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Miles Walker

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Professor Miles Walker (c1868-1941)



1941 Obituary [1]

MILES WALKER, M.A., D.Sc, F.R.S., died on the 22nd January, 1941, at the age of 73.

He had indeed achieved much, and made his mark as educationist and scientist, as engineer and inventor, a result of the dogged pertinacity natural to him but accentuated often by the zeal of the reformer. Born in Carlisle, he was originally trained for the Law, and in fact passed his final examination with honours in 1890. This career had not been of his choice, and his early yearning after a knowledge of scientific matters, particularly on the practical side, had by no means been quenched when, as a member of a bachelors' residential club in London, the practising solicitor came into contact with a day student of the Finsbury Technical College; the lingering spark was fanned into a flame and for a time practice of the Law ran in double harness with the enthusiasm of student activity under Professors Silvanus P. Thompson and John Perry.

Having completed the course in electrical engineering he shortly afterwards accepted the post of personal assistant to Prof. Silvanus Thompson, Principal of the College, his work being largely in Dr. Thompson's library, collaborating in the preparation of several of his well-known books. There were, however, also many live problems to interest them, scientific and of a practical nature; amongst the latter, traction problems were to the fore, and "surface-contact systems" were being tried out practically on small scales. Walker, in association with Thompson, obtained several patents for a surface-contact system and experimented with a short length of track laid down near London. It is noteworthy that at this early stage of his engineering career the Thompson-Walker surface contact stud and switch was in several ways of eminently practical design, using a "guardring" construction as protection against improper operation by leakage current. Possibly these traction interests were in part responsible for Walker's work on the jointing of track rails, a problem which remained with him for 40 years and proved a little disappointing, entrenched conservatism being proof against his heretical attacks.

With Thompson's backing, Walker decided to read for a degree at Cambridge, and entered St. John's College in 1896, subsequently taking first-class honours in the Natural Sciences Tripos, also in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos as a Scholar of his college. By then he had in mind getting into heavy engineering, and it happened that an opportunity presented itself by reason of the decision of George Westinghouse to build the Trafford Park works of the British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. (now Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co.), and in the meantime to send to Pittsburgh, U.S.A., a number of young men to be trained to fill engineering and executive posts upon their return. Walker enrolled in the contingent sponsored by Prof. J. A. Ewing, and was soon absorbed in his work at the Pittsburgh factory - work not confined to the acquisition of practical insight but including in his case original investigations.

Upon returning to England in 1903, he took charge of the design of alternating-current machinery at the Trafford Park works, and was responsible for many original innovations in this class of plant and in corn- mutating machines (e.g. his high-speed multiple radial commutator and the subjects of Institution papers mentioned below). He found, however, the restrictions of factory routine most irksome. All the more welcome therefore was the freedom afforded him upon accepting in 1912 the Chair of Electrical Engineering at the School of Technology in Manchester, in the Faculty of Technology of the Victoria University. Fortunately for all concerned, including his students, Walker maintained close contact with practice by continuing to serve his old firm as consultant, a connection retained through all vicissitudes nearly until he left Manchester, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1932. The freedom accruing to an academic post by no means meant an easy time for him, as he drove himself relentlessly.

He had no light sense of his obligations to the students attending his day and evening classes, but still found time not only for research and original investigations in electrical engineering, but for the writing of books and professional papers. Amongst his books are : "Specification and Design of Dynamo-Electric Machinery"; "The Diagnosing of Troubles in Electrical Machines"; "The Control of the Speed and Power Factor of Induction Motors"; and "Conjugate Functions for Engineers." Of his papers presented to The Institution, "Compensated Alternate-Current Generators" dealt with early inventive work and received an Extra Premium in 1905, while "The Supply of Single-Phase Power from Three-Phase Systems" presented in 1919 gained the Institution Premium. The John Hopkinson Premium in 1912 and Extra Premiums in 1925 and 1931 were awarded to joint authors. Walker held strong views on sociological, economic and national problems. He was intensely in earnest in discussing these, and took the opportunity afforded by Presidency of Section G of the British Association in 1932 to deliver an address under the title "The Call to the Engineer and Scientist." In this he nominated the engineer and scientist as being in his opinion naturally eudemonistic, and capable of effecting far-reaching fundamental reforms nationally and then on a worldwide scale. While the address, even in its delivered form, was distinctly unorthodox as a presidential address to the Engineering Section, the matter originally prepared for it had been severely expurgated by the author to meet what he realized were his obligations to the traditions of the Association.

He joined The Institution as Associate in 1894, and became a Member in 1907. He served as Chairman of the Manchester Local Section in 1908-9, and also on the Council. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1931, and held the degree of Doctor of Science in the University of London, and of Master of Arts at Cambridge. He married twice and leaves a widow and two adopted sons.


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