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Two Davids: Grubb Parsons’ stellar double act


Heaton’s Grubb Parsons led the world in the design and building of high quality large astronomical telescopes for almost 60 years until the company’s untimely demise in 1985.

Grubb Parsons 98 inch Isaac Newton telescoperesized

Grubb Parsons 98 inch Isaac Newton telescope, 1967

For almost 30 years, from the late 1950s until the company closed, that success was driven by two very different men, both named David, whose skill and expertise complemented one another, driving the company’s success and world renown.

David Scatcherd Brown was an academic, with extensive mathematical insight, an expert on designing and testing telescopes, whose understanding and interpretation of test results was such that the quality and consistency of the firm’s products rapidly grew.

David Sinden on the other hand came from a working class background and learnt through doing. He became an expert in working with glass, producing the optically perfect mirrors essential to the large telescopes produced by Grubb Parsons.

Together they made a formidable team, both very different characters and backgrounds, but with a shared passion for astronomy. Although there’s no evidence that either David ever lived in Heaton, their work at Grubb Parsons certainly put it on the map.

Grubb Parsons

The firm of Sir Howard Grubb Parsons and Company was established in Heaton in 1925, although the roots of the firm in astronomy and telescope making go back to Dublin in the early 19th Century, with the establishment of a telescope manufacturing company by Thomas Grubb. The firm quickly developed a reputation for the quality of its astronomical telescopes. When Thomas retired in 1868, his son Howard took over, moving the business to St Albans in 1918. The business struggled under Howard’s leadership and some seven years later was bought out by Sir Charles Parsons and the new firm re-located to Newcastle, where C.A. Parsons and Company already had its headquarters.

Grubb Parsons Factory

Grubb Parsons, Heaton works

That Charles Algernon Parsons should have taken an interest in telescope making when he already had a well established business making power generating equipment and steam turbines may seem unusual. However, his father William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, was a famous astronomer. Charles, along with his two older brothers, was privately educated at the family seat of Birr Castle, County Offaly, Ireland, where one of his tutors, Sir Robert Ball, was later to become Astronomer Royal for Ireland. So it’s hardly surprising that Charles had an interest in astronomy. Furthermore, the Irish connection almost certainly would have meant that he was familiar with the Thomas Grubb Company and would have wanted to continue its tradition.

Grubb Parsons was already well established and had a reputation for its large astronomical telescopes by the time the two Davids joined the company in the 1950s, but they would go on to achieve world renown over the next 20 years.

David Scatcherd Brown

David Scatcherd Brown was born in Coventry on 25 August 1927. The family were from Yorkshire, where his father was a headmaster. He attended Oldbury County School before securing a place at Queen’s College Cambridge to read Natural Sciences, specialising in physics and maths. The 2nd World War interrupted his studies while he served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, gaining valuable engineering experience and skills, before returning to complete his studies.

Grubb Parsons David S Brown - pic

David Scatcherd Brown

By that time, Brown was already interested in telescopes and astronomy, so it must have been a natural fit for him to take up post at Grubb Parsons straight from University in 1950. He was put to work with the optical team, under the leadership of George Manville, working specifically on the testing and manufacturing methods for the large mirrors and lenses needed for large telescopes. At the time the business was just picking up after the war and David was quick to adopt and adapt the latest testing technologies, making the whole process more objective and improving the quality of the finished product. It was on his advice that a testing tower was built allowing mirrors to be tested lying on their back, which greatly improved the process and perhaps explains the unusual shape of the Grubb Parsons building.

In 1950, David married Margaret Stephens, whom he’d met at Cambridge, when she was studying Natural Sciences at Girton. The couple would go on to have two children.

David Sinden

David Sinden was born on 31 July 1932 in Hartlepool and was a keen astronomer from an early age. At the age of 16 he built his first telescope, with the help of his father, Fred, causing a stir among the neighbours in Hood Street, Haverton Hill. By the age of 22, now living in a council house in Billingham, a story appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer when David, already a member of the British Astronomical Association, applied for planning permission to build an observatory in his parents’ back garden. The observatory was to be made of galvanised steel sheets on a wooden frame with an 8’ diameter dome. The council, approving the plan, admitted that they didn’t have any precedents for planning applications for such buildings on a council estate! In the article, David admitted that he had to wait for the street lights to go out and that the heat from Teesside’s factories sometimes made the stars appear square, although he did say that they may just be flying snuff boxes!

Grubb Parsons D Sindon L with George Oliver and 72 in Helwan mirror

David Sinden (extreme right) with George Oliver and the 72 inch Helwan mirror

Having been apprenticed as a fitter at ICI, the young David found that the work wasn’t to his liking and moved to work for a local optician, becoming an expert in optical instruments. It was while working there that he made a mirror, which he sent to Grubb Parsons on spec. So impressed were they that they offered him a job. So it was that David Sinden joined the firm in 1957, working for David Brown.


David subsequently married Helen, although we’ve been unable to confirm the date, and the couple were recorded in the 1980s as living at the Poplars, Coley Hill Farm, North Walbottle, far enough out of town to avoid the worst of the light pollution.

Polar opposites

In 1961, David Brown was appointed Optical Manager focusing exclusively on telescopes and a year later he appointed David Sinden as Glass Shops’ Manager, with control over scientific instruments as well as telescopes. As David Brown’s obituary notes ‘There could not have been two more different types working together, the one with a deep mathematical insight and ability to interpret obscure testing problems, the other with the instinctive feel for working glass, the hardness of the pitch, the construction of the polisher and methods of working.’

It seems that the two men were also polar opposites in terms of personality. David Brown was described as a quiet, good natured and unassuming man, whereas David Sinden was much more outgoing. Many of his friends and former colleagues posted tributes after his death, all speaking warmly of a friendly, generous, passionate man with an improbable number of outside interests which included, but were not limited to, photography, sculpture, motorbikes, steam engines, archaeology, marathon running and pistol shooting. An exceptional public speaker with a passion and enthusiasm for science, astronomy and anything even vaguely telescope-shaped, who could hold an audience entranced for hours and hours.

Their time working together at Grubb Parsons saw the company produce some of its finest work and arguably some of the best large optical telescopes ever produced. The list is extensive and includes:

  • 48-inch reflector, Victoria, Canada, 1961
  • 40-inch reflector, Pic du Midi, France. Optics only, 1962
  • The 40 inch Elizabeth telescope, South Africa,1963
  • 74-inch reflector, Helwan (Kottamia), Egypt, 1963
  • 30-inch reflector, Jungfraujoch, Switzerland, 1966
  • 16/24-inch Schmidt, Castel Gandolfo, 1967
  • The 98 inch Issac Newton Telescope, Hestmonceaux, England, 1967
  • 72 inch (182cm) Mirror for Padua, Italy, 1973
  • 48/72-inch Schmidt, Siding Spring, Australia, 1973
  • 154 inch Reflector, Siding Spring, Australia, 1974
  • 48-inch reflector, Athens University, Greece, 1975
  • 150-in mirror, UKIRT, Hawaii, 1976
  • 60 inch Reflector, La Silla, Chile, 1976.

Many of them are still in situ.

Grubb Parsons 98 in mirror - Ds 1965

Magazine cover featuring Grubb Parsons

Grubb Parsons, during their time there, was a curious mixture of the latest techniques and processes that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the dark satanic mills of old. In one room David Brown might be working on the very latest in computerised testing and design processes, while in another a vast cauldron of pitch was being boiled. David Sinden always spoke of his work as dirty, grubby, grimy, filthy and gritty, although the results were world renowned.

Decline of Grubb Parsons

By the late 1970s, despite the obvious success of a series of large scale telescopes, Grubb Parsons was in difficulty. The scientific instrument side of the business, which had always supported the more impressive work on large telescopes, started to decline and being part of a much larger group of companies with different priorities saw a lack of new investment.

David Sinden was the first to leave, in 1976, to set up his own business, the Sinden Optical Company. David Brown, having been promoted to Technical Director in 1975, stayed on with the company, taking control of all of the optics work and completing a number of major projects, including the 4.2m Herschel telescope even as the works were pulled down around the glass shops.

Life after Grubb Parsons

In 1981, David Brown was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Durham University and when Grubb Parsons finally closed in 1985 joined the Physics Department as the Grubb Parsons Research Fellow. As well as working on a number of major projects, he travelled extensively around the world to advise on the construction of large telescopes. He also lectured at both Durham and Edinburgh Universities, where his lectures were said to be stimulating, with many practical demonstrations. He maintained his lifelong interest in Astronomy, with his own observatory and active membership of the Newcastle Astronomical Society.

He died at the young age of 59 on 17 July 1987 after what is described as a short illness. Probate records show his address at that time as 17, Douglas Avenue, Gosforth and that he left an estate of £97,063.

In 1979, David Sinden established his own optical company in Raby Cross, Byker, although the firm eventually moved to Ryton after being plagued by repeated problems with vandalism. The company dealt with all types of optical work, including building quite a reputation for Camera Obscuras. Loved by the Victorians, the Camera Obscura projects images of the locality onto a large circular table in a darkened room. SOC’s first commission was to build one for the Gateshead Garden Festival, where it was set up in a large tent. They then went on to build others for places as far flung as Portugal, Spain and Cuba. After the garden festival the Camera Obscura was moved to the Foredown Tower in a Country Park in Hove, where it remains the only example of SOC’s work in the UK.

In addition to Camera Obscuras, the company began to specialise in restoring historic telescopes and even in building new large mirrors, the largest being 48”, using equipment bought from Grubb Parsons when it closed down.

In 1993, David Sinden was awarded an Honorary masters Degree from Newcastle University. Perhaps the greatest accolade for his lifetime’s work though was the naming of a minor planet in his honour. In June 2005, Asteroid 10369 Sinden was named in his honour, with a team from Armagh University visiting his workshop to present him with documentation about his own star.

Grubb Parsons Presentation from Armagh Uni re asteroid 10369 Sinden June 2005 (1)

Sadly, he died just two months later on 29 August 2005, at the age of 73 after being diagnosed with lung cancer some 18 months earlier.


The Sinden Optical Company closed in 2005 after David’s death. Although Grubb Parsons has been closed for almost 40 years, the old telescope testing tower can still be seen behind Siemens on land owned by a company called Houghton International;. But the real legacy of Grubb Parsons and their two optical geniuses, David Brown and David Sinden lives on in the great optical telescopes they built, many of which are still in regular use in all five continents of the world.

Can you help?

If you know more about Grubb Parsons, including the work of Davids Brown and Sinden, we’d love to hear from you.  Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org


Researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

This article is part of Heaton History Group’s project ‘Brains Steam and Speed: 250 years of science, engineering and mathematics in Heaton‘, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from Heaton History Group and the Joicey Trust

Pupils from local schools will study mathematicians, scientists and engineers associated with Heaton and produce artworks, inspired by what they have learnt, some of which will be exhibited at the People’s Theatre in July 2018.

Sir Ove Arup: engineer and philosopher

You could be forgiven for never having spotted the black commemorative plaque high on the wall between the upstairs and downstairs bay windows of 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace, Heaton. The house is in the row of almost white brick terraced houses on the east side of Heaton Road, opposite the park. They have front gardens and, in the case of number 16, a high hedge so you really have to be looking for the plaque.

If you can catch sight of it from the road, you’ll see that it intriguingly reads ‘Ove Arup; 1895-1988; Engineer and Philosopher; Born here on 16 April.’


Commemorative plaque at 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace

Arup is rarely mentioned among Newcastle’s great engineers. Even those who have heard of him usually assume he is Danish. (More of that later.) But almost everyone will be familiar with at least one example of his work.

Sir Ove Arup (for, although not mentioned on the plaque, he was awarded a knighthood in 1970) was one of the great structural engineers of the 20th century and he was instrumental in the construction of one of the world’s most recognisable buildings: the Sydney Opera House. But we can also see and admire examples of his work much closer to home. First, back to his local roots.


Ove’s father, Jens, was Danish and a qualified veterinary surgeon who, in 1889, came to Newcastle to work for the Danish consulate, supervising the health of imported beef cattle. He found a house for the family in Jesmond but, sadly, the following year, before she could come to the UK to live with her husband and three daughters, Jen’s first wife, Johanne, died.

Following her death, Jens appointed a governess, Mathilde Nyquist, to educate his daughters and three years later he married her. Soon, with a child on the way, a larger house was required and so the Arups moved to Heaton, to the substantial 3-storey terraced house at 16 Jesmond Vale Terrace. And here on 16 April 1895, Ove Nyquist Arup was born.


Members of the Arup family pictured at his birthplace in 1967

Very soon after, however, with the British government increasingly concerned about the spread of diseases such as foot and mouth, an Act of Parliament was passed which banned the import of live cattle from areas in which listed diseases were found. Jen’s job became redundant and so, with Ove just a few months old, the family relocated to Germany. Ove was educated there and then in Denmark, where he went on to university to study philosophy and engineering, specialising in reinforced concrete.

So Ove’s initial stay in the country of his birth was brief. But he was to return. And the north east was to become especially important to him.

Back to Britain

On completion of his studies Ove took a job with a Danish company, Christiani and Nielsen. But in December 1923, when he was 28 years old,  the company transferred him to their UK office as Chief Designer. He went on to join J L Kier and Co (reinforced concrete specialists) and to meet and work with the famous architect, Berthold Lubetkin, most famously on the Penguin Pool at London Zoo. In 1938, Ove and his cousin, Arne, set up their own company Arup & Arup Ltd.

It was shortly after this, in the early years of WW2, that Ove faced an example of the sort of resistance that was to plague him for much of his life. And it was a formidable north east woman who stood in his way: Ove had designed a bomb shelter in ‘new-fangled concrete’, which he firmly believed would protect London citizens during enemy air raids. Jarrow MP, Ellen Wilkinson, was the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Security and entered into correspondence and talks with Arup about his proposals. While his designs would certainly save lives, Ellen Wilkinson and the government were concerned that the public would lose confidence in the existing brick and trench shelters and that those not able to shelter in the new concrete, underground shelters would be disadvantaged. In the end politics won the day, much to Arup’s disappointment, although his shelters were commissioned privately  by a number of wealthy clients.

After the war, Ove opened his own practice in London, Ove Arup, Consulting Engineers, which in 1949 became Ove Arup and Partners.


In 1957, Ove began work on the project which would make his reputation. But little did he know then, how much heartache it would bring nor that it would be seventeen years before it was complete.

Throughout his working life Arup made a point of congratulating architects, who won prestigious prizes for their designs, in the hope that his company would win the contract to help realise their dreams. This is exactly what happened when the Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, won a competition to design an opera house in Sydney. The design was controversial and the engineering challenges immense. Ove had difficulty persuading Utzon to modify his original shell design to make it buildable and to take account of the acoustic requirements of a world class opera house.  Costs spiralled and there were constant personality clashes between client (Australian government), architect (Utzon) and chief engineer (Arup). Utzon eventually resigned in 1966 and the Australian government architect, Ted Farmer, appointed a team to oversee the completion of the building.

Sydney Opera House under construction - 5 shells erected

Sydney Opera House under construction (made possible by Heaton-born Ove Arup)

Nevertheless this protracted project and its eventual success cemented (sorry!) the reputations of Ove and his companies. In October 1973, Sydney Opera House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Ove and his wife, Li, were at the ceremony. Utzon, the architect, was not invited and was not mentioned at all during the proceedings.

Bridge Over the River Wear

In 1961, Ove was approached to construct a concrete, pedestrian bridge across the River Wear from Dunelm House to Bow Lane, linking the university with the historic centre of Durham. There was a seemingly paltry budget of £35,000.

It was assumed that the financial constraints would mean the bridge would have to be a low one requiring most pedestrians to climb and descend steep banks on either side. But Ove was always ready for a challenge and decided to design and oversee the construction of a high re-enforced concrete bridge himself. To minimize costs, he ingeniously designed it to be constructed on conical pivots, in two halves parallel to the river. When finished in 1964, the two halves were swung manually, through 90 degrees to meet and be connected centrally by a bronze expansion joint.  Kingsgate Bridge is now a Grade 1 listed building.


Ove Arup inspecting Kingsgate Bridge


Kingsgate Bridge, Durham, a favourite project of Ove Arup

Of all the projects that Ove worked on this was to give him the greatest satisfaction, so much so that it was his wish that his ashes be scattered from Kingsgate Bridge into the River Wear. And so he was both born in the north east and returned to the region in death.


The adjacent Students Union building, Dunelm House, was also an Arup building. Ove acted as structural engineer and architectural adviser and his bust is mounted on the wall, which faces this bridge. It is built in the so-called ‘Brutalist’ style and excites conflicting emotions: In 1968 it won a Civic Trust Award but has also been called ‘the ugliest building in Durham’ by the university’s students. Although, in 1995, English Heritage said it had once been described as ‘the greatest contribution modern architecture has made to the enjoyment of an English medieval city’. In 2017, Durham University declared that no longer fit for purpose and announced plans for demolition so that it could redevelop the site but there is a well-supported campaign to save and list the building.  A decision is yet to be made.


Bust of Sir Ove Arup on Dunelm House


Sir Ove’s Park?

In 1967 Ove Arup drew up radical proposals in which Newcastle United Football Club would share sporting facilities with the nearby Newcastle University. The ground capacity of the £32.6m complex would have been around 63,000 with 31,000 seated and 32,000 standing.


Arup proposal to redevelop St James Park

Included in the plans were two gyms, four multi-purpose halls, five-a-side football and rugby fives courts, 13 squash courts, swimming, diving and learner pools plus a supporters’ club and restaurant. The plan for a state of the art stadium to replace the old ground fell through when the club was reluctant to share the facilities with the university.

Byker Viaduct

A local Arup structure which was built, albeit one constructed after Sir Ove’s retirement, and one which is still very much standing, is the elegant Byker Metro bridge.


Arup-designed Byker Metro Bridge

Again, the design was challenging because it had to be squeezed in between an existing road bridge and a main line rail viaduct; it crossed a steep-sided valley with old mine workings beneath; the valley is crossed by a geographical fault as well as the Ouseburn. The solution, a tall 800m S-shaped viaduct, won the Concrete Society Award for Civil Engineering in 1980 and makes a striking addition to the bridges which cross the valley. It is an appropriate local memorial for the Heaton-born company founder.


Ove Arup, besides being a talented structural engineer had many interests. He was an art collector, pianist and the accordianist as well as writer and artist: After his death, his daughter Anja published a book, ‘Doodles and Doggerel,’ of his drawings and verse. He was also a keen and successful chess player, going so far as to set up a company to manufacture chess sets, made to his own innovative designs.

He was often considered eccentric and many stories still circulate among those who knew him. He is, for example, said to have almost always carried a pair of chopsticks in his jacket breast pocket, so that he could sample other peoples’ food while dining with them.


But what of the ‘philosopher’ as mentioned on the plaque on the house of his birth? As already mentioned, Ove studied philosophy, along with engineering, at university and it remained an important influence on his work throughout his life.

His ‘Total Design’ vision was intended to encourage creative collaboration across all disciplines: not only engineering, building and architecture but other less obvious ones too, including computing, ethics and philosophy. He was a creative and critical thinker, who loved to debate and apply both original thought and what he learnt from other disciplines to his work and to the way his firm was run. Ultimately he wanted to make the world a better place.


Ove was much-honoured during his lifetime. including:

CBE (1953); RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture (1966) – unusual for a Structural Engineer to receive;Knighthood (1970); The Gold medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers (1973); Queens Award for Export Achievement (1984); Elected Honorary Royal Academician (1986).


When Sir Ove Arup died on 5 February 1988, he was the figurehead of one of the largest structural engineering companies in the world. Today his company employs over 14,000 staff in 92 offices across 42 countries and is responsible for many prestigious engineering projects worldwide. The firm is owned by trusts, the beneficiaries of which are past and present employees, each of which receive a share of the firm’s operating profit each year. There is still an Arup office in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Ove Arup Foundation, a charitable educational trust, was set up in his memory for the advancement of education directed towards the promotion, furtherance and dissemination of knowledge of matters associated with the built environment’.

Can you help?

If you know more about Ove Arup and his work, especially his connections with the north east, we’d love to hear from you.  Please either leave a reply on this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email   chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org


Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, Heaton History Group, with additional research by Chris Jackson.

This article is part of Heaton History Group’s project ‘Brains Steam and Speed: 250 years of science, engineering and mathematics in Heaton‘, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from Heaton History Group and the Joicey Trust

Pupils from local schools will study mathematicians, scientists and engineers associated with Heaton and produce artworks, inspired by what they have learnt, some of which will be exhibited at the People’s Theatre in July 2018.

Key Sources

‘Ove Arup Masterbuilder of the Twentieth Century’; Peter Jones, 2006

‘The Arup Journal 50th Anniversary Issue’







The Stroud Family of Cresta

274 Heaton Road is one of Heaton’s more substantial Victorian villas, also known as Cresta. The first recorded conveyance of the house is 1902 and it seems likely that the first residents were the Stroud family, Professor Dr Henry Stroud, his wife Eva Mary Antoinette Stroud and their three children, Irene Elizabeth, Bessie Vera and Henry Clifford. All fairly unremarkable, except that in one house we have a man who was professor of physics at the age of 26 and a close research collaborator and personal friend of Lord Armstrong; a world war one war hero and early aviator; a Red Cross volunteer in WW1 and a possible member of the peerage.

Henry Stroud was born in Bristol in 1862, the second of three children to John and Mary Stroud. John was a pharmaceutical chemist and as well as his family had two apprentices and a servant living in his home.

On leaving school, Henry had a brilliant academic career at both the University of London, where he gained first class degrees in both Physics and Chemistry and later a Doctorate, and at Cambridge, taking a first class degree in the second part of the Natural Science Tripos.

Henry became a lecturer in physics at Armstrong College, then part of the University of Durham in 1886. In 1887, he married Eva Marie Antoinette Emmett, also from Bristol.

Also in 1887, Henry became Professor of Physics and head of the department, at the ripe old age of 26. The 1891 census shows the family, Henry and Eva, with two daughters, Irene aged two and Bessie, six months, living at 8 Grosvenor Place Jesmond, supported by two servants. By 1911, they were living on Heaton Road, with their three children Irene, 22, Bessie, 20 and Henry Clifford, 17, again with two servants.

Either a Physics Professor earned a great deal more in 1911 than they do today, or one of the families had considerable wealth, as they certainly lived a comfortable lifestyle. There is no doubt that Henry was a great success in his position, growing the department from one professor, one lecturer and 76 students in 1887 to two professors, four lecturers, two demonstrators and 244 students when he retired in 1926.

What perhaps better explains the family’s wealth is Henry’s research interest. Throughout his career, Henry collaborated with Lord Armstrong on research into the nature of electricity. Lord Armstrong conducted early experiments on electrical discharges, which Henry worked with him on. A room, the Electrical Room, was specifically set aside at Cragside, Lord Armstrong’s country home, for their research work. Next door to the Billiard Room, the National Trust has recently opened this room to the public to celebrate their research. At Lord Armstrong’s request, Henry completed this research, which was published in 1899 as a ‘Supplement to Electrical Movement in Air and Water with Theoretical Inferences’ by Lord Armstrong CB, FRS. Essentially, the research led Armstrong to propose the existence of two ‘electric fluids’ in air and water, what we now understand as positively and negatively charged particles.

The photographs of their research showing the effect of negatively and positively charged particles are quite exquisite.

StroudElectrical research photo

Illustration of Lord Armstrong and Professor Stroud’s research on electrical discharges

A number of these are available on the Royal Society website. It seems likely that this research and Henry’s academic prowess made him a wealthy and famous man at a time when society revered knowledge. Certainly when he died in 1940, his estate was valued at £23,136/16/5, about £1.4m in today’s money.

Henry Clifford

The youngest of Henry and Eva’s children, Henry Clifford Stroud was born on 25 July 1893. He certainly followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of academic ability, although his passion was for engineering. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, then gained his BSc in Engineering at Armstrong College in 1913, followed by a BA at King’s College Cambridge. He was a student of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a graduate of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders where, despite his young age, he read a number of papers and was awarded prizes. He was gaining practical experience at Sir William Arrol’s in Glasgow during vacations and had plans to become a civil engineer.

At University, Henry Clifford joined the Officer Training Corps, then the Territorial Force and in June 1912, at the age of 18, was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Northumbrian Royal Engineers then promoted to Lieutenant two years later.

Captain Henry Clifford Stroud

Henry Clifford Stroud (Imperial War Museum)

When war broke out Henry immediately volunteered for service overseas and embarked for France with the Northumbrian Royal Engineers, First Field Company in January 1915. His career was tragically short-lived as on 8th February he was severely injured in both legs and after immediate treatment in Versailles, he found himself back at Armstrong College, now converted into the No1 Northern General Military Hospital, where he had a long slow recovery.

Sadly his injuries made a return to front line service impossible, so he was posted to Otley as an Instructor in Field Engineering and Bombing, becoming a Captain in June 1916. However, this didn’t satisfy Henry and in July he was passed by the Medical Board to join the Royal Flying Corps, qualifying as a pilot on 22nd August 1916.

STROUDpilots licence

In September he was posted to 61st Squadron at Rochford Aerodrome in Kent, engaged in the defence of London from air raids, often under the cover of darkness.

At around 11.30 on the night of 7 March 1918, Henry took off in a Se5a bi-plane to intercept a German plane. It was a moonless night, one of only two occasions when the Germans launched attacks on such nights during the war and there was obviously no radar or radio.

StroudSe 5a biplane

Plane like that piloted by Henry Clifford Stroud

At about the same time, Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch of 37 Squadron took off from Stoke Maries to intercept the same raider. With no means of communication and next to no light, the two aircraft collided in mid air over Dollyman’s farm in Essex at around midnight, killing both pilots. Henry Clifford was buried at St Andrew’s Church Rochford and a permanent memorial of the accident was placed at the spot where the two planes crashed. The memorial is still there and consists of an aeroplane propeller.

Stroud memorial

Memorial to Henry Clifford Stroud

Professor Stroud endowed a physics prize in his son’s honour at the University. Newspapers show that the Henry Clifford Stroud Prize for Physics was still being awarded well into the 1940s.


Henry’s wife had been born Eva Mary Antoinette Emmett in 1862. Like her husband, she was born in Bristol, the eldest daughter and one of six children of Clifford and Laura Emmett. Her father, Clifford, started as an accountant, in 1881 was clerk to an iron merchant and subsequently took over the business.

Eva was well educated. In 1881, aged 19, she was recorded as a ‘scholar’ (and her name is given as Mary E), signs of an independent spirit or just a slip of the pen? Later documents refer to her as Eva Mary once more.

We don’t know much about Eva’s early adulthood other than that she married Henry in 1887 and had three children. But we do know that, soon after Henry Clifford’s death during WW1, she volunteered her services to the Red Cross and Victoria League, following in the footsteps of her daughter, Irene. Records show that they both worked in the ‘moss room‘. During the first world war, sphagnum moss was collected from peat bogs in industrial quantities, as it had mildly antiseptic properties. The moss was transported to depots where it was dried and made into dressings for use in military hospitals.




When  Eva died on 3 March 1928,  Henry endowed another prize in her memory, the Eva Marie Antoinette Stroud Prize for Physics.

 Irene and Bessie

It’s relatively unusual to be able to track down what became of the daughters of a family, particularly post the 1911 census. However in the case of the Stroud family, the probate for Henry Stroud following his death in 1940 shows that his estate was to be divided between William Robert Gerald Wthiting and Ralph Oakley Whiting. Further research uncovered that Irene married William in the spring of 1911 and Bessie married his younger brother Ralph in September 1918.

The Whitings were the two sons of William and Marion Whiting. William was the Chief Constructor for the Admiralty. In other words, he was the person overall responsible for the construction of the naval fleet, which clearly influenced the careers of both sons.

William was born on 15th May 1884 and in 1911 was a Naval Architect, boarding at 2 Larkspur Street Jesmond. After marrying Irene, the couple lived at Perivale, Nun’s Moor Crescent. On 26 January 1923 he joined the Institute of Civil Engineers, where the records show that he had an MBE as well as BA. At that time he was working as Personal assistant to the General Manager at Armstrong Naval Yard. He died at the age of 63 on 5th September 1947 in Middlesex Hospital London.

Ralph was born on 16th January 1893, graduating Cambridge Trinity with a BA in Mechanical Sciences in 1914, acquiring an MA in 1918. He immediately joined the Royal Navy, becoming an Instructor Lieutenant in 1921 and Commander (the rank below Captain) in 1949. He was clearly stationed abroad for some of his career as immigration records show Bessie travelling alone to and from Malta, Singapore and Gibraltar in the 1930s, no doubt to be with her husband on his overseas postings.

The couple had at least one son, Anthony Gerald Stroud Whiting, born in 1926 and died in 2008 and he had a daughter Anita Julia Whiting.

What is intriguing about Ralph, Bessie and the family is that they are listed on a website called the Peerage, a genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain. So far I have been unable to determine why exactly. I have however discovered that Anita married the Very Rev. Hon. Dr Richard Crosbie Aitken Henderson, son of Peter Gordon Henderson, Baron Henderson of Brompton in 1985. So at the very least, Bessie and Ralph’s granddaughter is married to the son of a Baron, but there may be more to it. Watch this space.


This article was researched and written by Michael Proctor, Heaton History Group.

Can you help?

If you know anything else about any of the people mentioned in this article, please get in touch either by clicking on the link immediately below the title of this article or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to the history of Heaton.

Rachel Parsons: queen of the machine

Rachel Parsons (1885–1956) was an engineering trailblazer, but she has disappeared from the pages of history – until now. The daughter and heir of Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine, she was the first woman to study mechanical sciences at Cambridge University and went on to become a director of Heaton Works, her father’s firm.

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel Parsons (by Bassano, by permission of National Portrait Gallery)

Rachel and Charles Parsons

Rachel and Charles Parsons in Charles’laboratory at Holeyn Hall, Wylam

During the First World War, she taught hundreds of women to make munitions and later founded the Women’s Engineering Society. In 1956 she met a violent death at the hands of a stableman who was well known to her.

Woman at Parsons' Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Woman at Parsons’ Heaton works engaged in steam turbine manufacture during WW1

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

Rachel Parsons in a Buick outside her house in London’s Grosvenor Square, 1925

The remarkable story of Rachel Parsons and the Parsons family will be told by Henrietta Heald, author of William Armstrong, Magician of the North, a highly acclaimed biography of Baron Armstrong of Cragside. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP on Wednesday 12 August at 7.30pm and is FREE to Heaton History Group members. Non-members pay £2. The doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm. Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154. Until Wednesday 10 June, bookings will be accepted from Heaton History Group members only but after that will be open to all-comers.

Dreams of Nature: William Armstrong and Jesmond Dene

William Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Cragside (1810–1900) is best known as a practical engineer and scientist – the inventor of modern artillery and creator of the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity – but he had an intensely romantic side that revealed itself in his shaping of the landscape around him. ‘I am a greater lover of nature than most people give me credit for,’ wrote Armstrong in 1855, by which time he had started to transform his garden and grounds in Jesmond Dene to reflect his dream of living in the mountains.

Early 20C postcard of Jesmond Dene, published by Alexander Denholm Brash of 92 Heaton Road

Early 20C postcard of Jesmond Dene, published by Alexander Denholm Brash of 92 Heaton Road

Armstrong’s attachment to Jesmond Dene, which began in childhood, remained strong throughout his long life. As his prosperity increased, he was more and more inclined to share the pleasures of the place with others. For example, in the early 1860s, he built a Banqueting Hall in the dene – not for lavish feasting, but for entertaining his workers at tea parties. In 1884 he handed over the dene and the hall to the citizens of Newcastle in perpetuity, with clear instructions about their preservation and use.

Another early 20C card of Jesmond Dene by Alexander Denholm Brash

Another early 20C card of Jesmond Dene by Alexander Denholm Brash

AT our talk on Wednesday 25 March 2015, Henrietta Heald, author of ‘William Armstrong, Magician of the North’, will talk about the long association between Armstrong and Jesmond Dene, the dene’s status as a public park, and the future of the Banqueting Hall, which is now the subject of a restoration campaign. The talk will take place at The Corner House, Heaton Road, NE6 5RP at 7.30pm (Doors open at 7.00pm. You are advised to take your seat by 7.15pm). Please book your place by contacting maria@heatonhistorygroup.org /07443 594154.

Please note: this replaces the originally advertised talk by Andrew McLean.