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British Industrial History

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Gilbert Roberts

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Sir Gilbert Roberts (1899-1978), civil engineer.

1899 Born on 18th February[1] in Hampstead[2]

1901 Henry W Roberts 40, chemist and druggist, employer, lived in Hampstead with Lily Roberts 28, Winefred G Roberts 4, Gilbert Roberts 2[3]

1911 William John Laing 36, coal merchant manager, lived in West Dulwich with Lily Laing 36, Malcolm Laing 1 and his step children Winifred Grace Roberts 14, Gilbert Roberts 12[4]

1912-16 Educated at Bromley Grammar School

WWI Joined Royal Flying Corps. Wounded in the knee while on a bombing raid. Awarded an army scholarship, which enabled him to complete his studies at the City and Guilds College.

1920 Scientific education at City and Guilds (Eng) College, London

1922 Gained B.Sc (Hons) with first-class honours

1923 Joined Sir Douglas Fox and Partners; worked on structural calculations for the Sydney Harbour Bridge under Ralph Freeman and G. C. Imbault.

1925 Married Elizabeth N Hora in Kingston[5]

1926 Associate of Inst Civil Engineers; lived in London.

Also worked on the Newcastle upon Tyne bridge

1931 Worked on the design and construction of welded steel bridges, of which Billingham Bridge was the first all-welded bridge in Britain.

1936 In charge of construction and development for Sir William Arrol in Glasgow, where he took the initiative in substituting welding for the traditional riveting of joints in steel structures.

1945 Became director and chief engineer

1949 Joined Freeman, Fox and Partners. He was jointly responsible for the original design work on the great suspension bridges across the estuaries of the Severn, Forth, and Humber.

1951 Designed the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain

Developed and patented the revolutionary aerofoil-shaped box-girder deck of the final Severn Road Bridge design.

Other notable designs were the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the Wye Bridge on the Welsh side of the Severn crossing, the Volta River bridge (later known as Adomi bridge) in Ghana, and the new Maidenhead Bridge; radio telescopes in Australia and Canada; and two Goliath cranes of 400 tons capacity for use in the construction of nuclear power stations.

1965 Knighted for his work on the Forth Road Bridge

1965 Elected fellow of the Royal Society

1969 Retired.

1970 He was also involved in the design of two bridges, at Milford Haven in Wales and the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne, Australia, both of which collapsed during construction in 1970, with the loss of 4 and 35 lives respectively. Both these bridges were of "box-girder" design; several other examples of this type of bridge failed at around the same time. The structural engineering industry learnt lessons from these unhappy events and modified the approach to these designs[6]. Ultimate responsibility for the West Gate tragedy were never clearly established, in spite of the most searching questioning by the Australian Royal Commission investigating the accident. A few weeks later Roberts suffered a heart attack, and on recovery was ordered complete rest.

1978 Died in Chelsea[7]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Civil Engineer Records
  2. BMD
  3. 1901 census
  4. 1911 census
  5. BMD
  6. [1] West Gate Bridge collapse
  7. BMD
  • Civil Engineer Records
  • Biography of Sir Gilbert Roberts, ODNB