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Obituaries

The following obituary for Derek Portman appeared in Industrial Archaeology News, Volume 136, Spring 2006, p 15:

Derek Portman and the Rolt Fellowship

Derek Portman (1927-2005) died in November last. He had been appointed as a Rolt Fellow in the Centre for the History of Technology at the University of Bath in 1997. The Fellowship was established in 1978 to honour the memory of the distinguished engineering historian and biographer L.T.C. Rolt. The University had awarded Tom Rolt an honorary degree in 1973 but he died the following year and it was decided to set up the Fellowship to promote the study of the subjects in which he was engaged. All the 14 Fellows have been mature professional people with an interest in engineering history, and the Fellowship has assisted them to undertake research in this field. Their works have been published in books and articles in learned journals, and in particular two collections of essays by Rolt Fellows have appeared in special symposia on topics in engineering history.

Derek Portman made a strong contribution on the design of bridges to the second of these collections, due for publication in early 2006 as a symposium on 'Engineering Disasters' in the annual History of Technology. He also presented two papers to the Newcomen Society, the first of which was subsequently published in Construction History (vol. 18, 2002, 3-20) under the title 'A Business History of the Clifton Suspension Bridge'. The second was on the life and engineering career of Brunel's younger son, Henry Marc Brunel, and that is also under consideration for publication in Construction History. These represented the main themes tackled by Derek Portman while he held the Rolt Fellowship, and they were significant contributions to engineering history.

Angus Buchanan
Emeritus Professor of the History of Technology at the University of Bath and Honorary Director of the University’s Centre for the History of Technology

Derek was also involved with the West Somerset Railway for a while and the following obituary appeared on the unofficial West Somerset Railway website in January 2006:

The Railway sadly reports the death of Derek Portman, who died at the age of 78 at his home in Portishead towards the end of 2005 after losing a battle against cancer. Derek became Chairman of the West Somerset Railway plc in 1981, when the Railway was on the brink of closure, having accumulated losses of £185,000 and debts of £33,000. He was very much the man of the moment, stepping into the breach and putting together a rescue package, and then succeeding in selling it to creditors and shareholders alike. Indeed, without Derek’s excellent business sense and experience, and his courage in taking unpopular decisions, it is true to say that the WSR may well have never survived. Although he retired in 1983 for personal reasons, Derek maintained contact with the Railway and regularly attended the Company’s Annual General Meeting.

23 January 2006
Details from WSRA and WSR Plc

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