This just in from the ‘You couldn’t make it up’ department. Top local history ferret [Howmuch?] spotted this article in the archive of The Walsall Observer, from the issue of Friday, 3rd January 1958. Charles Ferrie was the father of Ralph, whom I believe took on his father’s business, as described by reader and friend of the blog, Godfrey Hucker, in a previous post. Sadly, the article wasn’t in an easily transposable format, so I’ve transcribed it below.
It would be very easy to mock this – but in the grip of the cold war, the space race and media paranoia was very real at the time. I guess the two companies Charles alluded to would have been McKechnie and Kynochs, which latterly became IMI. Both were specialist metal processors; the former copper and it’s alloys, mainly brass, the latter, titanium.
Did you know any of the students mentioned, or what became of Mr. Ferrie’s project? What happened to the Space Research Group? There’s echoes of the Philip Cheetham story in there, too, although he didn’t arrive in Brownhills until some years later. Please do contact me if you have anything. It seems that Charles Ferrie was every bit larger than life just like his son…
Brownhills Boffins May Make Rocket
From the Walsall Observer, 3rd January, 1958.
In a workshop less than 30 yards from High Street, Brownhills, physicists and students of chemistry from the universities of Bristol and Sheffield are completing plans for the making of a model combustion engine, which, it is hoped, will help them develop a rocket which would take a missile into outer space.
The scientific team now officially known as the Space Research Group came about as the result of an offer, by Mr. Charles Ferrie, the Brownhills industrialist and racehorse owner, of manufacturing facilities for students interested in outer space research.
Mr. Ferrie made his offer after the launching of Russia’s Sputniks in November. He said then: ‘I believe we have the brains in this country to compete with Russia or any other country in the field of space travel. But we do not give our young scientists the financial aid and encouragement to which they are entitled.’
Fourteen students have been selected to take advantage of the facilities offered. Apart from work on the model combustion engine, experiments will soon be made on fuel injection systems, radar tracking apparatus and outer casings for the proposed missile.
Two big industrialist concerns, one in Aldridge and one in Birmingham, are co-operating with Mr. Ferrie and are supplying special metals and drawings to the students free of charge.
The ‘Observer’ understands that Mr. Barnes Wallis, the renowned scientist who perfected the bomb used by the ‘Dam Buster,’ will soon be approached for his observations on the project at Brownhills. Mr. Ferrie is himself negotiating for the lease of 400 acres on Salisbury Plain, where static rocket engines may be tested.
Many of the students have degrees, in chemistry and physics and are studying for their Ph.D. degree, while others are last-year students, and all intend taking up rocket research as a career. One girl is a medical student and is interested in space medicine.
Asked about the difficulties of launching a rocket, Mr. Ferrie said: ‘We realise this will prevent a problem, but, if the students perfect the rocket they envisage, we are sure that launching facilities will be made available. The cost will not be as startling as many people imagine, because industrialists are offering to help out with materials and manufacture and the scientists demand no wages.’