THE LE NEVE-FOSTERS IN LONDON
Peter Le Neve-Foster's large family consisted of ten children, eight boys and two girls and of the boys six either became engineers or were connected with engineering. The elder children were born at Champion Grove, Camberwell, except for Peter, the eldest, who made an early and unexpected arrival into the world while his parents were on a visit to Hertford. The younger children were born at East Hill, Wandsworth, to which the family moved in 1853. Some of the boys had very interesting careers, which I will describe in detail, but before doing so here is a "thumb nail" sketch of the family:
|Peter||Born 1839||Engineer, spent most of his life in Italy.|
|Clement||Born 1841||Very distinguished mining engineer and geologist.|
|Oliver||Born 1844||Senior civil servant. Sat and passed the first modern civil service examination.|
|Reginald||Born 1847||Chemist. Settled in Manchester and worked with Dr. F. Crace Calvert on the first commercially practicable method of producing phenol.|
|Ernest||Born 1849||Geologist and mining engineer. Emigrated to the United States and became geologist to the Colorado State Government in Denver.|
|Bernard||Born 1851||Engineer, but retired and lived at Sennow Hall, Guist, Norfolk.|
|Lucy||Born 1856||Married Dr. Louis Parkes the public health expert. Relative gave name to Parkes tone Quay Harwich.|
Peter Le Neve-Foster III
The following details of "Uncle Peter" are taken from the "Richmond Herald" dated 25th May 1894, from Reginald Le Neve-Foster's "Recollections" (printed privately in 1918) and from my own recollections of a conversation with the late Mrs. Mabel Le Neve Westall ("Aunt Mabel") shortly before her death in 1962. Uncle Peter was educated at the College Communal, Boulogne. He was afterwards apprenticed in the shipyard of John Scott Russell during the construction of the Great Eastern"-the "great iron ship" designed by BruneI in 1854. This ship, with a tonnage of 22,500, was five times the size of any other vessel afloat at the time. She was designed to carry 4,000 passengers, almost twice as many as the "Queen Mary" launched three-quarters of a century later, and her twenty-four foot propeller was the largest ever fitted to any ship before or since. Not until the launching of the "Lusitania", in 1906, was the "Great Eastern" exceeded or even matched in size.
She was launched in 1858-the famous launch when she stuck on the slipway and had to be coaxed and jacked into the London River, foot by foot. According to family tradition in the form of a story from my grandfather, one of Peter's younger brothers, Uncle Peter, as senior apprentice "gave the signal for the launch" but I can find no confirmation of this in Dugan's "Great Iron Ship", though several other apprentices are mentioned by name. It is perhaps more likely that Uncle Peter was, as an apprentice, with BruneI on the scaffolding from which the (non-effective) signals intended to control the launch were given. There is no doubt, however, that he was subsequently attached to BruneI for some months during the protracted operations, which eventually got the monster ship into the water.
After completing his apprenticeship, Uncle Peter was employed on the main drainage of London, first in Surrey and later on the northern outfall at Barking Creek. He then went to Italy to work on the Cavour Canal and after that on railway construction between Turin and Savona. Next he built a railway in Sicily and went from there to Transylvania, still on railway construction. His next job was as resident engineer on the Quinto Salla Canal (an extension of the Cavour Canal) and in recognition of his work King Victor Emmanuel conferred on him the distinction of Chevallier of the Order of the Crown of Italy (roughly the equivalent of an O.B.E.) in 1872. The insignia of this order has been handed down and is preserved in my house at Borley, together with the original citation.
After a number of smaller civil engineering jobs Uncle Peter went to Paris to work on an international exhibition under Sir Henry Cole, C.B., and for his services in this matter received a medal from the Emperor Napoleon III. Uncle Peter also spent some time in the United States in Kansas working on the construction of parts of the Union Pacific Railroad, mining in the Rocky Mountains and surveying sites for new towns in California. I do not know when this visit took place but amongst his letters there is a map of the United States with a route outlined in red and on the outside marked "I nostri viaggi in Nord America 1887-9" from which it is evident that Uncle Peter, accompanied by his Italian wife, was in the U.S. at this time. But it may well have been a second visit, as the Union Pacific Railroad was operating long before 1887.
Uncle Peter was married twice, first to the Contessa Jacinta, by whom he had a child who died in infancy, and after her death to Guilia, the daughter of a Dr. Cancino (?) of Milan. He eventually retired to Nice where he and Aunt Guilia took a flat in the Passage Giofredo, which, to the horror of the family turned out to be a district famous for the number of brothels it contained. Later they moved to 5 Rue Blacas (a more respectable neighbourhood?), where Uncle Peter died in 1921. Aunt Guilia lived on for another twenty years. The last record of her I have is a letter postmarked 1941 to Mrs. Le Neve Westall ("Aunt Mabel").
I can just remember Uncle Peter when he came to stay with his brother Reginald (my grandfather) during his last visit to England in 1914 (or 1915?). He was a very courtly old gentleman with snow-white hair and manners of a Southern European. He was by then nearly blind with cataract and very badly off (some of my grandfather's correspondence with another brother, Ernest, reveals that Uncle Peter was living, at least in part, on "subs" from some of his brothers). But I shall always carry with me the memory of a very charming old gentleman who was not too old or too grand to talk to a little boy of eleven.
Arthur Le Neve-Foster
"Uncle Arthur" presumably had a similar sort of education to his brothers, though no positive information has survived. He became a well-known and successful engineer and was associated with the manufacture of cut-thread metal screws in brass and steel. He played an important part in steps for the standardisation of metal threads and in the development of the manufacture of metal screws and similar components on automatic lathes. In 1898 his firm, Davis and Timmins, of which he was managing director, was successfully floated to the public and became a leading specialist firm in its particular field of light engineering.
Uncle Arthur died in 1903, but the Le Neve-Foster connection with Davis and Timmins continued through the shareholding (comparatively small) which his sister Mary ("Aunt Mary") inherited from him, and also when his nephew Fermian Le Neve-Foster became chairman in 1926 and, later, managing director. In 1961 the company was taken over by the Delta Metal Company on a profitable bid and thus the family beneficiaries under the will of Aunt Mary Le Neve-Foster (who died in 1938) reaped some ultimate benefits from the enterprise of which Arthur Le Neve-Foster was one of the founders.
Herbert Le Neve-Foster
"Uncle Herbert", though always referred to as "an engineer" was in fact a metallurgist specialising in steel. In the 1880's, when the famous and then new Bessemer process of open-hearth furnaces for the conversion of iron into steel was being popularised, he was very actively engaged in it and was employed by several important firms on the Clyde, and on the Tees, in the installation and management of new plants. Later, about 1890, he became general manager of the well-known Round Oak Steel Works at Dudley, which now forms part of the great Tube Investments empire. Subsequently, about 1895-6, he left this job and set up in Birmingham as a steel metallurgist and was concerned, in a consultative capacity, in the layout and installation of several important steel plants, notably Ebbw Vale (now part of the Richard Thomas and Baldwins) and Cargo Fleet (now part of South Durham).
He was also one of the pioneers in the manufacture of refractory material from magnesia limestone (Dolomite) for lining furnaces. He died prematurely at the age of fifty-one in 1904, without realising the full potentialities of his prospects, experience or enterprise. His wife and three children, Sydney, Fermian and Muriel, survived him.
Reginald Le Neve-Foster, J.P., F.G.S.
My grandfather was educated at Dr. Pinche's Academy, which had also been attended by some of his elder brothers, until 1862, when he left to spend two years on the Continent. According to a biographical note in "Manchester Faces and Places" for July 1896, he went to Brussels, but I have quite clear childhood recollections of my grandfather telling me that he "went to school in Germany". In view of the fact that he was training to become a chemist I think that Germany would have been more likely than Belgium. He returned to England in 1864 and worked for a year with Prices Patent Candle Company before being sent, in 1865, as a "Pupil Assistant" to Dr. Frederick Crace Calvert, an eminent Manchester analytical chemist.
Dr. Calvert was a brilliant but erratic scientist married to a somewhat volatile Frenchwoman named Clemence. Amongst other things he invented the first commercially practicable method of producing phenol (carbolic acid) and set up a company-F. C. Calvert & Co.-on the eastern outskirts of Manchester to exploit his discovery. At the early age of twenty-three my grandfather became resident chemist and works manager of the factory in Gibbon Street, Bradford, Manchester, an appointment he retained until his death in 1917.
At first he was mainly concerned with the manufacture of phenol and picric acid, together with running small plants for making nitric and sulphuric acid (by the old Chamber process) as well. Eventually however, the business became concentrated on phenol and the incorporation of carbolic acid in domestic articles like household disinfectants, soap and so on. The most successful of these was "Calvert's Carbolic Tooth Powder" which, at one period, about 1906, had the largest sale of any dentifrice in the world.
'Calvex' Carbolic Ointment made by F.C. Calvert & Co Ltd, Manchester.
It is impossible to know how many of the applications were invented by Dr. Calvert himself and how many by Reginald Le Neve-Foster, but there is little doubt that by the early 1870's Reginald had become the technical brain behind the success of F. C. Calvert & Co. The company remained in existence as an independent chemical manufacturer until 1965, when it was taken over by Unilever, together with an associated company, Charles Lowe & Co. of Reddish, Stockport.
Reginald Le Neve-Foster was concerned with a number of other chemical ventures connected with sewage treatment and other matters. He was for a time Chairman of the chemical section of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, of which he was also a director. His only commercial activity outside the chemical industry was an unfortunate association (as a director) with the Clayton Foundry, an engineering company which got into difficulties and brought great financial worries to my grandfather towards the end of his life. He died in Torqua towards the end of 1917 and was survived by a daughter Mabe (Mrs. Westall) and two sons, Rex and Basil. His wife, the former Annie Abigail Lightbownd, was killed in a motor accident in 1908.
Bernard Le Neve-Foster, J.P.
After a spell at Dr. Pinche's Academy, like his elder brothers, "Uncle Bernard" was educated in France, at the Lycee Imperiale in St. Quentin. He appears to have been trained as what today would be called an illuminating engineer. No details of his training survive, but it is known that he received training in all the forms of lighting known in his time. Like his brother Reginald, his first job was with Prices Patent Candle Company, but he left this to become secretary of a company, which operated sulphur mines in Sicily, where he lived for a time. At a later date he became farm manager for Jack Fletcher Bennett at Ewhurst in Surrey. Both these jobs seem to be curious moves for a lighting engineer.
In 1888 he married Emma Elizabeth Fletcher Bennett and retired to Sennow Hall, near Guist, in Norfolk, where he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and lived the life of the "perfect country gentleman" to the considerable satisfaction. of his nephews (e.g. my father), who got free shooting and boating. Like his famous ancestor, Oliver Le Neve of Great Witchingham, he was a very go-ahead farmer and was one of the first, if not the first, farmer in Norfolk to own and use a self-binder. He also endeavoured to introduce the growing of sugar beet in East Anglia but was too far ahead of his time to be successful. He was a pioneer motorist and owned one of the first motor cars in Norfolk. Like his father and his elder brother, Reginald, he was a keen photographer.
He died in 1915 and is buried at Guist beside his wife who died at a much earlier date.* He had two children, Elizabeth Maud and Bernard Antoine Jeffrey Chevallier Le Neve-Foster, both of whom survived him and are the last members of the family to be born and brought up in Norfolk. Tony is still an East Anglian and lives near Cambridge.
*Aunt Emma died on 30th July 1895.
Ernest Le Neve-Foster
Like several of his brothers, "Uncle Ernest" was trained as an engineer (he studied at the School of Mines, in Freiburg, Germany) and like so many sons in large Victorian families he emigrated to the United States, where he took up U.S. citizenship and became a successful mining engineer in Colorado. He was for a time geologist to the State Government in Denver.
Politically he was a very strong supporter of Bi-metalism-a controversy now almost forgotten except in books on the economic history of the United States. The controversy stemmed from the attempts of the U.S. Treasury to base its currency simultaneously on both gold and silver dollars, and the difficulties which arose because the price of silver in terms of gold just would not remain stable. Uncle Ernest's interest in silver mining led him to support a monetary policy likely to keep up the price of silver.
Apart from his profession of mining, his main interest was in Freemasonry in which he became very deeply involved. He was concerned with both the Scottish Rite and the Knights Templars and in the former went through 32 degrees and was awarded an honorary 33rd degree. He was instrumental in starting the Masonic Benevolent Fund in Colorado and was on a charitable mission in connection with this when he had a heart attack, which led to his death in 1925.
He was married twice, first to Charlotte Teal and after her death in 1906 to Marian Wright. He had two children by his first wife, a daughter Bernice who died when only four years old, and a son, Oscar, who survived him.
I can just remember Uncle Ernest when he visited my grandfather at Wilmslow, Manchester in 1908 or 1909. I have a quite clear-cut recollection of him playing with me on the lawn at the back of my parents house, trying to explain to me the rudiments of baseball and telling me about "Sitting Bull" the famous Red Indian chief who was, I think, still alive at that time and appearing in Buffalo Bill's "Wild West" show.
Sir Clement Le Neve-Foster, D.Sc., F.R.S.
Clement Le Neve-Foster-"Uncle Clement"-was born in Camberwell on 23rd March 1841 and, like his elder brother Peter, was educated at the College Communal, Boulogne, where he studied between the ages of twelve and sixteen. At the early age of seventeen he took a Bachelor of Science degree in the University of France. Returning to England, he attended the School of Mines where he obtained not only the Associateship in Mining and I Geology, but the Duke of Cornwall's Scholarship and the Edward Fores Medal as well. He then went to the School of Mines at Frelburg in Saxony and later visited mines in Germany and Hungary.
The late Sir Clement Le Neve-Foster, D.Sc., F.R.S
In 1860 he obtained an appointment with the Geological Survey of England and Wales. While working there, he and a colleague-William Topley-published a memoir, which had far reaching results on the geological study of the origins of river systems throughout the world-not a bad effort for a young man who had not reached his twenty-fourth birthday. After five years with the Geological Survey he took up a teaching appointment in Cornwall and continued to publish scientific papers.
In 1868 Uncle Clement joined an expedition sent by the Khedive of Egypt to examine the mineral resources of the Sinai Peninsula, and later the same year he was in Venezuela to report on a gold field. The next year he was in Italy where he stayed three years with a gold mining company. During all this period he was still finding time to write and publish further scientific papers.
In 1873 he returned to Cornwall as an Inspector of Mines under the Home Office and went through a period of difficulty and unpopularity because of the stringency with which he applied the safety provisions of the Mines Regulation Act. His action, however, proved justified as he reduced the incidence of deaths in Cornish tin mines from 2 to 1.3 per thousand. Three years after his Cornish appointment he was helping to found the Mineralogical Society, became a member of its first council and acted as its foreign secretary.
He was moved to North Wales in 1880 and lived for a time at Llandudno, where there is a memorial tablet to him in St. Tudno's Church on the Great Orme. At this time he was advising the Government on mining in general and visiting mines and quarries all over the country as well as in his own district of North Wales. In 1890, in addition to his Government work, he was offered and accepted a teaching appointment at the School of Mines in succession to his old friend and former teacher Sir Warrington Smith.
There was a very serious accident in the Snaefell Lead Mine in the Isle of Man in 1897 and Uncle Clement personally led an exploring party to seek the cause of the explosion. A jammed cage led to the exploring party being cut off, and though being slowly poisoned by carbon monoxide and, as he thought, with no hope of rescue, Uncle Clement had the presence of mind, to say nothing of courage and devotion to science, to make a series of notes of his reactions to carbon monoxide poisoning for the benefit of science after his death. The pocket book containing these notes is still in existence in the possession of his grandson Commander W. G. Hornby, R.N. In fact he was rescued, together with the other members of the party, though they were all brought to the surface unconscious and Uncle Clement sustained permanent injury to his heart.
One of Uncle Clement's jobs while he was at the Mines Inspectorate, about the turn of the century, was to carry out investigations for, and give advice to, the Colonial Office on the subject of asphalt in Trinidad. The extraction of asphalt became a, matter of great commercial importance at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries as well as becoming the subject of a long-drawn-out legal battle between the New Trinidad Lake Asphalt Company, who had an enormously valuable concession conferred on them in 1883, and the Dundonald family who were pioneers in asphalt extraction and the largest of the private owners of "pitch lots".
One of the problems was the seepage of pitch from one lot to another, a problem apparently in some ways analogous to the seepage of brine in the Cheshire salt areas. Uncle Clement, as a leading government mining expert was called in by the Colonial Office to report and advise on the question of seepage and compensation payments, which he was able to do by drawing on his knowledge of salt mining.
His personal position in this matter was not at all easy as he was related by marriage to Sir William Robinson, the then Governor of Trinidad, whose interest in an important asphalt company (of which he later became the chairman) as well as his connection with certain Venezuelan mining interests, became the subject of unfavourable comment. Uncle Clement, however, was evidently able to meet this situation as the Colonial Office reports and correspondence of the period speak in the highest terms of his personal integrity, as well as of his professional position as one of the leading geologists of his day.
In 1901 he retired from the Mines Inspectorate but retained his appointment at the Royal School of Mines. He also continued his consultancy work and in 1903 he was in Russia as the guest of Prince Beboucoff, presumably to report on either gold or salt mining.
His public services were recognised by the Legion of Honour in France in 1889, election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1892 and a Knighthood in 1903. He married Sophia Chevallier Thompson of Belton in Suffolk and had a son, Vivian, and two daughters, Olga and Helen (the latter was my godmother). He died in 1904.