Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Rhys Jenkins

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Rhys Jenkins (1859-1953), industrial historian.

1897 February. Article on compressed air as a motive power.[1][2][3][4]

1953 Obituary [5]

In our last issue, we made a brief announcement of the death of Mr. Rhys Jenkins, M.I.Mech.E., which occurred on January 27th, at his home at 45, St. Helen's Park Road, Hastings.

Mr. Jenkins, who was in his ninety-fourth year, was an acknowledged authority on industrial history, and in particular on the ·history of engineering.

A great deal of his professional career was spent in H.M. Patent Office, where he was a senior examiner until his retirement in 1920.

Rhys Jenkins was born on September 29, 1859. He served an apprenticeship in the engine works of Nevill Brothers at Llanelly, and then spent a few years in the drawing office of John Fowler and Co., Ltd., Leeds.

Subsequently, he worked for a time with Greenwood and Batley, Ltd., Leeds, with Hornsby and Sons, of Grantham, and with Marshall Sons and Co., Ltd., Gainsborough.

In 1884, Mr. Jenkins secured an appointment on the examining staff of the Patent Office, later becoming a senior examiner. About the time of his appointment to the Patent Office, Mr. Jenkins began the systematic collection of notes, transcripts and extracts from printed and manuscript sources relating to numerous aspects of industrial history.

The classification and arrangement of the wealth of material that he gathered occupied his leisure hours for over fifty years. Moreover, a great deal of that material has been made available in the form of papers, lectures and books, of which Mr. Jenkins was the author. Many of his writings were published in THE ENGINEER, under the title of "Links in the History of Engineering." The first of his articles under that title appeared on December 7, 1917, and dealt with the beginnings of iron founding in England. That series by Mr. Jenkins continued until 1920, his final article dealing with John Farey's book (1827) entitled A Treatise on the Steam Engine, Historical, Practical and Descriptive.

Mr. Jenkins' retirement from the Patent Office in 1920 occurred when proposals for the formation of the Newcomen Society for the Study of the History of Engineering and Technology were taking shape. He was an enthusiastic member of the Society from its very beginning and maintained an active interest in its affairs to the end of his days.

As soon as the Society was founded, Mr. Jenkins began the long list of valuable contributions which are to be found in its Transactions under his name. They all reveal the thoroughness of his researches and the breadth of his knowledge.

He was elected president of the Newcomen Society in 1926, and entitled his presidential address "Observations on the Rise and Progress of Manufacturing Industry in England." It dealt with a variety of industries - the manufacture of salt, tin smelting, lead smelting, wool, brewing, mining, glass and paper-making - and also with the introduction and development of mechanical power in industry.

In 1936, the Newcomen Society published a collection of Mr. Jenkins' earlier papers as a token of the esteem in which he was held, and with the laudable object of making them available to a larger number of people. The collection includes some of the papers which have appeared in our pages.

Another work which revealed Mr. Jenkins' painstaking research was the memorial volume, published in 1927, on James Watt and the Steam Engine, in the preparation of which he collaborated with his friend, the late H. W. Dickinson.

In recent years, perhaps, Rhys Jenkins had devoted more attention to the history of iron than to other subjects, but there was literally no technical matter about which he could not supply information from his notes or his memory. That information he was always ready to impart to serious workers. He was, by nature, very quiet and unassuming, but was always listened to with the closest attention and respect when he gave advice at the council table or spoke at meetings. The world has lost in him an antiquarian of the first rank.

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