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Edward James Reed

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1906. Sir Edward Reed K. C. B.
1869.Balanced Rudder HMS Hercules Designed by E. J. Reed, C.B.

Sir Edward James Reed (1830-1906), Chief Constructor of the Navy, naval architect

1830 born at Sheerness, the son of John Reed.

Apprenticed at Sheerness Dockyard

1849 Selected for the Central School of Mathematics and Naval Architecture at Portsmouth.

1851 he married Rosetta Barnaby, sister of Nathaniel Barnaby, a fellow student, and eldest daughter of Nathaniel Barnaby of Sheerness.

1852 Graduated. Appointed a supernumerary draughtsman, working in the mould-loft at Sheerness but the work frustrated him

1853 Appointed editor of the Mechanic's Magazine

1854 Offered the Admiralty a design for an armoured frigate but the concept was ahead of its time

1859 John Scott Russell formed the Institution of Naval Architects

1860 Reed was appointed secretary of the Institution and editor of the Transactions.

1861 Reed sent another design to the Admiralty, this for an armoured corvette, acknowledging the help of his brother-in-law. Further designs followed which were received better

1863 Became the chief constructor at the Admiralty but the appointment was criticized in parliament on the grounds of Reed's lack of experience

In HMS Bellerophon he saved weight by developing, with Nathaniel Barnaby a lighter structure, known as the "bracket frame" system, which lasted to the end of the battleship era.

Under Reed rules of thumb for design of ships gave way to calculations based on theoretically sound principles and careful experiment. He encouraged work on stability by Barnes and others of his staff; with the assistance of White, Reed himself developed a method of calculating loading on a ship at sea which led to a rational structural design method. He encouraged William Froude's later work on the use of models to improve hull forms and to estimate power requirements.

c.1870 persuaded the Admiralty to pay for Froude to build the first ship model test tank at Torquay.

1870 resigned as Director of Naval Construction at the Admiralty

1871 Established his own naval architecture consultancy

1874 Elected MP for Pembroke

1906 Died



1906 Obituary [1]

Sir EDWARD JAMES REED, K.C.B., F.R.S., was born at Sheerness on 30th September 1830, being the son of the late Mr. John Reed, a shipwright in Sheerness Dockyard.

He served an apprenticeship as a shipwright in the dockyard, and was afterward a student at the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction at Portsmouth. After filling, for a short period, a subordinate post in Sheerness Dockyard, he became editor of the Mechanics' Magazine.

When the Institution of Naval Architects was formed in 1860 he was appointed secretary, but the science of his profession still had such attractions for him that, in 1862, he submitted to the Duke of Somerset, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, proposals for a new type of warship; and this led to his appointment as Chief Constructor of the Navy in 1863.

At this period in the history of the Navy, political parties were for retrenchment. Accordingly he designed a ship which reduced the cost about 30 per cent., while augmenting the fighting power; and introduced the belt and battery system, so called because there was a belt from bow to stern on the water-line, while the guns, reduced in number, were each of them of much greater power than formerly, and were concentrated within a short battery formed of broadside and athwartship armoured walls.

Numerous other constructional details he introduced, which were embodied in H.M.S. "Bellerophon," laid down in 1863. This was followed in the next few years by the addition of bow and stern-chasing guns - 9-inch 12-ton weapons — partly protected by armour. The improvements thus made from time to time were adopted by foreign navies.

Meanwhile Ericsson and Coles had simultaneously introduced the turret system of mounting guns, and it was accepted by all authorities for use in monitors. As early as 1866 Sir (then Mr.) Edward Reed designed the first of several monitors with two turrets - the "Cerberus", which had a water-line belt and an armoured breastwork surrounding the bases of the turrets fore and aft, as well as the funnels and engine hatches.

In 1869 he designed the ramming-ship "Rupert," with turrets, light masts, and a few fore and aft sails; but he was opposed to the turret system on full-rigged ironclads. Those advocating the adoption of turrets for seagoing ships became adamant; Coles was allowed to adapt the "Royal Sovereign" to his system, and his design, though strenuously opposed by Sir Edward Reed, was adopted for the "Captain," which unfortunately capsized at sea under circumstances which are well known.

Soon after the "Captain" was completed Sir Edward resigned his position at the Admiralty; but before he left in 1870 he designed and saw the beginning of the building of our first turret sea-going ironclad — the "Devastation," which was also the first battleship without sails. This vessel may be said to have been the type adopted for the next twenty years, modified from time to time.

Since 1870 he had not done anything of a constructional nature directly for the British Navy; but, as a critic, he was not without influence on British naval policy. A still more active agent to the same end was the work he carried out for foreign navies.

At this time he turned his attention to politics, and when chairman of Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., of Hull, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Hull at a by-election in 1873; but he sat for Pembroke Boroughs from 1874 to 1880, and for Cardiff from 1880 to 1895, and from 1900 until last year. He was a Lord of the Treasury in the Government of 1886.

With the union of the German States came the desire for an Imperial navy, and the German Emperor in 1872 instructed him to design - and Messrs. Samuda to build - two central battery ships of 7,600 tons, the "Kaiser" and the "Deutschland."

When chairman of Earle's Co., at Hull, he designed and built a yacht for the then Czar of Russia; and at Hull in 1874 he launched a number of ships for the Chilian navy. The first of Japan's modern ships were also designed by him; and for Brazil he built a rigged double-turret ship "Independencia," which was bought by the Admiralty in 1877 and became the "Neptune." For Chile he, in 1889, designed the battleship "Capitan Prat," built in France, followed by a series of remarkable cruisers built at Elswick.

Two of his latest battleships - "Libertad" and "Constitucion " — built to his design for the same country were bought for the British Navy, and are now known as the "Swiftsure" and "Triumph," two of the most powerful ships in the Channel Fleet.

Before he left the Admiralty he designed several troopships for the Indian Government, and since then has added many more fine ships in his capacity as naval architect to that Government; he was also naval architect to the Crown Colonies.

He gave much of his time to Royal Commissions and other public work. In 1884 he was chairman of the Load-Line Committee, and in 1894 presided over the Committee on the Manning and Undermanning of Ships.

He displayed marked ability as an author, and produced several important technical works: "Shipbuilding in Iron and Steel"; "Our Ironclad Ships"; "The Stability of Ships," etc.

He was made a Companion of the Bath in 1868, and was promoted to the rank of K.C.B. in 1880. He also received distinctions from the Czar of Russia, the Sultan of Turkey, the Emperor of Austria, and from the Mikado of Japan. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1876, was a Member of Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1883 to 1896, and was an Honorary Vice-President of the Institution of Naval Architects. He continued active to the end, although aware that his heart was affected.

His death took place on 30th November 1906, at the ago of seventy-six.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1870.


1906 Obituary [2]

"...death of Sir Edward need, K.C.B., on the 30th of November, has removed a man whose career for several years was a matter of national importance. He was born in 1830, at Sheerness, of humble parents. He appears to have had little education, being employed in the dockyard; but he was one of those who, insisting on getting to the top, gets there in spite of obstacles. There was a school of mathematics and ship construction at Portsmouth, and to this he found his way, and profited largely by what he was taught. He married early in life Miss Barnaby, the daughter of an inspector of shipwrights at Sheerness Dockyard, where Mr. Reed worked for several years.

Ultimately he came to London, and was for some months editor of the Mechanics Magazine, and subsequently a contributor to the columns of The Engineer. He had much to do with the founding of the Institute of Naval Architects by his brother-in-law and John Scott Russell, and was for some time its secretary.

The most important..." More


1907 Obituary [3]



1906 Obituary [4]

SIR EDWARD JAMES REED died on November 30, 1906, at his London residence, Savoy Court, Strand. Born at Sheerness on September 20, 1830, he, after serving his apprenticeship with a shipwright, entered the School of Mathematics and Naval Construction at Portsmouth. Leaving in 1852, he obtained a position in Sheerness Dockyard, but resigned on account of a dispute with the authorities, and then occupied himself with technical journalism, editing the Mechanic's Magazine.

In 1860 he became first secretary of the newly founded Institution of Naval Architects, and in 1863 was appointed Chief Constructor of the Navy. At the time when he assumed this office the art of constructing ships of war was in a transition stage, and he did much to mould it on the lines along which it subsequently developed. The superiority of iron over wood as the material for the hulls had barely been established, and the methods in which it was employed were largely modelled on those practised with wood. Reed was quite clear as to the advantages of iron, and in the "bracket-frame" system of construction, first adopted for the Bellerophon (1865), he introduced a more effective method of utilising its special qualities. In regard to armour, the necessity for which was generally recognised, when his term of office began, as the result of experience gained in the Crimean war, he adopted the principle that the vital parts - boilers, engines, magazines, rudder, and steering gear - in addition to the heavy-gun positions, should be adequately protected. In the Warrior, the first sea-going ironclad, begun in 1859, there was a central citadel, 213 feet long, which was provided with 4.5-inch armour, but the rest of the ship, which was in all 380 feet in length, was unprotected against injury from shot and shell. To remedy this weakness he advocated and used in his ships an armour belt extending the whole length at the water-line.

In 1869 he expressed the opinion that, if any mistake had been made with reference to the introduction of turret-ships, and especially of monitors, into the British Navy, it had consisted in adopting them too rapidly rather than too slowly; indeed, it was his attitude towards turret-ships that led to his resignation in 1870.

The Devastation, begun in 1869, embodied his idea of the best results obtainable on the turret plan. In her he solved the problem presented by the rigging by dispensing with sails altogether, and she was thus the first British sea-going battleship that relied solely on steam. He left the Admiralty in 1870.

During his seven years' service the Navy had been increased by some forty iron armourclads, in addition to cruisers and other vessels, and subsequently, in the course of his practice as a naval architect, he was responsible for many other war-vessels. For Brazil, in 1872, he designed the Independencia, which, in 1878, was purchased by the British Government and called the Neptune. For Germany he planned the Kaiser and Deutschland, cruisers of about 7600 tons, both of which were built at Samuda's yard on the Thames, the latter being completed in 1875; and three cruisers for Japan a little later. For Chili he produced the cruising armourclads Almirante Cochrane and Blanco-Encalada, which were launched in 1874 and 1875, and it was at the behest of the same Power that more than a quarter of a century afterwards he designed the Libertad and the Constitution, battleships, which were launched by the firms of Vickers, Sons and Maxim and Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. at the beginning of 1903, and which now form part of the British Navy as the Triumph and Swiftsure.

Sir Edward Reed entered Parliament as Liberal member for the Pembroke Boroughs in 1874, and at the general election of 1880 was returned for Cardiff District. This seat he retained until 1895, and he was again returned for it in 1900, but did not seek re-election in 1905. He was a Lord of the Treasury in Mr. Gladstone's Administration of 1886. He was made a K.C.B. in 1880, and in addition held several foreign orders and decorations. The Royal Society elected him a Fellow in 1876. He was the author of a considerable number of books, including " Shipbuilding in Iron and Steel" (1869); "Our Ironclad Ships" (1869); "The Stability of Ships" (1884); and "Modern Ships of War" (1885).

He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1870.


1906 Obituary [5]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1906 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  2. The Engineer 1906/12/07, p582.
  3. 1907 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  4. 1906 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  5. Engineering 1906 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index
  • Biography of Edward James Reed, ODNB