University plans to open its archives on engineering genius Frederick Lanchester

University plans to open its archives on engineering genius Frederick Lanchester

(L-R) Lanchester Archive Project leader Jacqueline Cawston, Philip Brabban from the Lanchester Library, Coventry University Pro-Chancellor Ernest Petrie and Chris Clark from The Lanchester Trust.

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Monday 20 October 2014

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Coventry University is planning to introduce new audiences to the life and works of one of the country’s most influential automobile engineers through an ambitious new project. 

University researchers are preparing to bring to life the fascinating archive of material it possesses on pioneering car builder, scientist, inventor and engineering genius Frederick Lanchester. 

The university has been successful in winning a round one pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund* to prepare a larger project which will digitise the archive and make it widely available to the general public through a discovery space, community outreach programme and interactive games. 

The international charity, The Lanchester Trust will be supporting the university during the venture, which will culminate in a permanent public exhibition of physical items including photographs, correspondence and original designs at the university’s city centre library, which is named in Lanchester’s honour. 

Born in London in 1868, Frederick Lanchester is considered one of the leading automobile engineers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A visionary scientist, Lanchester also made significant contributions to the field of aerodynamics, helping to establish key principles of powered flight which still apply today, and his mathematical theories on military combat and strategy have formed the basis for operations models commonly used in business. 

But it is his innovative and inspirational work as a car builder for which he is perhaps best known. He first established the Lanchester Engine Company in 1899 and created the Lanchester Motor Company along with his brothers George and Frank. Acquiring factories in Birmingham then Coventry, Lanchester sealed his association with the West Midlands where he spent much of his life and career. 

His experiments revolutionised the development of gas and petrol engines, his early car models contained a radical new gearbox design later adopted by Henry Ford and in 1902 the Lanchester Motor Company became the first to market disc brakes to the public. 

Unfortunately, Lanchester’s technical expertise and innovations were not matched by commercial acumen and his motor company like his engine company before was beset with financial problems. 
In 1930, the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) purchased the Lanchester Motor Company and subsequently made it a subsidiary of Daimler. Here, Lanchester continued to set benchmarks in car design and his models were favoured by the then Duke of York and future King George VI.

Money troubles continued to plague Lanchester throughout his career however and he lived the remainder of his life under financial strain. While his brilliance was widely recognised amongst his peers within the scientific community, his lack of commercial success perhaps goes some way towards explaining why he has not become a celebrated household name. 

By opening its archives to the public, researchers at Coventry University hope to address this. His legacy has impacted directly upon the university, having been established initially as Lanchester Polytechnic back in 1970 and its library today still bears his name. 

Lanchester Interactive project leader Jacqueline Cawston from Coventry University said:

Frederick Lanchester was a prophetic and prolific engineer, scientist and creative thinker whose influence was far reaching across different disciplines. 

He was in many senses way ahead of his time and although acknowledged amongst those within his field as a genius he did not achieve the widespread fame he deserved, possibly due to the failings of others associated with his endeavours.
But his story is incredible and with this exciting educational heritage project we hope to introduce modern audiences to the life of this remarkable man and in doing so celebrate someone who is very much a local hero.

 Chris Clark from The Lanchester Trust said: 

Dr Frederick Lanchester, a British genius from the Victorian era, changed the world with his far-sighted designs. From laying down the scientific principles of flight, to building Britain’s first 4-wheel motor car, he was an inventor to his fingertips. 

Add in his patented designs on colour photography, vehicle disc brakes, turbo-charging and power-steering, aeroplane wings, propellers and streamlining, electrics, sound and vision, and so much more, and you have a national hero waiting to be rediscovered.

The Lanchester Trust, with its many members, is proud to be associated with this exciting and unique interactive project.

*Heritage Lottery FundHeritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Heritage Grant applications are assessed in two rounds. A first-round pass is given when HLF has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding. A first-round pass may also include an immediate award to fund the development of the project. This is the case with the Lanchester Interactive Archive project which has been awarded a development grant of £23,800. Detailed proposals will then be considered at a later date by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project will be confirmed.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, HLF invests in every part of the country’s diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 36,000 projects with more than £6bn across the UK.