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James Weir French

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Sir James Weir French (1876-1953), chairman of Barr and Stroud

1953 Obituary [1]

WE record with deep regret the death of Sir James Weir French, which occurred on January 14th, at his home at 998, Great Western Road, Glasgow. Until his retirement in 1949, Sir James was chairman of Barr and Stroud, Ltd., of which firm he had been a director since its inception in 1913.

James Weir French, who was born in 1876, was the son of Mr. Andrew French, a metallurgical specialist.

He received the earlier part of his education at Bearsden Academy, and later studied at the University of Glasgow, where he subsequently received his D.Sc. degree, and at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow.

Sir James continued his studies in several centres abroad, including Berlin, where he took particular interest in German scientific instrument making. From the beginning of his distinguished engineering career Sir James specialised in the design and development of scientific instruments, and prior to the first world war had made some important contributions in the field of range-finding instruments and gun-sights. It was this work that led Sir James to join the late Dr. Archibald Barr and Dr. William Stroud.

When their instrument manufacturing partnership became a limited company in 1913 Sir James was appointed to the board, and for the remainder of his life was closely associated with that company's development and progress. On Dr. Stroud's appointment as chairman in 1931, following the death of Professor Archibald Barr, Sir James became vice-chairman, and seven years later, when Dr. Stroud died, he succeeded to the chairmanship of the company.

Between the wars Sir James gave close attention to the design and development of instruments necessitated by the rapid progress in aircraft and submarines. He held many hundreds of patents for range- and height-finding instruments, periscopes, gunnery control equipment, and anti-aircraft sights, the invention of all of which involved not only an expert knowledge of metals, but also of glass and its manufacture. In this latter connection, it may be said, Sir James was deeply interested in the artistic as well as in the technical aspect of glass. He was a Fellow of the Society of Glass Technologists and was also the lay president of the Glasgow Art Club. During the second world war his firm made a notable contribution by the supply of the many and varied instruments that were essential to the success of the fighting services, and in recognition of the scientific work that he had accomplished Sir James was created a Knight in 1941.

Sir James retired from the chairmanship of Barr and Stroud, Ltd., three years ago, but continued to take a keen interest in its affairs and in the affairs of the scientific and other societies of which be was a member. These included the Physical Society, the Institute of Physics, the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, and the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow. Sir James was the author of many books and papers dealing with optics, optical glass, and the science of instrument making, and also with the economic aspects of industry.

Sir James took a lively interest in the education of the young. But some of his views were not very popular. He held for, instance, that many boys, instead of being educated up to fifteen years of age and possibly going on with their education thereafter, would be much better suited by entering an engineering works earlier. He maintained that for those without academic attainments experience in a works was a better education and fitted them better for after life. His views on other topics were equally independent, with the result that it was always entertaining and usually enlightening to talk with him, and his charm and his generosity won him many friends outside as well as inside the technical fields of which he was a master.

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