Engineer of the Week No.125: Marjorie Elsa Bell, BSc, Grad.IEE, C.Eng., MIISO, MIOSH, HonMWES (26th December 1906 - 10th June 2001)
Today on her 113th Boxing day birthday, we remember WES President Marjorie Bell, electrical engineer and factory inspector.
Marjorie Bell was born in 1906 in Edmonton, Middlesex. Her father was an engineering fitter and there were also 2 brothers, so she did not come from a well-off background. Her education was at a convent high school, from which she went straight to work at Cambridge Scientific Instrument Co, following a visit which piqued her interest in technical work. She also worked at the Bungay Gas and Electricity Co., where her duties even included shovelling the coal from which the gas was made. During the 1920s she attended Northampton Engineering College of the City university, thought to have been theirfirst female electrical engineering student and graduated with a BSc. During her course she was able to work in various electrical engineering firms. In 1933 she was a part time lecturer at Woolwich Polytechnic and lived with her mother in Wood Green, North London, and in 1934 started as Demonstrator in Worthing’s local authority electrical showrooms, which the local press seemed to find of great interest. 1936 saw her start on her long career as an HM Inspector of Factories, which took her not only to postings all over England but also, in 1947, to Palestine where she inspected fruit packing and canning factories, potash works and oil refineries. Although there were often bullets whizzing overhead, she considered her year in Palestine one of the happiest of her life. Her final post as an HMIF was as district inspector for London, following which she presumably had to retire from the Civil Service, at the then standard women’s retirement age of 60. She undertook various consultancies and committee work on industrial safety, including membership of the first EU CENELEC working group on electric toy safety and was the first woman to chair a BSI technical standards committee, again on toys.
“I remember a story told me by Marjoie Bell. She became a factory inspector, in the days when factory inspectors were respected and feared. She went to visit a factory and chose to go there on her bike. She approached the gatehouse in style, only to be told by the guard, "Get off your bike and get out of the way quick, dearie, the factory inspector is coming!" To which she was delighted to reply, "I AM the factory inspector!" “ [As told by Marjorie to Jackie Carpenter]
Having joined WES in 1932, she was on various local branch committees, national council and became president in 1957-58. In 1953, along with 2 other eminent members of WES, she was awarded the Coronation Medal and in 1972 was made an Honorary Member of WES.
Marjorie was known for her gregariousness and continued to attend WES conferences almost to the end of her life. Her other interests included being an active member of the Soroptimists, keeping bees and two allotments until just before she died. She died in Enfield in 2001 and, characteristically, had made arrangements to leave her body to science and to have a non-religious funeral.