Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,664 pages of information and 235,203 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

William Edward Smith

From Graces Guide

William Edward Smith (1850-1930)

1930 Obituary [1]

Sir WILLIAM EDWARD SMITH, C.B., died on September 16, 1930.

The son of a quartermaster in the Royal Navy, he was born at Portsmouth in 1850. He worked as a boy in the rope-house at the Dockyard, and at the age of fourteen obtained an apprenticeship in the Civil Service competitive examinations.

After working at Woolwich he returned to Portsmouth, and was one of four selected for a course of training at the Royal School of Naval Architecture.

In June 1873 he was appointed to the Admiralty Constructive Staff, and was employed on stability calculations of warships consequent upon the loss of H.M.S. Captain. He was also actively engaged in the designs of battleships, and calculations of launching curves.

He was appointed to the Corps of Naval Constructors in 1883, becoming Chief Constructor in 1894 and Superintendent of Contract Work in 1902.

For many years he was Instructor of Naval Architecture at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. His services were in much demand outside his technical work, and included many semi-legal, commercial, and other questions.

Sir William retired from the Admiralty in 1912, having received the honour of C.B. in 1903, and knighthood in 1911. He continued his interest in scientific and naval matters, served on the Board of Trade Load-line Committee, and was for some years a member of the Executive Committee of the National Physical Laboratory. He was a Governor of the Imperial College of Science, and of the Council of the City and Guilds of London College at South Kensington.

He was for fifty years a member of the Institution of Naval Architects, being elected Vice-President in 1906, and Honorary Vice-President in 1926. Sir William was elected a Member of the Institute of Metals in 1912. He served as a Member of Council in 1913-22, and as Vice-President 1922-27. He took great interest in the work of the Institute, being very regular in his attendance at Council and Committee meetings. He was Chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee, a responsible and important position in any institution, and particularly so in a relatively young society as the Institute was at the time. He examined the accounts with the utmost care, and the Institute benefited from hid unremitting attention. As a mark of appreciation of these services he was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 1927, when he felt it necessary to relinquish his more active interests.

A genial, unassuming man, whose gifts were somewhat hidden from the ordinary observer by his modesty, he leaves behind a fragrant memory in the minds of many who had the pleasure of enjoying his friendship and sharing in his labours. — T. TURNER.

1930 Obituary[2]


The history of the four schools of naval architecture, which have existed for longer or shorter periods in this country during the last one hundred and twenty years, exhibits a curious mixture of honest endeavour, clear-sighted experiment and political interference. This is amply confirmed by a study of the series of articles by Mr. A. W. Johns on the First and Second Schools of Naval Architecture, which appeared in Engineering in 1926 and in the early part of last year, and by one on the third and fourth schools, which we published in 1923. These contributions further indicate that admission to these institutions was only to be secured by hard work, and that retention on their rolls could not be maintained except by equal sacrifice of leisure.

As has been said the hours of study at the third school, which existed at South Kensington from 1864 to 1873, were somewhat heroic. They lasted from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day with short intervals, except on Wednesday, when work ceased at noon and, in fact, proved too strenuous for all but the most robust. The course consisted of four sessions of seven months duration, during the intervals in which students were encouraged to inspect any work in progress in a Royal Dockyard and to make sketches and descriptions of it. Nevertheless there were some, who were able to take full advantage of the training provided, and ten, who at the end of the course, were awarded first-class fellowships, as the result of a very difficult examination. Of these ten, one was Sir William Edward Smith, whose death, we regret to record, occurred at Herne Bay on September 16 after a distinguished career in the Construction Branch of the Admiralty during the important period which immediately preceded the Great War.

William Edward Smith was born at Portsmouth on April 4, 1850, and after a period, during which he helped the local farmers and blacksmiths, entered the Rope House in Portsmouth Dockyard at the age of eleven. He then served four years as an apprentice shipwright, one year at Portsmouth and three years at Woolwich, and in 1869 joined the School of Naval Architecture at South Kensington. As we have already said, in 1873, he graduated from this institution with the high distinction of a first-class certificate and immediately received an appointment at the Admiralty. His first work was to assist in designing the ironclads Northampton, Colossus and Inflexible, the last named being the last ship to be equipped with wrought-iron armour 24 in. thick, the result of which was that her speed did not exceed 14 knots. He also played his part in developments which were taking place owing to the improvements in armour and propelling machinery and won special distinction, during the controversy on partial.and complete armour belts, by a series of. lectures on “ Armour ” delivered at the Naval College, Greenwich, at which he had been appointed instructor in the early eighties.

In 1887 Smith became Inspector of Contract Work and was thus brought into close contact with the shipbuilding establishments throughout the country. Some years later he was appointed chief constructor at the Admiralty, where he was occupied on the design of some of the vessels constructed under the Naval Defence Act of 1889 and of the more important ships built later for the Navy. In 1902 he became Superintendent of Construction Accounts and Contract Work, and during his ten years tenure of this post succeeded in cementing the amicable relationships between the Admiralty and their contractors, with the result that the announcement of his appointment as Director of Naval Construction as successor to Sir Philip Watts in 1911 was generally welcomed. It may further be recalled that the time during which he was acting as Superintendent of Contract Work was one of extreme importance in the development of the Navy. It included the advent of the big gun battleship, the steam turbine, the use of oil for fuel and numerous other minor improvements, while in another category the Antarctic exploration ship, Discovery was one of his products. In the event, however, Sir William never occupied the premier post in British naval architecture. For in June, 1912, before he had actually taken up the position, it was announced in the House of Commons that his services were more useful as Superintendent of Contract Work and it, therefore, came as no surprise that, in spite of the sugary compliments with which what must have been a bitter pill was coated, he retired from the service of which he had been so long a leading member when Mr. E. H. (afterwards Sir Eustace) Tennyson-D’Eyncourt was brought in from outside the Corps of Naval Constructors.

In 1913 Sir William became vice-chairman of the Board of Trade Committee on the Load Line for Merchant Ships, and for eight years was Chairman of the Board of Studies of the London University in Civil and Mechanical Engineering. He was also chairman of the Advisory Committee of the William Froude National Tank and of the National Physical Laboratory, as well as of the Technical Committee for the restoration of H.M.S. Victory to the condition she was in at Trafalgar. He was for some years a member of the Board of Governors of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, South Kensington, and of the main Committee of the British Engineering Standards Association. He was elected a member of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1880 and served as one of its vice-presidents. He was also a member of the Institute of Metals. He was appointed a C.B. in 1903 and received the honour of knighthood in 1911."

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