Thanks to Stuart Williams of Walsall Local History Centre, I can share with readers today another piece in the remarkable jigsaw that is the Ferrie family history – the Ferries, as many old hands will recall, were a larger than life father and son who were well known in Aldridge and Brownhills for their entrepreneurialism and propensity to acts of community largesse and showmanship.
To my generation, Ralph, the son of Charles, was better known than his father; Ralph’s Rolls Royce and steam lorries were often at Brownhills Carnival, Ralph had a big trailer yard behind the Station Hotel for lorries, and he was very involved with the local Round Table.
However, the old man was not beyond a media stunt himself, and I’ve reported before his 1950s attempts to start a space program… in Brownhills. This is not a joke. You can read about that as reported in the Walsall Observer in this post here or at the foot of this one where I’ve included it for completeness. It really is a remarkable story.
Stuart sent me this clip, which reports the sad passing of Charles, and it raises a few questions that I think would make interesting discussion points. The report is from the Walsall Observer, Friday 1st August 1958:
Space-probe patron dies in Walsall hospital
MR. Charles Henry Ferrie, the man who offered research and manufacturing faculties in space projects to university students after Russia had launched her Sputniks, died in Walsall General Hospital on Friday. Mr. Ferrie, who was 57, lived at Grange Farm, Aldridge.
By granting research facilities, he sought to prove that Britain’s students were as brilliant as any in the world if given the opportunities to demonstrate their worth.
A workshop for three students on vacation was provided at Brownhills, while several other students were working on a space rocket building project from their respective universities.
Racehorse owner, and a leading Midland car dealer, Mr. Ferrie owned Brownhills Motor Sales, Ltd., Thompson’s Garage. Birmingham Ltd., and Brownhills Motor Sales Nottingham.
He leaves a widow two sons and two daughters.
Interment at New Oscott followed Requiem Mass at St. Francis’s Roman Catholic Church. Shelfield on Tuesday.
The owner of about 40 race-horses. Mr. Ferrie trained them at Aldridge for flat and National Hunt racing. Other trainers often leased horses from him.
I had not realised that Ralph lived at The Grange, a lost farm that stood about where the garage on Northgate is now; you can read more about that in this post here. But the racehorses: What do we know about those? Is there a history of this in Aldridge? I’m aware there was at Aldershawe near Wall but never heard of it here.
Also, were you a rocket scientist in Brownhills? I’d love to hear from you – how far did the project get? It really is a most peculiar, funny story.
If you have anything to add, please do – comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.
Build a rocket, boys!
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.’