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Andrew Noble

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September 1902.
September 1902.

Andrew Noble (1831–1915) of W. G. Armstrong and Co

1831 Born at Greenock, the son of George Noble (d. 1847), a naval officer, the scion of a Dumbartonshire family, whose estate, lost for a generation, was repurchased in 1889 by his son. His mother, Georgiana, was the only daughter of Andrew Donald Moore of Ottercaps, Virginia, USA.

Educated in Greenock and later at Edinburgh Academy

1847 He entered Woolwich as a cadet.

1849 Joined the Royal Artillery and served in Malta, Canada, and South Africa. He was especially attracted by mathematical studies and scientific research.

1854 Married Margery Durham (d. 1929), daughter of Archibald Campbell, a notary in Quebec; they had four sons and two daughters.

1855 Promoted to captain

1858 Upon his return to the UK, he became secretary to the Royal Artillery Institution; the same year was appointed Secretary to a Special Commission upon Rifled Cannon, examining whether this type should replace the old muzzle-loaded, smooth-bore gun.

The new system of artillery was adopted officially by the services towards the end of 1858, a step which attracted much opposition from the more conservative parts of the military.

Noble's increasing reputation as an expert caused him to be nominated by the War Office to various positions in connection with the subject of guns and their ballistics

1860 He was Assistant Inspector of Artillery when William Armstrong invited him to join the Elswick Ordnance Co. He was offered a partnership in the business as well as sharing the management of the works with George Wightwick Rendel.

1863 The Elswick Ordnance Co was amalgamated with the adjacent Hydraulic Engineering Works as Sir W. G. Armstrong and Co, with Noble as a partner. Noble was now free to pursue his scientific inquiries, and he made full use of the resources for his experiments in ballistics and explosives. He carried the examination of fired gunpowder further than any of his predecessors. He developed methods for recording the pressures in the chamber of a gun, and the velocity of the projectile in its passage through the bore. This led to major alteration in the composition of gunpowder and in the design of guns.

Noble continued to promote the Elswick breech-loaded guns for the main armament of ships. The services eventually conceded, and about 1881 the new guns and explosive charges were introduced into the Royal Navy.

1875/9 He collaborated on many experiments with Frederick Abel; they published 2 papers jointly.

1881 Rendel became a civil Lord of the Admiralty leaving Noble in charge of ordnance.

1882 Armstrongs and Mitchells amalgamated as Armstrong, Mitchell and Co; Noble, the largest shareholder, became vice-chairman.

1897 The company merged with Whitworths, becoming Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co.

1900 December. Noble became chairman on Armstrong's death.

Early 20th century: the company went into relative decline early; by this time Noble was conservative in engineering design, autocratic in dealing with his managers, and dynastic in his approach to his succession, promoting two of his four sons as directors of the company.

c.1905 Bought the Callendar estate of Ardkinglas by Loch Fyne, Argyll, Scotland.

1915 October 22nd. Died at Ardkinglas and was buried at Cairndow on the estate.

1915 Obituary [1]

1916 Obituary [2]

Sir ANDREW NOBLE, Bart., Captain RA., wt., K.C.B., D.Sc. (Oxon. and Cantab.). D.C.L. (Durham), F.R.S., Chairman of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Company, Limited, died at his residence, Ardkinglas, Argyllshire, on the 22nd October, 1915, aged 82. For the past 55 years he had been identified with the Elswick Works, and was largely responsible for their organization and the world-wide expansion of the business, besides contributing in no small degree, by his researches and inventions, to the high scientific reputation which it has acquired.

Born at Greenock on the 13th September, 1831, Andrew Noble was educated at Edinburgh and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. In 1849 he entered the Royal Artillery, attaining the rank of Captain in 1855. He was first employed on the staff of the Magnetic Survey at the Cape, and on his return to this country, was appointed Secretary of the Royal Artillery Institution. In 1858 he became Secretary to the Committee on Rifled Cannon and in 1859 to that on Plates and Guns. In this year also he became Assistant-Inspector of Artillery at Woolwich, and in the following year he joined the Ordnance Select Committee and also the Committee on Explosives, serving on the latter continuously for 20 ye:ws until its dissolution in 1880.

In 1860, Sir William (afterwards Lord) Armstrong, who had been brought into contact with Captain Noble in connection with the methods devised by him to test the new Armstrong guns, induced him to relinquish the public service for the direction of the Ordnance department at Elswick, and subsequently acquiring an interest in the business, he began at 30 his life-long association with the Elswick firm. In the course of the long series of experiments which, continued over 50 years, contributed so materially to the development of the science of gunnery, he investigated the phenomena attendant on the firing of large guns, carried out experiments in electro-ballistics, invented the Noble chronoscope, and made numerous researches in “Fired Gunpowder” and on the properties of cordite and ballistite. Some of this work is described in the collected Papers published in 1906 under the title of “Artillery and Explosives.”

For his services to military science he was made a C.B. in 1881: a K.C.B. in 1893: in 1902 he received a baronetcy. He was a member of many foreign Orders and was honoured by several universities and scientific societies. lte was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1870 and in 1880 received the Royal medal in recognition of his researches on explosives.

He married, in 1854, Margery Durham, daughter of Mr. Archibald Campbell of Quebec, by whom he had four sons and two daughters, and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, Major George Noble.

Sir Andrew Noble was elected a Member of The Institution on the 6th December, 1881. Between 1894 and 1899 and again in 1905-6 he served on the Council, and on the 3rd March, 1908, he was elected an Honorary Member “on account of the valuable services which he has rendered to engineering by his scientific researches and practical achievements in matters relating to explosives and the construction of artillery.”

Andrew Noble and Elswick [3]

In the early autumn of 1860 Lord Armstrong took one of the most judicious steps of his career, and invited Captain Noble, a young officer already recognised as an expert in artillery matters, to join his newly-formed ordnance works at Elswick. Forty years have elapsed since that offer was made, and, in a fortunate hour for Elswick, accepted. Today (i.e. 1902), Captain Noble has become Sir Andrew Noble, and is the chairman of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co Ltd. All the later extensions and developments of the business have been carried out under his direction, and time has done nothing to diminish his energy and activity, both in the interests of the firm and in the advancement of the science to which he has devoted himself.

Sir Andrew Noble was born at Greenock in 1832. His father was a naval officer, the scion of a Dumbartonshire family, whose estate, lost for a generation, was repurchased in 1889 by the subject of this sketch. Having completed a course at the Edinburgh Academy, Sir Andrew passed through Woolwich and received in 1849 a commission in the Artillery, afterwards serving with his regiment in Malta, Canada, and South Africa. He was especially attracted by mathematical studies and scientific research.

In 1858, upon his return from the Cape of Good Hope, he acted as secretary to the Royal Artillery Institution, and the same year was appointed Secretary to a Special Commission upon Rifled Cannon. His increasing reputation as an expert caused him to be nominated by the War Office to various positions in connection with the subject of guns and their ballistics, and he was Assistant Inspector of Artillery when, as we have mentioned, Lord Armstrong invited him to join the Elswick Works.

It may not be uninteresting at this point to recall the main facts connected with the history of the firm. It was as long ago as 1847 that Mr. William Armstrong opened a modest factory at Elswick, in which to manufacture his hydraulic cranes. He was at the time a partner in a solicitor's business in Newcastle, but his leisure hours had been devoted to mechanical and electrical experiments, and he was already known as an inventor of boldness and originality.

Assisted by four of his fellow townsmen, who joined in subscribing the £20,000 of capital required, he bought a couple of meadows on the banks of the Tyne, and started his hydraulic engineering works. Shortly after the opening, the Armstrong cranes had the good fortune to attract the notice of the engineer of the Liverpool docks, Mr. Hartley, and were adopted by him. Increased custom followed, and the business was in a prosperous state when, some eight years after its inception, the attention of its founder was directed to a new sphere of invention. The outcome of this new departure was the Armstrong gun, which, brought to the notice of the authorities during the Crimean War, gained for itself, after many competitive trials, the favour of the Government and was accepted as the service weapon.

In later life, Lord Armstrong used to protest that he only took up the study of artillery as a hobby, suggested by the martial ardour of the moment, and that he had hardly any notion of turning his ideas to practical effect. But he attacked the subject with characteristic energy and concentration, and the result was an increased reputation for himself, and an altered destiny for his works at Elswick.

Under arrangements which were too complicated to prove satisfactory, Mr. Armstrong entered the service of the Government in order to superintend the making of his new guns at Woolwich. At the same time, to assist in meeting the demand, artillery works were started at Elswick, where, it must be remembered, there was already a staff of skilled operatives with experience in this manufacture. Though these shops were side by side with the existing engineering works, the two concerns were kept separate. The hydraulic business continued as before, and the Elswick Works commenced as a Government arsenal, bound by agreement to make guns for no other Power but England. The utmost secrecy was preserved, and the intrusion of foreign observers was rigorously prevented.

Lord Armstrong, to give him his title of later life, possessed in a marked degree one characteristic of the successful leader. He chose his subordinates with foresight, and seldom made mistakes in his estimate of ability. We have already referred to Sir Andrew Noble in this connection, but in the early years of his engineering enterprise, Lord Armstrong owed much to the capable assistance of Mr. Percy Westmacott, and when the ordnance works were started, he appointed a manager of great ability in Mr. George Rendel. Both these gentlemen are still directors of the company which owes so much to their efforts, but both have long since retired from active management.

In 1860 the shops at Elswick were crowded with Government orders, and the fortunes of the place seemed tolerably assured. Within the short space of three years the conditions were entirely altered. The contracts ceased, the ardour of the Government cooled, and the authorities paid the Company a sum of money to close the arrangements which had been made. Lord Armstrong resigned his Woolwich appointment and returned to Elswick, where the workshops, equipped with costly machinery, stood almost empty.

The engineering works and the ordnance works were united into one concern, and the partners commenced to establish a foreign connection. The War Office has been the hero of many singular proceedings, but one of the most mysterious episodes in its history was its complete neglect for nearly fifteen year of the technical resources which were ready to hand at Elswick.

During this period of official stagnation, the science of artillery was making rapid progress under Lord Armstrong, Mr. George Rendel, and Sir Andrew Noble. Yet it was not until the Russian war scare of 1878 that the Government purchased four 110-ton guns, built for the Italians, and passed them into our own service. Nor was it until more than twenty years had gone by since the desertion of 1863 that the Elswick experts finally succeeded in forcing upon the attention of our own authorities the new type of gun, which is now everywhere adopted.

Particulars of the advance in gun designing and construction are no doubt familiar to many, but may be briefly recapitulated. The original Armstrong six-pounder gun was made of coiled wrought iron cylinders, shrunk upon an inner barrel, which was at first of steel. It was a breech-loader, with a breech-block screwed in, and was rifled upon the polygroove system, with a uniform twist. Subsequently, certain steps, which appeal to us retrograde, but which were doubtless necessitated by the conditions of the period, were taken. Steel was given up on account of its unreliable nature, and a return was made to muzzle loading.

The Armstrong system of construction, however, opened the way for an exceedingly rapid increase in the size of guns, so that in 1875 we had guns of 100 tons weight.

Meanwhile, Sir Andrew Noble was bringing to bear upon the subject an amount of accurate research hitherto unknown. He began by experimenting with closed cylinders in which charges of powder were fired by electricity, pressures were recorded, heat determined, gases analysed, and the products of explosion examined. He also invented the chronoscope, which bears his name, for ascertaining the velocity of a projectile in the bore of a gun. This was quite novel work, and was soon to take a practical shape. The old gunpowder was changed, and a powder, burning regularly and slowly, took its place; steel, the manufacture of which had been greatly improved, was re-employed as the proper material, and gradually the new type of gun was evolved. These facts are, of course, the common-places of history, though, in the glare of latter day advertisement, the pioneers are apt to be some times obscured.

In addition to the increased length of the bore, features common to quick-firing guns like the breech mechanism with its interrupted screw and single-motion action, the hydraulic recoil presses, and the absence of trunnions on the gun, which recoils in a cradle. The first gun known as Quick-firing was the 47 in. gun made in 1886. It was employed for the armament of the Italian cruiser Piedmonte built at Elswick in 1889. The 4.7 in. gun is mounted on a travelling carriage for field service, and the following arts dimensions and ballistics.

Total length, 194.1 in.; weight 42cwt; charge 5lbs 7ozs; projectile 45lbs; muzzle velocity 2,188 foot seconds; energy 1,494 foot tons. It can fire ten rounds per minute.

The naval 6in. quick firing gun is 249.25 in. long, and weighs 6 tons 12 cwt. The charge is 15 lbs., and the projectile 100 lbs. The muzzle velocity is 2,300 foot seconds, and the energy 3,668 foot tons. Six-inch guns are constructed up to 50 calibres, or 300 in. in length, and with the increased length of bore, velocities up to 3,000 ft. are obtained.

The 12-pounder quick-firing gun is interesting as being a gun from the battery presented by Lady Meux to Lord Roberts in 1900, and used by the Elswick Battery in the South African campaign. The total length is 123.6 in., and the weight 12 cwt. The charge is 1 lb. 15 ozs. and the projectile 12 lbs. 15 ozs. The muzzle velocity is 2,210 foot seconds, and the energy 423 foot tons.

Turning now to some of the other developments of Elswick, we revert to 1869, when Mr. George Rendel designed the gunboat Staunch, and the attention of the company was directed to the building of warships. These were first constructed according to Mr. Rendel's designs in the shipyard of Mr. Charles Mitchell, at Walker-on-Tyne, and when in 1882 the firm became a limited company, Mr. Mitchell's yard became part of the business, which was entitled Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell and Co Ltd.

In 1884 a second shipyard, exclusively for war vessels, was opened at Elswick, under Mr. White, who, as Sir William White, afterwards filled the position of Naval Constructor at the Admiralty. Mr. White, upon being appointed to the Admiralty, was succeeded by Mr. Philip Watts at Elswick, on October 1st, 1885.

The cruisers and battleships from Elswick, of high speed and heavily armed, have strengthened many navies, and are inseparably associated with the genius of Mr. Watts.

Mr. Watts left Elswick in 1901 to succeed Sir William White as Director of Naval Construction at the Admiralty, the highest position that a Naval architect can obtain.

As the Elswick Yard is devoted to warships, the Walker Shipyard of the company confines itself chiefly to the construction of merchant vessels. Among the most interesting of these is the ice-breaker Ermack, whose services to Russian commerce in frozen seas have been widely portrayed in journals and magazines. A specialty has also been made of tank steamers for carrying petroleum in bulk, under the patent of Mr. Henry Swan, the present head of the yard. The patronage for many years of the Italian Government led to the establishment of a branch arsenal at Pozzuoli, on the Bay of Naples. This arsenal is used for Italian work, and employs more than a thousand hands.

Another undertaking, almost inevitable for a business where so many heavy steel castings and forgings are needed, was the starting of the Elswick Steel Works, under the late Colonel Dyer, in 1882.

The most important step resulting from the forward policy of the Company was, however, the amalgamation with Sir Joseph Whitworth and Co, in January, 1897, combining under one title the names of two engineers, each great in his own line, and at one period vigorous rivals — the late Lord Armstrong and the late Sir Joseph Whitworth.

The Openshaw Works may be said to have the advantage in point of seniority over Elswick. Mr. Whitworth, it may be remembered, after working at Maudslay's, Holtzapffel's, and Clement's, returned to Manchester in 1833, and put up a sign "Joseph Whitworth, Tool Maker, from London." From this workshop has grown up the large manufacturing establishment at Openshaw, where are steel works, gun works, and shops for making machines. Finally, a plant for making armour plates for ships has been started here within the last year or two.

The Armstrong, Whitworth Company can turn out a battleship fully armed and armoured though not engined, as they have not yet taken up marine engineering. Among their other productions, in addition to guns, mountings, and projectiles, are merchant vessels, steel of all kinds, machinery, electrical and hydraulic machinery. The Company's shops cover 224 acres of ground; it employs about 25,000 men and pays £30,000 a week in wages. In the course of his long career and association with the works, Sir Andrew Noble has naturally received numerous honours. He was created a C.B. in 1881, and K.C.B. in 1893, and a Baronet of the United Kingdom in 1902. In 1870 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; and in 1880 received the Royal Medal of that Society. He is a Knight of various foreign orders, and has been honoured by many learned and scientific bodies. For the past two years he has served with Lord Rayleigh and Mr. Haldane, M.P., upon the Explosives Committee.

Probably few men have wider sympathies, or a more catholic taste, than Sir Andrew Noble. His popularity among those who work under him at Elswick is immense; his circle of friends is wide, and he is never happier than when surrounded by them in his beautiful place at Chillingham. In his youth an athlete of distinction, there is hardly a form of sport or game which he does not patronise and support with enthusiasm, and, when necessary, with generosity.

He owns one of the few private tennis-courts in England, and many thousands of acres of partridge and pheasant shooting, both in Northumberland and Norfolk. He is a fine shot, but was debarred by an accident from indulging in this form of sport last season. Sir Andrew is a man of wide reading and culture, versed not only in scientific, but also in general literature.

1915 Obituary [4]

Sir ANDREW' NOBLE, an honorary member of the Institute of Metals, died on October 22, 1915, at Ardkinglas, Argyllshire.

This world-famous scientist and organizer was born on September 13, 1831, and was trained to the profession of arms. After some years in the Service, during which he rendered brilliant service to the artillery branch, he left the army in 1860 for commercial life.

He joined the already famous firm of Armstrong's, at Elswick, where he became manager of the ordnance department, and eventually chairman of Armstrong, Whitworth 45 Co., Ltd. Gradually Sir Andrew Noble came into touch with practically all departments of the great works on the Tyne, and it is said that he made a study of everything that went on there.

We may suppose that the question of Non-ferrous Metals did not fail to come under the ken of Sir Andrew's powerful and all-inquiring mind. He was keenly interested in the work of the Institute of Metals, and the Council took the earliest opportunity, when the first appointments to honorary membership were made in 1910, to elect Sir Andrew Noble to this, the highest class of membership. Of other distinctions conferred upon him it is impossible here to write fully, as these were so extremely numerous. In 1870 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1893 he was made a Knight Commander of the Bath, and in 1903 a Baronet. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge conferred upon him their honorary degrees of Doctor of Science, and, in addition, Sir Andrew Noble was the recipient of numerous distinguished foreign orders and university distinctions.

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