OBITUARY:Professor Charles Whewell

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The Independent Online
Charles Whewell was an authority on the textile industries, ranging from the production of natural and man-made fibres and fabric manufacture to the design and distribution of apparel, household and technical products for medical, aerospace and construction purposes.

He was born in 1912, and educated at the grammar school at Darwen, in Lancashire. He graduated in chemistry from Leeds University, and from 1937 held successive appointments there as Senior Lecturer in Textile Chemistry, Reader in Textile Finishing, Professor of Textile Technology and Professor and Head of the Department of Textile Industries. On his retirement he was appointed Emeritus Professor.

Whewell's particular speciality was the finishing of textile fabrics, the processes which change rough, hard pieces of cloth taken from the loom or knitting-machine into soft, luxuriant fabrics with many different visual and tactile characteristics.

From his early experiences at Leeds - including the analysis of the chemical and mechanical processes behind the process of milling, giving a woollen fabric a soft, thick texture - Whewell acquired a lively respect for the skills of craftsmen, coupled with a desire to probe with patience into those scientific principles on which their achievements were (albeit unknowingly) based.

His work in the field of textile practice, his elucidation of the whys and wherefores, his rationalisation of rule-of-thumb procedures of the past and his scientific contributions to modern processes are to be found in his numerous published papers, identifying the mechanical and scientific processes of textile manufacture, and in the minds of those who heard him lecture at Leeds and internationally.

Whewell brought to his activities a freshness of outlook and a clarity of analytical thinking which established for him a world-wide reputation almost unique in the realm of textile technology. Not only did he uncover the hidden mysteries of accumulated skill and experience on the factory shopfloor, he had the gift of so simplifying the story in explanation that lecture audiences, in many parts of the world and at many levels of erudition, listened in delight to his lucid expositions.

Whewell gave great service to the Textile Institute, the chartered body for those working in the professional, technical, managerial, academic and artistic capacities in the industry. He served as the institute's World President (there are members in nearly 100 countries), from 1977 to 1979, as Chairman of Council from 1964 to 1967 and on many of the institute committees for over 35 years. His presidency was noted for the development of new institute sections running lectures and programmes in their own countries.

He was the recipient of most of the Textile Institute's medals and awards, including the Warner Memorial Medal (1960), an Honorary Fellowship for his distinguished research work (1979), Honorary Life Membership (1987) and the Weavers' Company Medal and Prize (1992).

He was made an Honorary Freeman and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers in 1970. He also received the Distinguished Service Award of the Indian Institute of Technology.

Whewell was as dedicated to Leeds University as he was to the textile industry. For the period 1973-75 he was Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university. A housing association at Leeds carrying his name is a recognition of his work to improve facilities for graduate and undergraduate students. He acted as Honorary Secretary of the Lord Boyle Memorial Trust established after the tragic early death of the statesman Edward Boyle, who spent his last years as Vice- Chancellor of the university.

Charles Whewell was possessed of a gentle and modest demeanour and great wisdom. The cornerstone of his life was his long happy marriage to Emma Stott, herself a leading textile chemist and the joint author with the late Professor J.B. Speakman, of Leeds University, of many classical research papers which explored the chemical structures of fibres.

Arthur Harverd

Charles Smalley Whewell, textile technologist: born 26 April 1912; Professor of Textile Technology, Leeds University 1954-63, Professor of Textile Industries 1963-77 (Emeritus), Pro-Vice Chancellor 1973-75; World President, Textile Institute 1977-79; married 1937 Emma Stott (one son); died Leeds 31 May 1995.