Why scientists from around the world celebrated 200th birthdate of Torquay man

Chelston Cross in the 1920s

Chelston Cross in the 1920s - Credit: Archant

IAN HANDFORD, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, give us the who and how each Blue Plaque in Torbay was chosen

William Froude

William Froude - Credit: Archant

By one of those strange quirks in life, Torbay Civic Society held a coffee morning event at The Manor House Hotel in Chelston in June 2001, courtesy of Mr and Mrs M Egglestone.

We all knew about the unique wooden staircase designed and built by William Froude's son Robert and Isambard Brunel's son Henry, over a century ago.

Later, the hotel would become apartments. yet the staircase rising three floors without a single metal nail or support, was unique and subject to a covenant.

At our event the idea of a Blue Plaque was raised, to honour Froude at what was his home.

It is amazing how famous this scientist, mathematician and engineer of Torbay is throughout the world, although little known here.

He had spent decades investigating hull design, and his book 'Froude's Law of Comparison' published in 1861, is still the leading authority for all scientists in this field.

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William, from a wealthy family, in retirement built the Manor House atop Chelston Cross Hill and called it simply Chelston Cross.

It had a very large tank - later a swimming pool - on the ground floor, still under the floorboards, which was his second tank made to test scaled model ships.

When his friend and past employer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1856 asked if he would investigate why ships roll in high seas - the Great Eastern suffering from this - Froude was ready to help.

Oddly, when a youth he had carried out dozens of experiments using carved models of real ships on the River Dart, due to the fact of witnessed this oddity himself.

Immediately after our event the council's conservation officer was contacted, as the Manor House Hotel was a listed building.

He had differing ideas on which pillar the plaque could be placed but approval was given.

The society arranged an unveiling on Friday, October 5 2001 when the mayor and 60-plus members and some public were present.

That would normally have ended the story, although I constantly used the William Froude biography when attending dozens of meetings as guest speaker.

Born at the vicarage in Dartington, Willam worked as a civil engineer with Brunel and others, before returning to Devon to tend to his sick father, the Rt Rev Robert Hurrell Froude, until after he died then came to Torquay.

Being an engineer, he had already created a self-guiding scraper for South West Water, who needed to clean the rusting water pipes to extend their life, before now turning to what was to be the vision of his life.

Today, Froude is known by academics, scientists and mathematicians all around the world, yet in 1868 he had to plead with the Admiralty for money to construct a huge tank opposite his property - still exists under ground - to continue his experiments.

That tank bccame the world's first Navy model testing tank, the AEW – Admiralty Experimental Works Department - was born in Torquay.

Months after the unveiling, I was asked to be the speaker at today's AEW research department, now a private company - Qinetiq at Haslar, Gosport.

Now employing 2,000 experts, it was transferred from Torquay to Gosport in Hampshire in the late 1870s.

Today, they test every Navy ship launched and would you believe it, still use Torquay water - taken during Victoria's reign - to bless every ship launched.

During the decades 500 ships have been blessed, and today Qinetiq still test every major ship's resistance to propulsion via its propeller, motion, vibration and anchor type using Froude charts.

All Navy and merchant ships, the RNLI boats plus private vessels if commissioned, go through this process.

The conference celebrated William Froude's 200th birthdate, and I addressed hundreds of scientists from across the globe, who dealt with ships, rocket propulsion, nuclear plants and even space flight.

All used Froude charts and today every country has an AEW-style tank to test their own models.

Five hundred warships of the UK went through this process, which perhaps explains why so many scientists wished to honour this man of Torquay at the Gosport event in November, 2010.