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Martin Fenn Roberts

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Martin Fenn Roberts (1853-1926) of the Post Office

1926 Obituary [1]

MARTIN FENN ROBERTS, who died suddenly on the 22nd February, 1926, was born at Lichfield in 1853.

After studying at King's College, London, he entered the Engineering Department of the Post Office in 1871 - the year following the transfer of the telegraphs to the State.

In 1880 he was appointed Superintendent of Factories, and in 1898 an assistant engineer-in-chief.

He retired from the Service in 1908 and subsequently, until his death, his extraordinary vitality and marked ability found outlet in the practice of a consulting engineer and as a director of Messrs. Henley's Telegraph Works, Co., Ltd.

Throughout his career he was in close touch with all aspects of the design and manufacture of the wide range of materials in use in the Post Office and he aimed at, and spared no effort to secure, a standard of reliability and finish which was of the greatest possible value in establishing an efficient service of telegraph and telephone communications. He was quick to see the weak point of any design or scheme, but in his case the critical and the constructive faculties were equally well developed, and it was seldom that he was unable to contribute towards the solution of the many problems which presented themselves.

From 1898 onwards Mr. Roberts, in association with Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Gavey, was responsible for the whole of the engineering work involved in the establishment of the Post Office London telephone system. The decision to provide the main channels of communication by means of underground plant produced many problems of a novel character, and to the solution of these Mr. Roberts contributed not only his sound engineering knowledge but also a degree of foresight which evoked the admiration of all who took part in that pioneer work—the foundation on which the present telephone system in London is based.

Apart from his contribution to the purely telegraphic and telephonic side of Post Office engineering work, Mr. Roberts was for many years largely responsible for the considerable amount of mechanical and heavier electrical engineering work involved in the equipment of the Post Office factories and the provision of electric light, lifts, and heating and ventilating services in Post Office buildings generally, and it was from this standpoint that, in 1904 and, therefore, in the early days of three-phase transmission, he was deputed, together with the writer, to visit and report upon three-phase installations in Italy and Switzerland: this step was taken as a result of the decision to erect the Post Office generating station at Blackfriars.

In spite of his many professional interests, Mr. Roberts was by no means an engineer only: he was a lover of art and good literature - in particular of the poems of Keats and Shelley—and was himself a writer of more than average ability. Outdoors he was a keen yachtsman until in later years golf claimed his allegiance. During the war of 1914-18 he gave his services on the engineering side of the Ministry of Munitions.

He joined the Institution as an Associate in 1874, and was elected a Member in 1887. He served on the Council in 1884-5.

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