So you might be surprised to know that Fred Lanchester, after whom Lanchester Polytechnic (the forerunner to Coventry University) was named, never actually graduated from university himself…until much later in life.
Fred enjoyed science and mathematics at school and was accepted by the Hartley Institiution in Southampton (now the University of Southampton) at the ripe old age of 13, so had to wait year before taking up his place. He loved learning but often struggled to write essays or letters, finding composition difficult. Even in later life he would draft and redraft his writing before he was satisfied with them. It has been suggested that he suffered from dyslexia, with an educational psychologist surmising from some of his papers studied from the 1930s that he showed “classic signs of dyslexia”.
After two years of studying he won a national scholarship to the combined Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science) and the Royal School of Mines in London. In his first two years he learned the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, often building his own apparatus. In the third year however he chose not to study engineering, but all aspects of mining and metallurgy during the day and attended evening classes at Finsbury Technical College to satisfy his mechanical engineering urges.
During these evening classes his passion for the practical grew as he learned vital techniques for working with tools and metal which clearly stood him in good stead later in life. But his interest in geology and mining waned and aged 20 he abandoned the course without taking his final exams.
This left him without qualifications and little money and his first job in a Patent Office for sixpence an hour tided him over and provided him with his first inspiration for his own patent granted in 1888 for an isometrograph – a tool for ruling parallel lines.
Depsite his many achievements (that can be seen in the Timeline) Fred still lack formal recognition of his until 1919 when he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Birmingham on the 18th September, just a couple of weeks after he married Dorothea.
The Interactive Archive contains some fascinating letters that refer to his graduation including arrangements for his robes, notes for the speech that accompanied his degree presentation and confirmation of how he should refer to it in correspondence.
Fred is fondly referred to as ‘Dr Fred’ to this day by family and admirers of his work.
So if you are graduating this week, congratulations, you’re acheiving one of the few things Fred never managed to do – academically at least – but you will always have a link to this remarkable genius.