1906-08: Colonel Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton

1906-08: Colonel Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton

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Biography Portrait by Elliott & Fry.

1940 Obituary:
Crompton, C.B., F.R.S., throughout an exceptionally lengthy and distinguished career, occupied an outstanding position in engineering, which was all the more remarkable because of the diversity of his interests. He was born in 1845 at Sion Hill, near Thirsk, and at the age of eleven accompanied his father to Gibraltar; soon afterwards he succeeded in obtaining an appointment as midshipman in HMS Dragon, was actually in the firing line in the Crimea, and present at the fall of Sebastopol; he was later awarded the Crimean Medal and Sebastopol Clasp.

Returning to England, he completed his education at Harrow and underwent a short apprenticeship at the Doncaster works of the Great Northern Railway. In 1864 he was gazetted as an ensign in the Rifle Brigade and went to India, where he was attached to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief. He soon began his well-known experiments with steam traction on roads, and in 1870 he inaugurated the Government Steam Train, under the director-general of the Post Office, with great success. His work in this direction was described in a paper which he presented to the Institution in 1879, entitled "Working of Traction Engines in India."

In 1875 he returned to England and a year later went into partnership with Messrs. T. H. P. Dennis and Company, of Colchester. He also acted as a consulting engineer and was associated with Mr. P. W. Willans in designing steam-driven tramcars. Colonel Crompton joined the Institution in 1877, when its headquarters were still in Birmingham, and saw its removal to London later in that year. His membership thus covered a period of no less than sixty-three years. He first began his long connection with electrical engineering in 1879 when he established the firm bearing his name at Chelmsford.

During the next thirty years he carried out much pioneer work in electrical matters and was responsible for important developments in electric lighting plant and in dynamo design. He introduced lighting by incandescent electric lamps, which were first installed in the Royal Courts of Justice. He also developed his lighting system a stage further when installing his five-wire system of distribution at the Royal Opera House in Vienna in 1882, and four years later his ideas were embodied in one of the first generating stations in England, which was erected on the Kensington Court estate. During the "nineties" he was much occupied with the development, with Mr. J. C. Howell, of a new type of electric battery. He went to India in 1896 to advise the Indian Government on the preparation of an Electric Lighting Act.

On returning to England he took a leading part in the formation of a Corps of Electrical Engineers for the Army. He commanded the unit during the South African War, and for several years afterwards, and in the early years of the century he was appointed by Lord Roberts to reorganize the Mechanical Transport Corps. For his services during the South African War he was made a Companion of the Bath. His work in the development of motor traction continued and he became a founder member of the Royal Automobile Club, and the first President of the Institution of Automobile Engineers. Moreover, his investigations into the conditions of road surfaces led to the setting up of the Road Board, of which he was the first engineer; the results of his work were embodied in a paper, "Mechanical Engineering Aspects of Road Construction," which he read before the Institution in 1913.

During the Great War he was a member of a committee appointed by Mr. Churchill in 1915, to devise mechanically propelled vehicles for crossing trenches. The result was the tank, in the development of which Colonel Crompton, with the late L. A. Legros, played a leading part. During 1914-18 he served on a Ministry of Munitions committee set up to advise on the interchangeability of screw gauges for shells, fuses, and other materials. He had, however, long been interested in standardization, and will be remembered for his work in organizing a permanent International Electrotechnical Commission, of which he was secretary. He also carried out much important work in improving standard screw threads, and with Mr. Clements designed a new thread, the British Standard Fine. Some of his most valuable services to the Institution were rendered in his capacity of a member of the Alloys Research Committee. He also served on the Cutting Tools Research Committee from its inception in 1920.

His wide range of interests made him a keen supporter of numerous other technical societies; he was twice President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and served on the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers. In addition he was President of Section G of the British Association in 1903 and was the first President of the Institution of Highway Engineers and of the Commercial Motor Users Association; and in 1918-19 he was President of the Junior Institution of Engineers.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1933. In 1935 he was made an Honorary Life Member of The Institution of Mechanical Engineers and was presented with the certificate at a public gathering in celebration of his ninetieth birthday.

Colonel Crompton's death occurred at his home, Azerley Chase, near Ripon, on 15th February 1940, in his ninety-fifth year.