Three memorials to William Froude, mathematician and scientist of our town
The stories behind Torbay’s blue plaques by Ian Handford, Chairman of the Torbay Civic Society. This week: William Froude
No blue plaque this time but the large replacement heavy metal plaque that replaced the one stolen by an unknown vandal a few years ago.
It was in an isolated alcove in the roadside wall at Seaway Lane and I understand it took some time before the plaque’s absence was discovered.
It was years later before Mayor-elect Gordon Oliver brought the matter to my attention and my first action was to determine what the sign said, as unfortunately I had never seen it.
Old press reports found their words – “William Froude 1810-1879. In 1870 Froude erected the Admiralty’s first experimental tank at Torquay before building a huge tank at his Manor House Home, Chelston Cross in 1872. As a naval architect, he was commissioned to identify the most efficient hull shape of a ship by the Institute of Naval Architects.
After I was elected President of the Torbay Civic Society in 2001, one of my first events was in response to a member who thought we should hold a social event at the hotel. This was courtesy of Mr and Mrs Mark Egglestone who arranged for us to have coffee mornings whilst unveiling my first blue plaque which was placed on the hotel entrance wall in June of that year – 2001.
This event was a precursor to the sale of the hotel, which was later converted into luxury apartments.
The original house had an association with Henry Brunel, son of Isambard and son Robert Froude, who in their teenage years designed and built the unique wooden cantilever staircase that was the subject of another visit to the house by our members a century later.
I featured this Froude, an eminent scientist and engineer with his home at The Manor House, in my Torbay Weekly article last year.
By now we know, coming back to the great plaque, that today’s scientists still refer to William Froude’s extensive diagrams and calculations when all ships, rocket engines, nuclear plants and even space travel, and yet all of these are actually from his original work originate in Thorbay.
Eventually, however, everything was removed from Chelston Cross when the British Admiralty transferred everything to the now-famous research laboratories at Gosport, Hampshire.
Today, fortunately, these largest testing centers in the world still keep a bottle of Torquay water, a drop of which is always used to bless every Royal Navy ship launched after testing is complete.
The stolen sign had to be replaced, that was never in question and once a sponsor was found and the new sign made it was finally re-erected on the perimeter wall of William’s home in Chelston Cross on 23 December 2013.
After William built this his second home in Torbay he called it Chelston Cross although the house had now been converted into the Manor House Hotel Chelston which some residents may remember although now apartments.
William was born on November 28, 1810, but did not survive when his visionary ideas were officially embraced. That was left to son Robert Edmund who, after his father’s death, moved to Gosport and became superintendent of the large naval establishment.
Our metal plaque in honor of William Froude at Seaway Lane had to be unveiled on 23rd December 2013 at the Grand Hotel, Torquay and then brought in for installation as visibility was difficult in this narrowest part of Seaway Road.
Mr. Froude is also honored with a special commemorative plaque at the town hall, thus reminding us of our city’s mathematician/scientist three times.
The Naval Laboratories at Gosport also maintain a museum with many artefacts, books and a magnificent life size bust of the man which is on display in the reception area of the large compound.
A pamphlet dedicated to William Froude is still available by sending two second class stamps plus an addressed stamped envelope to the Torbay Civic Society, Suite 1, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA