Bell baxter lives section I former Pupils Contents

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Edna Mavor

Edna Forgrave (née Mavor) (mid 1950s) died on 22nd November 2001 in the Adamson Hospital after several years of illness. Edna spent most of her career as a Secretary in the offices of Stratheden Hospital. She is survived by her daughter Elizabeth, also a former pupil, who is now back teaching in the School.

Alexander Maxwell

Captain Alex Maxwell, (1960 approx.) of Dairsie, was appointed MBE in the New Year's Honours List 2005. He is a Captain in the Royal Marines in which he has served for 37 years. His service took him to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia. In the early 1970s he was based in the Falklands from where he helped to build a base at Halley Bay in Antarctica. He also served in Northern Ireland. His specialist interest is mountain and Arctic warfare and he was an instructor in mountaineering and rock climbing, ski-ing and survival techniques. More recently he has been responsible for recruiting in Yorkshire and Scotland. He is now operations manager at the recruiting HQ at Rosyth. He is a keen golfer.

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew Maxwell, who was in fourth year at the time, was the champion in the under17 category at the Scottish Windsurfing Championship at Loch Lomond in 2000. He was a member of the Scottish Squad and sponsored by Fife Council. He also won the British Inland National Finals at Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire. Andrew, who comes from Falkland, is a member of the Scottish Windsurfing Squad and later gained a place in the British Youth Sailing - Team GB. He hoped to attend the European North Sea Cup and the World Aloha events. Along with 16 other pupils, Andrew was awarded School Colours in February 2000.

Andrew went to the Adam Smith College after leaving school and graduated from there in 2009 with a BSc in Multimedia Development. He then went on to the University of Abertay from where he was awarded a First Class Honours degree in Web Design and Development in 2010.

Marshall Meek


BBS 1936-42

From Issue 7 of the FPA Newsletter:

Following the recent tragic sinking of the ferry Estonia, one of the people interviewed regularly on television was Marshall Meek, of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. Marshall entered school in 1936, and has spent his career in Maritime industries. He was appointed CBE for work done for the Ministry of Defence during the Falklands War.

Marshall went into print in 2004 to record his lifetime's experience as a Naval Architect. Entitled There go the Ships, his book looks back to the glories of British ship-building and records the decline and fall of that once great industry and, in parallel, of merchant shipping. Marshall was born and brought up in Auchtermuchty, and his book contains personal reflections on life there in the 1930s. On leaving School, Marshall started work as an apprentice in the drawing office of a Dundee shipyard, moved on to design ships, and became President of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. He was chosen to design the world's first purpose-built deep-sea container ships. His book (ISBN 1 841104 045 2) is available from the Memoir Club, price £17.50.


Biographic Note for Bell Baxter Former Pupils’ Association 21 January 2011

Those of us who joined Bell Baxter in the 1930’s are getting thin on the ground. When I departed from sixth form in December 1942 (on 19th actually, and I worked on Christmas Day) it was to become apprentice draughtsman at Caledon Shipyard, Dundee – a fairly unheard of destination in those days. Weary Willie (Wilson) (qv) who taught engineering subjects of a sort was the only staff member who would understand, as he had worked at John Brown’s on the building of the ill-fated HMS Hood. It happened simply because I was getting restless and my father was friendly with the chief draughtsman at the shipyard. Even though it was halfway through WW2, the shipyard allowed me to study naval architecture at Glasgow University as part of my apprenticeship, and I returned to Dundee in 1946 as their first ever graduate apprentice, with a BSc with 2nd Class Honours.

In 1949, after a spell in the hallowed ship-design office, I moved to London joining the recently formed British Ship Research Association based in the unlikely environs of Curzon Street in the heart of the West End. There I became familiar with the mysteries of maritime research. I was involved in the epic ship-propulsion trials on the old Clyde paddle steamer Lucy Ashton, driving it with four redundant Rolls Royce Derwent jet engines to get accurate measurement of the thrust involved. All ground breaking stuff and it provided vital information on the way to predict ship horsepower from models in the experimental tanks.

But I wanted a more active life and to make things happen. So in 1953 I joined Alfred Holt & Co, the Blue Funnel Line of Liverpool, as assistant naval architect. Blue Funnel was unique as a company, at that time still a private company where only the highest standards of ship design and operation were countenanced. The ships were designed in-house by the Company’s naval architects, and were not insured on the market, showing a confidence that amounted to arrogance. It meant we were so sure of our technical and operational performance that we could look after our own problems.

This was the most satisfying period of my life. In 1961 I became chief naval architect on the demise of my predecessor, and in future Blue Funnel Ships became ‘my ships’. We ran high class cargo liners. In the early 60s we had 120 ships in the fleet. Passengers were carried in many of the ships up to the 50s, but these dropped away as air transport took over. Our trades were mainly to the Far East, China, Japan, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and down to Australia. The last true cargo liners we built, six in UK and two in Japan in the 1960s, were the ultimate cargo liners, fast, expensive, super-efficient. Except for two things – all the UK ships were a year or more late in being delivered, because UK shipyards were grossly incompetent, and the Japanese delivered on time. But more important, at that very time the container ship concept was taking over, making such cargo ships obsolete. They just spent far too much time in port loading and unloading.

In 1965 the four major UK shipping companies joined together to institute the container system - Blue Funnel, P&O, Furness Withy and Union Castle. No single company could fund the needed expenditure. As well as the cost of the ships, there were new berths, cranes and containers by the thousand. The joint company formed was called OCL – Overseas Containers Ltd. I was given the job of designing the ships, which was a tremendous honour and responsibility. My team had to design ships with completely open deck structure so that containers could be dropped vertically into the ships. This had never been done before. Six ships were ordered, one in UK for political reasons, and five in Germany. The UK ship was a year late in delivery causing immense damage to the finances. The German ships were on time. This Encounter Bay class were much bigger and faster than the normal cargo liners and ran to Australia under the P&O flag. They were a success, remembering you cannot build ‘prototype’ ships. I had a letter from P&O when the ships were scrapped 30 years later saying ‘you got it right first time.’

The next batch were the five Blue Funnel-operated Liverpool Bay class. We decided they should be the biggest and fastest ships we could build and so destroy any competition. The maximum size was limited only by the Panama Canal lock dimensions, so I went there to negotiate the maximum they would allow. Length agreed was 950 feet, far longer than any existing cargo ship (and rather longer than I had hoped for). That dimension has governed all ships passing through the Panama Canal ever since.

The horsepower to drive the ship was fixed arbitrarily at 80,000 shp. I had talked with the designer of the QE2 which was building at that time, with 120,000 shp. I decided that, as cargo ship people, we could accept 100,000. The directors were a bit scared and cut me down to 80,000 – far greater than any existing cargo ships, and it gave a speed of 27.5 knots. On trials we did over 30 knots. The only other ships of this size and speed are aircraft carriers.

The whole container concept was so successful that within five years every major port in the world had container ship berths. It was a big risk designing these novel ships, but they were wholly successful. Our big vessels carried 3,000 containers in 1972. Today the biggest carry 12,000 or more – but they cannot get through Panama! Incidentally, our ships killed the city of Liverpool. One container ship carried as much as 8 or 9 cargo liners – and it was decided Southampton would be the port, not Liverpool. The city never recovered, and Blue Funnel and all major UK companies suffered dramatic reductions in ships and people.

When UK shipping was running down in the 70s I was invited to become Technical Director of the newly nationalised British Shipbuilders. For five years from 1978 I was based at BS headquarters in Newcastle. In spite of early promise and with Government support, and with 84,000 employees country wide, BS was a failure. The shipyard bosses in the individual shipyards were ignorant and bigoted, oblivious to international ship building methods not only in Europe but in Japan and in Korea. So the industry, with the Thatcher government’s collusion, was allowed or indeed encouraged to fade away. I could do little to correct the prevailing incompetence, not helped by the obtuse behaviour of trade unions.

As BS rapidly went defunct I was invited in 1984 to become managing director of NMI – the National Maritime Institute at Feltham, London – the major maritime research unit based just by Heathrow. This was different from shipbuilding, the people were intelligent, world renowned and ready to face challenges. The trouble was it was Government supported, and Mrs Thatcher, knowing the maritime industries were running down in UK, wanted NMI to become a self-supporting agency. By coincidence, BSRA, the British Ship Research Association where I had done five years back in 1949-53 was in a similar position. It was an adjunct of British Shipbuilders and they wanted BSRA to be self supporting also. Because I was so familiar with both bodies, I had the task of extracting NMI from Government and BSRA from BS and was able to form a brand new resarch and design company called BMT - British Maritime Technologies. I was Deputy Chairman for its first two years. I was past retiring age when I took over NMI, so now I did retire, and we moved back to Northumberland from Winchester. BMT has become a world wide company and highly successful. It proved UK is better at the up-market technological end rather than manufacturing.

Over these years I was appointed to the Defence Scientific Advisory Council – an independent body advising MOD – where I served almost 20 years, mainly as Chairman of the Marine Technology Board. This was when I got my CBE for advising the Navy on their hull design. I also served on the Group of four experts who examined all the ships that came back from the Falklands war. Government wanted to know why we lost so many ships. Actually we found quite a lot to criticise, and our recommmendations were adopted in the new frigates being built at the time. Much less satisfactory was an exercise where I chaired a Group advising on ways to acquire cheaper warships – a problem that has become even more acute today. We got nowhere. Obtuse civil servants, the military who wanted the best of everything, and out of touch ministers ensured nothing changed.

I was also on the Home Office Panel of Expert Advisers who served on official Inquiries into maritime disasters. These were always interesting, and I noticed a big difference in the way the Judiciary operated in England compared with Scotland. Scottish courts were much more formal and more efficient. Two ship losses took up much of my time; the P&O passenger ro-ro ferry Herald of Free Enterprise which capsized and the large modern Bibby Line bulk carrier Derbyshire which was lost in a typhoon in the Pacific with all hands.

In 1990 I was appointed President of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and held the position for three years. This was a great honour, although it meant a good deal of hard work and travelling. RINA is not a large Institution, but has a higher than average level of qualification and is heavily international in its membership. About the same time I was elected FREng (Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering). The Academy was instituted by HRH Duke of Edinburgh to represent Engineering at the same level as FRS denotes superiority in Science.

Honours followed from other realms. I was appointed RDI – Royal Designer for Industry in 1986. This is a select body representing design of every discipline. I became Master of the Faculty following on from a product designer and the illustrious dress designer Jean Muir. I was followed as Master by a theatre designer. While I was Master I tried hard to increase the membership from the engineering disciplines and had some success. As Master I attended Buckingham Palace several times to assist HRH Duke of Edinburgh in the selection of candidates for his own Prince Philip Design Award. This was conducted in the Centre Room overlooking the Mall and where the pictures are taken of the family on the balcony. It was intriguing sitting there and hearing the Guards Band at the Changing of The Guard outside.

The Faculty of RDI lies within the Royal Society of Arts. I had become FRSA in 1968 when in Liverpool. On moving to the North East I became chairman of the NE Region of RSA and on the national Council. Becoming Master of the RDI Faculty meant I became a Vice President.

In what I suspect will by my final award, I received in 2008 an Honorary DSc from Strathclyde University for my life’s work in the maritime sphere. So my quite ordinary efforts have received ample recognition.

I wrote my Memoirs and had them published by The Memoir Club under the title There Go the Ships in 2003, (ISBN 978-1-84104-144-5), the title having been drawn from a conversation with Prince Philip while we were discussing ships and references in the Psalms – in this case Psalm 104. It has gone into and through a Second Edition, but we are not sure if we should go into a third. I still have some copies available if anyone is interested. An eminent visitor to our home was glancing through it and chanced to see my reference to my French teacher – ‘Annie Bash’, of the 1930s-40s. ‘That was my aunt’ she exclaimed!

I hope Bell Baxter will maintain its interest and involvement in the technological and engineering side of life, which is belatedly being recognised nationally as vital to our wellbeing. Even though such was a bit thin in my day, BBS certainly gave me a good start.

Editor’s note: Three of the chapters in Marshall’s book are of particular interest to Bell Baxter FPs, as they cover his upbringing in Auchtermuchty and schooldays at Bell Baxter. He has very kindly given permission for us to reproduce them in subsequent volumes of Bell Baxter Essays.

This formal obituary appeared in the Telegraph and other papers and is therefore the glowing verdict of others on a remarkable career.

He was one of Britain's leading naval architects during the final flowering of the British shipowning and merchant shipbuilding industries, and a percipient chronicler of their collapse.

As chief naval architect of the Liverpool-based Blue Funnel Line, Meek designed Britain's first container ship, but was frustrated by the refusal of British shipyards to innovate, cooperate or learn from their competitors. He blamed the demise of British Shipbuilding firmly on the ‘ingrowing culture’ of the yards. The chairman of one told him: ‘We taught the Japanese how to build ships, so what lessons could we learn from them?’ Others - with managements as conservative as their unions - went out of business rather than change.

He left Bell Baxter Grammar (sic) School, Cupar, at 16 to become a drawing office apprentice at the Caledon shipyard in Dundee, then went to Dundee and Glasgow Universities to read Naval Architecture, graduating in 1946.

In 1949 Meek left Caledon for the British Shipbuilding Research Association (BSRA). Four years later he moved to Blue Funnel, whose cargo liners operated between Britain, Australia and the Far East. But it was only after 1961, when the line's conservative chief architect Harry Flett died in harness and Meek succeeded him, that he could innovate.

The first ship he designed for Blue Funnel was Centaur, to carry passengers, livestock and cargo between Malaysia and Western Australia. Next came Priam with everything possible cleared from the deck for ease of loading and unloading. For the first time Blue Funnel asked a Japanese yard to quote; Mitsubishi delivered two ships on time at the lowest price, and Vickers on Tyneside five up to a year late, the cost of compensation hastening the yard's closure.

By then the container had arrived, and for it Meek designed Encounter Bay. The entire concept had to be worked up from scratch - even the standard size for a container had yet to be agreed. Five 2283 5-ton ships were ordered from German yards, and delivered on time in 1969. One was placed with Fairfields, Glasgow: it arrived a year late. Dockers at Tilbury blacked the ships' cargoes and they had to be handled at Rotterdam and Antwerp. But Encounter Bay stayed in service for 30 years.

Meek next designed the larger Liverpool Bay class - all five built in Germany - for the Far East run. They spent so much more of their time at sea with larger payloads that each replaced six conventional vessels, forcing redundancies among seamen.

After Blue Funnel merged with Elder Dempster in 1967 to form Ocean Fleets, Meek joined its board. The ordering of Japanese built supertankers and bulk carriers just before the energy crisis of 1973 cost the company dear, and a ruinously tight contract for the French-built natural gas carrier Nestor crippled its finances.

The company was on the ropes when, in 1979, British Shipbuilders recruited Meek as its technical director. There was ‘still a feeling that something could be made of the industry’, but with 11 yards jealously defending their way of doing things, innovative design work failed to bring in orders. Except for Cammell Laird, they showed no interest in building a new generation of cruise liners. And when Scott Lithgow was invited to quote for a revolutionary gas carrier, it closed rather than submit a competitive price.

In 1984 Meek was appointed managing director of the National Maritime Institute, previously the ship division of the National Physical Laboratory. The DTI made one last bid to keep the industry competitive with an initiative for the ‘Efficient Ship’. Meek worked it up; this time it was the owners who showed no interest.

With shipyards closing, Meek tested submersibles for the North Sea and Yacht designs for the America's Cup. He was also caught up in the argument over whether ‘short, fat’ warships would be superior to ‘long, thin’ ones - firmly recommending the former.

Under Meek the Institute merged with the BSRA, then, in 1985, was relaunched as British Maritime Technology. Though now a world leading consultancy, BMT had a shaky start, Meek quitting as deputy chairman in 1986 just before its sophisticated test centre was bulldozed.

Meek played a pivotal role in the belated investigation into the loss with all hands of the Bulk carrier Derbyshire during a tropical storm in the Pacific in 1980. The ship was new and well run and it was widely believed a weak point in the hull had failed. Meek insisted that it had been sound, and defects in its construction could not have caused such a failure. A second investigation after the wreckage was found concluded - again after evidence from Meek - that the destruction of deck fittings led to the flooding of the ship and that the hull did not fail.

From 1995 to 2002 Meek chaired Argonautics Maritime Technologies, which developed a ‘cluster’ of small and hi-tech marine industries on Tyneside. In 2003 he published a caustic memoir, There Go The Ships.

Marshall was the eldest of three siblings, his younger sister being Martha (qv) and Max (qv) the youngest boy.

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