Bernard Crossland’s family memories and obituary

Bernard Crossland (1923-2011)  was a notable engineer – he was Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s University, Belfast for a large  part of his working life, a Member of the Royal Society and one of the Assessors on the King’s Cross Enquiry.  He was the grand son of Kelita Crossland’s son Walter;  his parents were Reginald Francis Crossland and Kathleen Rudduck.  In this lengthy memoir (later published as part of his autobiography) he shows the engineering tradition in the family.  He had a good knowledge of his family background and kept a  large collection of photographs and related documents (now in possession of his daughter).

Bernard Crossland (left) and colleague experimenting with exposive welding, Belfast 1970s.  This was done in a local quarry and supervised by the police, it is ironic it was at a time when explosives were being used very differently in Belfast! (Photograph in possession of his daughter)

He wrote

I come from a long line of skilled artisans. Probably I was the first in my family to go to university     and to become what we know as a professional engineer or chartered engineer. In the UK engineering degrees were only slowly introduced from the middle of the nineteenth century, and even by the beginning of the Second World War the output of degree qualified engineers was very small. Even in much of my life industrial leaders believed that engineering was essentially a practical subject best learned on the workshop floor, with part-time education given in the evening at the local technical college, or at the best by day release. Maybe it was this reluctance to accept the need of a well-considered full-time engineering education intertwined with practical experience, which is partially responsible for the relative decline of the British manufacturing industry.

My great-grandfather with the good, if rare, biblical name of Kelita, was born sometime in the eighteen thirties. I know little of his early life but from the early eighteen sixties he worked for Tannett Walker up to his death in 1898. Tannett Walker and Co was based in Hunslet, Leeds, where they manufactured a large range of equipment associated with the steel industry. This included hydraulic forging presses, Bessemer and Siemens-Martin steel plants, rail, plate, cogging and corrugating mills, tyre machines and engines, shearing and punching machines and much else besides. According to my stepmother, a grand-daughter of Kelita, he was an outside fitter who traveled widely, installing machines, some in the Krupp Works at Essen. Tannett Walker produced the largest hydraulic forging press of the nineteenth century, which was installed in the Krupp Works, and perhaps he was involved in its installation.

Kelita married Sarah and they had nine children, six sons and three daughters including my grandfather, Walter, born 24th August 1867. He was apprenticed to John Fowler and Co Ltd, probably in 1881 when he was fourteen, as he would have stayed at school to that age as a result of the great Education Act of 1870.

John Fowler, a Quaker, while still in his early twenties, was part of a delegation of the Society of Friends which visited Ireland in 1849 to see what practical help could be given to the island stricken by the Great Famine. One to two million died of famine and disease, and it led to a mass emigration to the United States and Canada in the following years with the repercussions which are still with us. From that time John Fowler resolved to devote the whole of his energies and resources to the development of agricultural machinery as a means of increasing and cheapening the production of food.

In the eighteen fifties John Fowler designed a mole draining plough, which inserted drain pipes behind the mole plough. This led to a great increase in the use of marginal land. However, much more importantly, he developed the self-propelled steam plough, in which a plough is pulled to and fro across a field by a cable attached to a steam engine driven cable drum. Sometimes pair of engines, one each side of the field, were used, but alternatively a single engine with an anchored pulley at the opposite side of the field was used.  As ploughing progressed the stationary agricultural engine mounted on wheels was pulled forward and similarly the pulley which was mounted on wheels. This system was adopted world-wide, and I can recollect seeing a steam ploughing engine in use as late as 1939 in the country between Whitstable and Canterbury. However steam ploughing was progressively replaced by tractor pulled ploughs in the twentieth century, particularly after the invention of the tractor mounted plough in 1936 by Harry Ferguson. The so-called Ferguson system provided the ultimate solution, which has become universally adopted. This invention more than any other has led to a great increase in agricultural efficiency and production, necessary to feed the burgeoning world population.  Up till 1859 Fowler’s ploughing gear was made by Robert Stephenson and Company, and agricultural stationary engines to provide the power were made by leading manufacturers such as Clayton and Shuttleworth, and Ransonie and Sims. In 1859 Fowler formed the Steam Plough Royalty Company in association with Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson, who were locomotive builders based in Leeds. In 1860 a new company was founded in Leeds to concentrate on the manufacture of ploughing engines and their associated tackle. The Steam Plough Works, as it was known, was built in Hunslet and the first engines were produced in 1862. In time, it produced much else besides, such as traction engines, steam lorries and locomotives.

Walter Crossland served his apprenticeship as a turner in the Steam Plough Works, which at the time was at the leading edge of technology. He was to remain a turner all his life, and he was inordinately proud of his skills. A few years after the completion of his apprenticeship Waiter left Leeds and went to work for the famous company of Charles Burrell and Sons in Thetford in Norfolk.

Charles Burrell and Sons Ltd grew from a small smithy in Thetford started by Joseph Burrell in 1770. By the start of the nineteenth century the two sons of Joseph had expanded the business and they were then producing seeding machines, ploughs, harrows and rakes. Charles, born in 1817, extended the factory and in 1844 he built the first portable steam engine for providing power for various agricultural machines. In 1856 they built what was the first successful traction engine to be marketed, the Burrell-Boydall engine. This was a remarkable machine as it was a track laying vehicle, in which six identical pads or planks were secured to the rim of the driving and steering wheels by cycloidal slotted links with pins. The pads were laid down sequentially in front of the wheels, and after the wheel passed over a pad it was raised from the ground. This overcame the considerable problem of supporting the weight of the engine, over eleven tons, on the poor roads of that day and age.

Subsequently Burrells produced what would now be recognised as the more conventional traction engine, but in addition he produced vertical marine engines, grinding mills, threshing machines, steam ploughing engines under license from Fowlers, the famous Duo-Directional roundabout with inner and outer tracks rotating in opposite directions and much else besides. Perhaps they are  best remembered for the classical showman’s engine used in fairgrounds. In the early nineteen nineties it was my pleasure to be invited by Lord O’Neill of Shane’s Castle in County Antrim to open a traction engine rally and to drive his 1912 Burrell’s showman’s engine, which was made at a time when both my grandfather and father were working for Burrells. As far as I was concerned the engine was a thing of beauty.

Walter married Lily Whitehead sometime in the early eighteen nineties and they had three sons, Reginald Francis, Archie and Edgar and very much as an afterthought, a daughter, Sybil. The eldest, (my father), Reginald Francis, was born on the 16th January 1894. He left school the Christmas before he was fourteen in 1908 and became an apprentice with Charles Burrell and Sons Ltd.

Before the First World War my father joined the Territorial Army in which he was a motor cycle dispatch rider; I guess he joined because of the opportunity to ride a motor cycle. When the war broke out he was called up, but quite quickly the government realised that there was a serious shortage of skilled men to make the munitions required to prosecute the war. As a consequence he was directed to Woolwich Arsenal as a soldier munitions worker, where he remained for the duration of the war working in the tool room which was considered the most skilled job in industry. At about the same time my grandfather was also directed to work in Woolwich Arsenal, where he worked on the very large lathes, turning barrels of the massive naval guns.

At the end of the war my grandfather returned to Burrells, but it was already in decline. Like so many family companies in the UK the third or fourth generations had become landed gentry with little interest in the business except as a milch cow. The days of steam for road vehicles and ploughs were drawing to a close and the internal combustion engine was taking over. Real leadership was needed to redirect the company and provide new horizons and objectives, but it was not forthcoming from the family. As a consequence there was a rapid decline in the business and workforce, and ultimately it was transferred to Messrs Richard Garrett and Sons of Leiston in 1929. After several years of unemployment my grandfather moved to London in 1926 or 1927 and worked for Delta Metals in Blackheath until 1936 when he retired at the age of 69, having understated his age when he joined the company.

At the end of the war in 1918 my father married Kathleen Mary Rudduck. My mother was born in Norwich on the 8th May 1896 though she grew up in Cromer on the north Norfolk coast, where her father, Thomas James, was the manager of Liptons. During the First World War she worked in the GPO in Mount Pleasant in London. My brother Walter was born on the 1st April 1919, my sister Margery on the 16th July 1920 and I was born on the 20th October 1923 at 57 Siddons Road, Sydenham in south London.

My father joined Waygood Otis at the end of the First World War as their Workshop Superintendent. Waygood Otis, now Otis, made heavy-duty lifts and escalators – they were then and remain today one of the main suppliers to the London Underground. When the construction of the deep Tube underground lines was started at the end of the nineteenth century, heavy-duty lifts were installed to transport passengers to and from the surface. However they could not cope with the increasing number of passengers, especially at the busy stations such as Piccadilly Circus and King’s Cross. In 1911 the first heavy-duty escalators were installed at Earls Court Station between the Piccadilly and District lines. Escalators were invented in America at the end of the nineteenth century, and this invention was adapted and improved for the longer length and much heavier duty required for the deep underground lines of the London Underground.

After the Second World War there was extensive development of the underground system and many escalators were installed by Waygood Otis. My father had considerable responsibility for the manufacture and installation of escalators. It was a coincidence that much later on, after my father’s death, in 1987-88 I was to serve as one of four assessors in the King’s Cross Underground Fire Investigation and Inquiry, which was caused by a severe fire on one of the Piccadilly line escalators made by Waygood Otis and installed in 1939.

During the nineteen twenties my father retained his interest in motor cycles, and he provided support for my Uncle Archie who raced motor cycles at the Brooklands racing track. Subsequently he helped my uncle to set up a motor cycle shop on Bromley Common. It may have been this that encouraged my father to leave Waygood Otis in 1926 and take over a garage and general engineering business in Whitstable on the north Kent coast, when I was only three years old. I grew up in Whitstable – from the age of three until I left in 1940, at the age of sixteen.

Besides repairing cars my father was the agent for ]owetts who made cars with twin cylinder opposed cylinder engines, and Standard who immediately prior to the Second World War made the Aying Standard which was a car in advance of its time. Early on he installed a cylinder boring machine and a honing machine, as at that time the wear of cylinders was so great that the engines had to be rebored and have new pistons fitted. Much of the trouble arose from a lack of understanding of piston ring lubrication which was not achieved until after the Second World War. He also had a small machine shop mainly to support his general engineering business.

When the new arterial road, the Thanet Way, was built from Faversham to Margate in the early nineteen thirties, he developed a good business during the summer months collecting cars which had run big end and/or main bearings, as a result of drivers putting their foot down as soon as they got on the new road. It was a very competitive business and ultimately my father built a breakdown lorry on the chassis of a Bugatti, which would break the hearts of modern-day collectors of vintage cars. It was, however, the fastest breakdown lorry in the business. I well remember seeing it tearing up the Thanet Way to get to a broken down car before the competitors could get there.

In the inter-war years there were carnivals in the Kent coastal resorts in the summer, which my father saw as a good way of advertising his wares. Jowett’s had produced a fabric bodied four door saloon car still with a twin cylinder opposed cylinder engine, which was called the Black Prince. So my father hired a suit of armour and dressed up as the Black Prince and walked in front of the car for some miles of the carnival procession route on a hot summer day. I remember as if it was yesterday when he got out of the suit of armour, he reminded me of a freshly boiled lobster. But my father would do anything if it seemed to be a good sales stunt.

Besides the garage business my father also had a more general engineering interest. When we moved to Whitstable the electricity was generated locally, as the National Grid System had not been introduced in Whitstable so the electricity was generated by ex-German submarine engines coupled to DC generators. My father carried out maintenance work on these engines until they were made redundant by the introduction of the National Grid System, and all the electricity users had to convert from DC to AC.

There was a small harbour in Whitstable which was at that time still used by Thames sailing barges, which plied between harbours on the East Coast. There were also some tramp steamers and oil engined cargo boats which plied to and fro across the North Sea. From time to time my father carried out repairs on these boats. I remember a Dutch tramp steamer which had run a tail shaft bearing, and one of my father’s mechanics was deputed to carry out the repair. He was known as Charlie, but more frequently as the Professor of Languages as he was reputed to be able to swear for an hour without repeating himself. It was a hot summer day and as it was in my school holidays I tagged along. Apparently the first thing which happened was that Charlie dropped his tools in the bilge, and having recovered them he slipped and fell in the bilge. When he came on deck he was swearing something dreadful and he was covered from head to foot in a black oily slime, with runnels of sweat running down his face, while the Dutch captain was splitting his sides at the sight of him. I can remember so many stories about Charlie and his wife that I could write a book about them.

After the Munich crisis of 1938 my father’s business declined as people began to realise that war was inevitable, and they were beginning to tighten their belts. Round the Kent coast groups of tall masts were appearing which were the early radar stations, though this was not known at the time. Locally the strong rumours were that the engines of cars in the vicinity of these stations had mysteriously stopped. My brother had left school in 1935 and had left home to take up an apprenticeship with Lancashire Dynamo and Crypto in Willesden, in London, and my sister had left home in 1936 for preliminary nursing training in a nursing home in Broadstairs and subsequently in the Middlesex Hospital in London. To make ends meet my father started a taxi service to supplement his business, which he ran throughout the war. This caused dissension at home for the first time as it meant that he was out at all times of the day and night, and my mother strongly disapproved. However, it enabled him to survive in business until the end of the war.

I guess that my father had hoped and expected that both my brother and I would join his business, which would have become Crossland and Sons, but it was not to be. My brother had joined the army as an officer in REME at the beginning of the war and had done very well in the army, and he saw much better prospects elsewhere. After a short spell with the Kuwait Oil Corporation he joined Smith Instruments where he finished his working life, having been largely responsible for building up their very successful Medical Division. I had graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and had become deeply involved in research and development. I saw that my father’s business did not offer the opportunities I was seeking, and I also doubted that I could have knuckled under my father who was a rather dominant character, and I was hardly an easy touch.

It was fortunate that my father did not appear to have been too disappointed that neither my brother nor I wished to join him in the business. However, it prompted him to sell up the business and our home in 1947 and retire at the very early age of 53. It provided sufficient capital to support him and my mother and subsequently my stepmother in a reasonable life style for the rest of their lives. My parents moved temporarily to Peacehaven on the Sussex coast and then to Shoreham-on-sea. At the beginning of his retirement my father intended to get a part-time instructor’s post in automobile maintenance at a local technical college, but before he could do so my mother developed breast cancer In 1948. After an operation they moved to Ramsgate to be near to my sister, who by that time had married and was living nearby at Broadstairs. My mother died on the 1st April 1950.

My father married quite soon after my mother’s death to his first cousin, Harriet Micklethwaite, the daughter of Sarah, one of Kelita Crossland’s daughters. Though my sister took exception to my father’s remarriage so soon after our mother’s death, I felt it showed no disrespect to her memory. It proved to be a happy marriage and they were well suited to each other. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Peace haven where my father built a bungalow, and then after a few years they moved to Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast, where my stepmother had friends and relations. There they remained until their death, my father on the 14th March 1976 and my stepmother in 1987.

Walter and Lily Crossland, probably in the 1940s

His obituary in the The Times  Mar 7, 2011; p. 53

Professor Sir Bernard Crossland was one of the UK’s most eminent engineers, an exceptional motivational teacher and research mentor, and a world-class researcher in his own right.

He was born in Sydenham, South London in 1923. In his memoirs, The Anatomy of an Engineer, he described his boyhood determination to pursue that career. On leaving school in 1940 he began an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce in Derby. This instilled in him a strong belief in the value of practical workshop experience which he advocated to young engineers all his life. He studied part-time at Derby Technical College and won a state bursary to University College Nottingham, where he gained an external BSc (London) in Engineering. He was then appointed a technical assistant in the Experimental Vibration Department of Rolls-Royce, where he was concerned with experimental and theoretical work on the vibration of Merlin, Griffon and Derwent engines and vibration of reduction gears on destroyers. In 1945 he was a lecturer at Luton Technical College. After a year he was appointed assistant lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Bristol University before taking up an appointment in 1959 as Professor and head of the department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in Queen’s University Belfast.

He was to spend most of his career at Queen’s, serving as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering from 1964 to 1967, and as a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1978 to 1982. He took early retirement in 1984.

Crossland enjoyed an international reputation as a research pioneer in the engineering sector, working closely with ICI on a high-pressure polyethylene plant. He also contributed to the development of explosive welding — which he described as his “second great research love”.

Dynamic, energetic and a self-confessed workaholic, Crossland had an imposing physical presence — he was 6ft 4in tall — and powerful voice. He was enormously popular with his students, many of whom followed him into the engineering profession and academia. His lectures were crafted with great skill and delivered with clarity and panache. After retiring from Queen’s University in 1984 he became even more active on the national stage, serving as an expert investigator of accidents, and as a powerful advocate of strong integration between industry and education.

He headed the scientific committee which investigated the King’s Cross Underground fire in 1987 and chaired the Public Hearing after the Bilsthorpe Colliery roof fall in 1993. He also played an active role in investigation of the Ramsgate walkway collapse, the destruction of a liquid gas plant in Qatar and the Southall and Ladbroke Grove rail crashes.

He later expressed concerns about the efficacy of some of these exercises, in particular voicing reservations on issues such as their time and cost. In his memoirs, he suggested replacing what he termed the “juggernaut” of the public inquiry with increased powers for the coroner’s court.

He served on and chaired several government committees and received many awards in recognition of his service to his profession and to higher education.

Sir Bernard was a Fellow (and former vice-president) of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a member of the Royal Irish Academy and (a role he particularly cherished) president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1986 to 1987.

In 1987 he was made a Freeman of the City of London, the city of his birth, and in 1990 he was knighted for services to education and industry. In June 2009 he was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Sustained Achievement Award.

Some years ago, The Sunday Times described Sir Bernard as one of the engineers “who have enriched our lives quite as much as all the actors and artists, writers and musicians who are household names”.

He is survived by his wife, Audrey, and two daughters.

Professor Sir Bernard Crossland, FRS, mechanical engineer, was born on October 20, 1923. He died on January 17, 2011, aged 87

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