Effingham and Brooklands

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis
by Peter Hoar

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis portrait. With permission of The Barnes Wallis Foundation.

Sir Barnes Wallis was an engineer whose work, particularly for the Vickers aircraft company at Brooklands, helped to push the limits of aeronautical engineering during the twentieth century.

He was born in Ripley Derbyshire on the 26th of September 1887 and educated at Christ`s Hospital London. His first job at The Thames Engineering Works in Dartford saw him working on naval engines, the first British racing car and the first London taxi. An uncle found him a position in John Samuel Whites on the Isle of Wight as a trainee marine engineer. He was joined by Hartley B. Pratt who introduced him to the airship world. Vickers in Barrow recruited them both to work on a rigid airship, the R9. It was cancelled in 1915 and Wallis joined the Artists Rifles in Epping Forest. Discovering he was an engineer he was tasked with replacing their cesspit with a new sanitary system It was very successful and he considered it one if his proudest achievements. When the R9 was revived in 1916 Pratt and Wallis were drafted into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to continue working on the airships creating a new linear profile on the R80 and introducing the colour coded electrical system we still use today. In 1922 Wallis designed the private R100 which flew successfully to Canada in June 1930 but due to problems with other airships (the R101 crashed on its way to India) the project was discontinued.

Victory 2. Author’s own image

Wallis then moved to Effingham to work on aircraft at Brooklands. He joined Vimy designer Rex Pierson and built many aircraft using a French designed geodetic structure. In 1938 one, the Wellesley, flew non-stop 7,158 miles from Egypt to Darwin. This is still a record today. His Wellington bomber flew throughout WW2 and 11,461 were constructed at Brooklands, Chester and Blackpool.

Wallis also designed several bombs including the famous ‘bouncing bomb’, the Dam buster. Another design, weighing 10 tonnes, was to be carried by an aircraft he designed named Victory but the Air Ministry deemed it too expensive. The Lancaster could not carry the bomb until 1945 but it might have shortened the war had Victory been built.

After WW2 he designed both swing wing and hypersonic aircraft. He also proposed a nuclear-powered submarine to route under the North Pole ice to Australia drastically reducing the time and distance. In 1945 he designed a stratospheric chamber to test Vickers designed aircraft at very high altitudes He added a Mach 4 hypersonic wind tunnel in 1955 which tested Concorde. In 1952 he designed the geodetic Parkes telescope situated in New South Wales which transmitted pictures of the first lunar landing to the world and is still working 24 hours a day.

He suffered frequent rejection of his ideas by governing authorities but was finally knighted in 1971. He retired when 83 years old and devoted much of his time to Christs Hospital, now at Horsham and to St Lawrence’s church Effingham where he was a much revered supporter. He died in 1979 aged 92 and was laid to rest at St Lawrence.

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