Obituary: Sir Ralph Freeman

SIR RALPH Freeman was the former senior partner at the international civil engineering consultancy Freeman, Fox & Partners and the earliest surviving past-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

He was the son of the renowned structural engineer Sir Ralph Freeman, designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and founder of Freeman, Fox & Partners. He shared his father's passion for large bridge design and construction - a passion he passed to his son Anthony - and was responsible for the construction of many major projects including the vast Humber suspension bridge - the longest in the world at the time - the Medway Bridge and M2 motorway, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge, and the Severn and Wye Bridges.

Throughout his long career Freeman dedicated a huge amount of time to the profession through his work for the Institution of Civil Engineers, culminating with his presidency in 1966-67. But his skills also crossed over to the lighter side of engineering, recognised by his knighthood in 1970 while serving as consulting engineer to the Queen, responsible for the upkeep of Sandringham Park, a post he was appointed to in 1949. He was also responsible for managing construction of the South Bank Exhibition, the main showcase for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Ralph Freeman was born in 1911 and educated at Uppingham School, Leicestershire, and Worcester College, Oxford, where he gained an honours degree in Engineering Science. As a student he worked during the vacations for the steelwork fabricator Dorman Long, both in its Middlesbrough steel works and in London on the construction of Lambeth Bridge and the widening of Putney Bridge across the River Thames.

After graduating, his passion for bridge construction took him to Rhodesia and South Africa with Dorman Long where he spent seven years, from 1932 to 1939, in contracting, building mainly long-span bridges but also the steelworks in Pretoria. It was on one of his long sea trips to Rhodesia that he met Joan Rose from Cape Town. They married in 1939.

His work in Southern Africa included the 320m-span steel Otto Beit suspension bridge across the Zambesi at Chirandu and the 330m steel arch Birchenough Bridge over the Sabi River. Between these two projects he spent six months in Denmark working on the 3.1km steel girder road and rail Storstrom Bridge and then for Braithwaite & Co on an oil pipeline jetty in the Medway. He finally returned to the UK in 1939 to join Freeman, Fox & Partners to work mainly on the design and construction of the Royal Naval Propellant factory in Caerwent, Monmouthshire.

His engineering work did not stop during the war. Freeman served in the Royal Engineers and worked as a Captain in the Experimental Bridging Establishment in Christchurch. There he was involved in the development of a special propped military suspension bridge using Bailey Bridge components - a design later used with great success in Burma.

He was then seconded as chief engineer to 21 Army Group to advise on the construction of Bailey Bridges in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. In 1945 he was appointed MBE (military) and made Knight of the Orange- Nassau (Netherlands) for his war-time efforts. He continued his military links in civilian life by serving in the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve and was made commanding officer of the Engineer and Railway Staff Corp in 1969, a post he held for the maximum permitted five-year period.

After the war he rejoined Freeman Fox and was made a partner in 1947. Two years later he was appointed consulting engineer to King George VI to look after Sandringham Park, an honorary position he continued under Queen Elizabeth until he retired in 1976. He oversaw a variety of building alterations including the complete overhaul of the central-heating system - a job which prompted him to describe himself as "the Queen's plumber".

Freeman Fox's growing reputation for structural excellence led to the award in 1949 of a major commission to design and co-ordinate construction of buildings for the South Bank Exhibition as part of the Festival of Britain. This included the spectacular steel-framed and aluminium-clad Dome of Discovery exhibition hall - a structure which commanded almost as much controversy as today's Dome at Greenwich.

After the sudden death of his father in early 1950, Freeman assumed personal responsibility for the project. It was completed to a very tight timescale in time for the Festival opening. He was appointed CBE in 1952 for his contribution to it.

The 1950s were an extremely busy time for the expanding Freeman Fox partnership, based mainly around Freeman's love and knowledge of bridges. The firm also took on major commissions around the world to build thermal and hydro- electric power stations including the Festiniog pumped storage power station in Wales. By 1958 his reputation for large bridge construction led to the invitation to join an international team of engineers to investigate the partial collapse of a huge cantilever highway bridge under construction in Vancouver in Canada.

Freeman took over as senior partner at Freeman Fox in 1963, a position he held until he retired at the age of 68 in 1979. During this time he spearheaded the firm's work on many of the biggest projects in the world at the time. These included the M2 and M5 motorways, the Forth Road Bridge, the Severn Bridge, both Bosphorus Bridges in Turkey and the cross-harbour tunnel and mass transit rail systems in Hong Kong. He was also intimately involved in the aftermath of the catastrophic collapse in 1970 of steel box girder bridges in Milford Haven and across the River Yarra in Melbourne.

His career culminated with the construction of the huge Humber Estuary crossing near Hull. When it finally opened in 1981, two years after Freeman's retirement, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world, 1410m between its two 155m-high pylons. The steel deck design used state- of-the-art streamlining to reduce the wind loading and set new standards for suspension bridge design and construction around the world.

Freeman had become a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1937 and a Fellow in 1946. He was elected a member of Council 1951-56 and again in 1956-61 before becoming President in November 1966. In his presidential address he stressed the need for all branches of engineers to work more closely together and to disseminate information, knowledge and training more effectively through the ranks - themes still discussed at length today. To this end he was a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1948, President of the Welding Institute 1975-77 and an Honorary Fellow of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.

Throughout his career he wrote many learned papers and received the Telford Premium Prize with his co-author Sir Hubert Shirley-Smith - president a year after Freeman - for a paper on the Birchenough and Otto Beit Bridges in Rhodesia.

His abundant energy and enthusiasm meant he was able to pack a variety of interests into his life around his engineering. As chairman of the Limpsfield Common management committee (1957-82) he successfully chaired an appeal to raise funds and transfer the common to the National Trust in 1972. Like his father, he was the engineering member of the Royal Fine Art Commission and served on the Board of Governors of Westminster Hospital. In 1964 he was made a CVO and two years later he became a member of the Advisory Council for Scientific Research and Development (Army), later the Defence Scientific Advisory Council.

Even after his retirement Sir Ralph Freeman kept an active interest in civil engineering, particularly through the work of his eldest son, Anthony, who tragically died in July as a result of injuries sustained in an accident on the Vasco da Gama bridge in Lisbon in April 1997.

Father and son would talk continuously of their latest adventures in bridge design and construction whenever they met up. In later years they discussed problems and ideas by telephone and Sir Ralph had a fax machine specially installed at home to transmit diagrams and sketches to and from Anthony around the world.

Freeman's other passions included playing golf, sailing yachts and wood and metal work. He was a prolific writer and a regular contributor to the letters pages of the profession's magazine New Civil Engineer, always putting his point forcefully but thoughtfully.

Ralph Freeman, civil engineer: born London 3 February 1911; MBE 1945, CBE 1952; Partner, Freeman, Fox & Partners 1947-79, Senior Partner 1962- 79; Consulting Engineer to the Queen for Sandringham Estate 1949-76; Vice- President, Institution of Civil Engineers 1962-66, President 1966-67; CVO 1964; Kt 1970; married 1939 Joan Rose (one son, one daughter and one son deceased); died Limpsfield, Surrey 24 August 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform