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Charles Frewen Jenkin

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Professor Charles Frewen Jenkin (1865-1940), the first Professor of Engineering at Oxford University

1865 Born in Claygate, the son of Fleeming Jenkin and his wife, Ann.[1]

Educated at Edinburgh Academy

1883 Cambridge University

1886 Articled at Mather and Platt, Salford

1887 Apprenticed at London North-Western Railway, Crewe

1890 Joined Inst C E[2]

1890 Electrical engineer at the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey

1893 Nettlefolds, Castle Works, Newport

1895 Joined the I Mech E

1898 Worked for Siemens Brothers and Co, first at Charlton, then as works manager and head of Siemens's railway department at Stafford.

1907 Elected the first Professor of engineering science at Oxford University

WWI Became a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and worked in the Admiralty air department.

1918 On formation of the Royal Air Force, he joined the aircraft production department of the Ministry of Munitions with the rank of lieutenant-colonel where he directed a group responsible for the preparation of specifications for every kind of aircraft material.

The results showed that previous generous safety factors could be considerably reduced, with consequent savings of weight and materials. The results were published in 1918 as Report on Materials of Construction used in Aircraft and Aircraft Engines.

Post WWI returned to Oxford. Research on fatigue and on the effects of cracks and notches on the strength of machine parts.

Chairman of the materials subcommittee of the Aeronautical Research Committee

1924 Chair of the structures investigation committee of the Building Research Board at Watford.

1929 Jenkin retired from Oxford, moved to St Albans, and transferred his work to the Building Research Station at Watford, where he took a modest position until a heart condition forced his retirement in 1933.

1940 Died


1940 Obituary [3]

Professor CHARLES FREWEN JENKIN, C.B.E., LL.D., M.A., F.R.S., was a Member of the Institution for 47 years and was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and later attended classes in Edinburgh University, where he took second prize for engineering and a first-class certificate in surveying. He graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the Mathematical Tripos in 1886.

He then served his apprenticeship in the [London and North Western Railway|London and North Western Railway Company's]] works at Crewe, and became assistant to the works manager, for whom he was engaged on electrical work. He was electrical engineer at the Royal Gunpowder Factory, at Waltham Abbey, from 1891 until 1893, when he was appointed engineer to Messrs Nettlefold, Ltd., iron and steel wire manufacturers, and was afterwards with Messrs. Siemens Brothers for ten years, rising to be works manager and head of the railway department at the Stafford works.

In 1908 he was appointed the first Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford University and held this position until 1929. The introduction of this subject met with strong opposition, but largely by his tact and skill the great difficulties of the first few years were overcome and Congregation was persuaded to sanction the erection of the school building in Parks Road.

In 1931, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. During the war of 1914-18 he was made responsible for special investigations into aircraft materials of all kinds. He was the author of a large number of papers on engineering subjects and contributed an important Appendix to the Report of the Refrigeration Research Committee of the Institution in 1914. His death at the age of 74 occurred on 23rd August 1940.


1940 Obituary [4]

DR. C. F. JENKIN, second son of Fleeming Jenkin - "R.L.S.'s" friend - who died at the age of seventy-five on Friday, August 23rd, will always be remembered as the first Professor of Engineering at Oxford University.

In 1908, when the Chair of Engineering Science was established, there was violent opposition to the intrusion of such a utilitarian subject into the sacred precincts of classical learning. The Chair had to fight its way into bare existence, and for years after it was the butt of those - there are many of them still - who held the opinion that there was no call for Oxford to follow in the footprints which Cambridge had already made and that the University should not depart from the subjects with which it was traditionally associated.

Be that as it may, Frewen Jenkin was elected the first Professor of Engineering Science - note that the title sought to put engineering on a high plane - and largely by his tact and skill the great difficulties of the first few years were got over and Congregation was persuaded to sanction the erection of the school buildings on University Park - completed in 1914.

Jenkin brought to his task exceptional qualifications for his new post. He was at heart a pure scientist and researcher, but after three years at Cambridge he started as a practical engineer, being apprenticed at Crewe, where he became assistant works manager. He then accepted a post as Mechanical Assistant Superintendent at the R.G.P.F., Waltham Abbey.

Later he was resident engineer at Nettlefolds Steel Works, Newport, Mon., and for ten years after that he was with Siemens Brothers, rising in time to be works manager and head of the railway department at Stafford.

Throughout his academic career this earlier contact with commercial engineering coloured the scientific courses of his curriculum and gave those students who desired it a feeling of unity with the utilitarian aspects of the Science of Engineering. During the Great War he was made responsible for aircraft materials of all kinds, and of the work he did, and that was done under his inspiration, a record remains in a "Report on the Materials of Construction used in Aircraft and Aircraft Engines," published by the Stationery Office. One subject impressed him most in the course of these investigations. It was the failure of materials by fatigue, and in 1929 he resigned the Chair in order to pursue with greater liberty researches into vibrational fatigue.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, an LL.D., and in 1919 was made a C.B.E.


1940 Obituary [5]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Civil Engineer records
  • Mechnical Engineer records
  • Biography, ODNB