FROM OUR MEMBERSHIP RECORDS: HENRY SELBY HELE-SHAW (1854-1941)

Welcome to our series of blogs where we will be delving into our historical membership proposal forms to learn more about some of our past members.

Our historical membership proposal forms consist of the application forms completed by individuals when they applied to a class of IMechE membership. We often hold more than one form for each individual as they moved between membership grades at different points of their careers.

They include details of an individual’s general and technical education, apprenticeship and employment history up to the date that the application was made. They provide a snippet into an engineer’s career and professional connections and indicate how engineering companies worked and were connected.

This series will be using information from these forms to discover and highlight stories of engineers.

Our historic membership records for individuals who joined the Institution between 1847 and 1938 can be accessed via the family history website Ancestry. More information about access to Ancestry for IMechE members and non-members can be found here: https://www.imeche.org/library-archive/archive-and-artefacts/archive-overview


Henry Selby Hele-Shaw

Henry Selby Hele Shaw’s IMechE Presidential Portrait, 1922

Henry Selby Hele-Shaw joined the Institution as a Member in 1879. In this blog we will share details of his career taken from his application form, the IMechE Council Minutes and his IMechE obituary. Hele-Shaw worked in academia, performed experimental research and was responsible for several inventions (including the variable pitch propeller), however the focus for this blog post is his role in engineering education.

Application to become a Member

Henry’s completed application for IMechE membership, 1879.

At the time of his application to become an IMechE Member in 1879, Henry was working as the Assistant to the Professor of Engineering at University College, Bristol (now the University of Bristol).

Prior to making his application Henry had undertaken an apprenticeship to be trained as a millwright and mechanical engineer with Mardyke Ironworks in Bristol. Having completed his apprenticeship in 1875 Henry stayed on as a chargeman (an employee responsible for preparing materials for smelting). He then spent six months as a journeyman (a worker who has successfully completed an apprenticeship) with the G. K. Stothert ship building yard also in Bristol. It was in this role in 1876 that he was awarded a Senior Whitworth Scholarship which enabled him to study engineering at the University of Bristol.

The Whitworth Scholarship, set up by Joseph Whitworth in 1868, was designed to encourage those who had received their practical training through an apprenticeship to complement this experience with studies through a university engineering course.

Involvement with the IMechE

Henry was President of both the Institution of Automobile Engineers (in 1909) and the IMechE (in 1922).

During his IMechE Presidency Henry helped develop the National Certificate Scheme and create the class of Student membership.

In 1937 Henry endowed the Hele-Shaw National Certificate Prize and Medal intended to be awarded to:

“the student deemed by Council to have shown outstanding merit in part-time courses leading up to the award of both the Ordinary and Higher National Certificates in Mechanical Engineering.”

National Certificate scheme

The National Certificate scheme was designed to create coordinated courses and a new system of certification for gaining technical qualifications. A certificate required five years of part-time study.

Hele-Shaw pushed to create a truly national scheme whereby students would receive a national certificate jointly awarded by the IMechE and the Board of Education upon completion of a course regardless of where they were in the country with allowances made for local changes in the syllabus.

Student Membership

In 1921, as Chairman of the Education Committee, Henry worked towards the introduction of a new class of membership; student membership. Student membership would allow those who were starting their engineering careers to benefit from attendance at meetings and receipt of publications to aid their studies.

At this time the a Graduate member was described as somebody who had:

“trained as a mechanical engineer and obtained a prescribed standard of theoretical and technical mechanical knowledge”

whereas student members were:

“persons who had only passed a prescribed examination.”

Archive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers

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