of the Week No. 47: Elmina T. Wilson BSCE (29th September 1870 - 2nd June 1918)
Today we remember structural engineer, Elmina Wilson, on the 101st anniversary of her untimely death.
Elmina Wilson was born in Iowa in 1870 and was the first woman in America to graduate, with a four-year degree in civil engineering, from Iowa State University in 1892. Amazingly, her sister Alda graduated at the same time from the three-year degree in the same subject. Whilst Alda went in the architectural field, Elmina became a civil and structural engineer, her first job being as an assistant in the school's drawing offices. She was promoted to be an instruction 1893 and in 1895,collaborated on a project with Professor Anson Marston, on the design of the first elevated steel water tower to be constructed west of the Mississippi, now known as the Marston Water Tower, and completed in 1897. After a sabbatical year to study engineering practices in Europe, she got a job with James E. Brooks Company, where her first work was on the Essex Structural Steel Works in Bloomfield, New Jersey. In 1907 Elmina joined the prestigious engineering firm of Purdy and Henderson, skyscraper design pioneers, where she began work on the New York Flatiron Building and later the Met Life Tower. The two sisters also worked together on some architectural designs, including the Helmich House, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Elmina also wrote publications for the U.S. Department of Agriculture including a brochure entitled Modern Conveniences for the Farm Home, which included topics such as piping water pumped by a windmill throughout rural homes or adding bathtubs serviced by water pumped from elevated tanks in an attic or pneumatic cylinders installed in basements.
Although she died quite young (48), at an age when she might have been considered to be at the beginning of more important work, she is considered to be the “First lady of American structural engineering”.