William Froude Blue Plaque - Credit: Submitted
William Froude Blue Plaque - Credit: Submitted

COLUMN: The amazing Torbay engineer William Froude

Torbay Weekly

In this series of features about “Civic Society Blue Plaques” Ian Handford (Chairman of the Society) gives us the who, why and how each plaque is chosen. 


This plaque was requested by elected Mayor Gordon Oliver, who, at the time, lived not far from where the stainless steel plaque to the famous William Froude had been located.  

For some unknown reason in 2010, vandals had removed and then stolen the plaque, which was situated on a wall exactly opposite William’s home on Seaway Lane. His home was the Manor House atop Chelston Hill, which eventually developed into the Manor House Hotel until finally being converted into luxury apartments during the early part of 21st century. 

The replacement plaque had to be made exactly as before, being in stainless steel and not stoved blue, but still making it a worthy story for me tell. We had in fact already unveiled a Blue Plaque to Mr William Froude in October 2001, when over 60 of our members had attended the Manor House.  

Mr Froude was a quite amazing engineer, scientist and mathematician and today his story is related quite often to local groups, as being one of my more outstanding famous people ever to live in Torbay.  

Indeed, on his 200th anniversary, I was fortunate to be invited to an international 200th Conference at Gosport held by Qinetiq, still the largest business around today that continues to carry out testing of every major ship launched (including all Royal Naval vessels) regarding propulsion capability and resistance to motion and vibration, plus anchor facilities, as laid down by Mr Froude 150 years ago.  

In addressing the Conference of scientists from the maritime sectors around the world, I found myself in some pretty distinguished company indeed. One Japanese delegate approached wanting to shake my hand, being the only person in the room from Mr Froude’s homeland, and one who could and did relate the history of Torquay’s part in the life of this amazing engineer and scientist.  

Accompanied on the visit by my late and great friend Russell Buckingham, we were privileged to walk the various tank rooms (which were enormous) and laboratories before discovering there was still a large flask of water from Torquay being retained, so that is could be used to bless every British Navy vessel launched, being to them special water from the great man’s home town. 

The large stainless steel plaque stolen honouring William Froude 1810 -1879 states: 

‘In 1870, Froude set up the first admiralty experimental tank in Torquay before constructing a huge tank in 1872 at his Manor House home Chelston Cross. A naval architect, he was commissioned to identify the most efficient hull shape of a ship by the institute of naval architecture.’ 

The plate had been situated in a wall recess on his estate in Seaway Lane and we knew that our new unveiling ceremony would not be possible without closing off the land to traffic. We also knew the re-unveiling would be a popular public event and so, with the Mayor’s agreement, we decided to do a formal unveiling at a special ceremony held at the Grand Hotel Torquay on Monday, December 23, 2013, before the plaque was taken away to be fixed on its permanent site. 

We were lucky on the day to be joined by a first cousin four times removed, Mr Richard Froude, and that gave me the opportunity to formally hand him a copy of William’s original book ‘Froude’s Law of Comparison’, which had been presented to me as Chairman of the Society the previous year.  

This had come to me while undertaking a biography of the great man at a local Probus group, when a retired planning engineer of Devon County Council passed me the book to be retained by the Society. Now at a quite emotive moment, it was formally handed to a member of the Froude family for them to keep in perpetuity.