Engineer of the Week No.121: Mrs Mary Patricia Kendrick (nee Boak), BA, CICE MBE (2nd May 1928 – 8th June 2015)
Whenever you hear of cities flooding or read about the potential for climate change and sealevel rise to flood our major cities, you can thank Mary Kendrick for her life’s work on the Thames and Mersey river systems.
Mary Kendrick was the foremost tidal engineer of her generation in the UK and a respected authority worldwide, despite not originally training in one of the engineering disciplines. She was born and educated in the English Midlands and gained a joint honours BA in geography and economics from the University of Nottingham in 1951, the same year that she married fellow student Les Kendrick. In 1956 applied for a secretarial post at Hydraulics Research Station Ltd, but her interviewer spotted that she was actually qualified to join them as an Assistant Experimental Officer, which was the start of her career-long work with HRS. Her first work with HRS was on their contract to investigate and propose solutions for Mersey Docks and Harbour Board into the deteriorating tidal volume and increasing silting in the Mersey estuary. Mary undertook field survey work in survey vessels measuring currents and following sediment transport pathways using radioactive tracers and fluorescent dyes. This work led to the paper she published with a colleague, Alan Price, ‘Field and model investigations into the reasons for siltation in the Mersey estuary’, in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1963, earning them the 1964 Telford gold medal, for which Kendrick was the first woman to receive this award. The paper is still considered a seminal work and set the scene for her continuing career in this field.
In 1968 Mary was appointed to lead HRS’s team on the Thames flood prevention project, which culminated in the construction of the Thames Barrier in 1982. This involved not only an enormous amount of field survey work but also a great deal of public and political consultation, arguably the more difficult part. This was also the period when she was consulted on the hugely controversial proposal for a third London airport on the Maplin Sands, off the Essex coast, as well as various overseas projects.
On her retirement from HRS in 1988 (as a Principal Scientific Officer) she was awarde the MBE and was appointed by the UK government to become the first ever woman to be the acting conservator for the Mersey, a position created abouit 200 years ago to safeguard the navigation of the river in Liverpool. She was the first woman to take up the post, which was usually reserved for admirals. She was also active on behalf of the UK, in the Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses, only relinquishing that role shortly before her death. Mary Kendrick joined the Women’s Engineering Society in about 1970 and wrote several technical articles about her work for its journal as well as delivering the 1983 Verena Holmes lecture series, which were aimed at encouraging schoolgirls to enter engineering.