Thursday, 28 May 2009

Sir Alfred Herbert KBE - A Brief Biography

Sir Alfred Herbert KBE

Alfred Herbert was born on 5th September 1866, the son of a farmer. His father farmed at Whetstone Gorse, and the family also had a house in Leicester to which they retired in winter.

Alfred Herbert was educated at Stoneygate, a local public school where he excelled at English, science and divinity, and was expected to go on to Oxford and then into the church, until he met up with a school friend William Hubbard, who had joined Joseph Jessop's Engineering Co in Leicester and was working on a lathe. Herbert was fascinated by what the small lathe produced, so he persuaded his father to let him follow his friend's example. Subsequently he became an apprentice at Jessops and thereafter they joined Coles & Matthews in Coventry. When Matthews decide to retire, Alfred Herbert and William Hubbard bought the company with their fathers' help, and formed a partnership called Herbert & Hubbard. After a short while the partnership was dissolved and Alfred Herbert went on to found the company which bore his name, Alfred Herbert Ltd which he ran until his death in 1957.

Alfred Herbert over four decades - as a 16 year-old schoolboy, at 26, 36 and 46 

Sir Alfred was married three times, first to Ellen Ryley, who bore him four daughters, but died in 1918. He was then married Florence Lucas, nee Pepper, who had a been matron at Coventry Hospital. She too died in 1930, and in 1933 he married for the third time, Nina Pugh (nee Arundel), who survived him. For more details, see Sir Alfred Herbert's Family

In 1915, he was asked to join the Ministry of Munitions to help control the machine tool industry in wartime, and became Controller of Machine Tools, a service for which he was knighted.

Sir Alfred Herbert in his 50s

From 1917 onwards, Sir Alfred's life was divided between his factory in Coventry and his estate at Dunley in Hampshire. He had long been a keen fisherman and shot, but here he was able to pursue his hobbies of shooting and fishing on land owned or rented by him.

A brilliant and kindly man, he and the second and third Lady Herbert used to travel up to Coventry every week and stay in a flat over the works (except for the times during the Second World War when he and Nina were persuaded to stay with his granddaughter June Vapenik and her husband Milo at their flat in Leamington Spa. It was from there that he witnessed the terrible bombing of Coventry on the night of 14th/15th November 1940.

He worked to the end of his life and although he handed over his executive duties, he never formally retired, and he died taking sherry at his friend Tommy Sopwith's house in Hampshire on 26th May 1957, at the age of 90. He was buried at Litchfield, the church which he always attended from Dunley, on 6th June, and a memorial service was held for him in Coventry Cathedral, attended by over 2000 people.

Sir Alfred was given an Honorary Freedom of the City of Coventry in 1933 in recognition of his public and industrial services to the city. He was also an Officer of the Legion of Honour, an Officer of the Order of Leopold and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Click the here for some more photos of Sir Alfred

Return to Sir Alfred Herbert Index

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