Frederick William Lanchester: Grave at Walstead Burial Ground


What is the connection between a car company, the theory of flight, an English university, the laws of combat, the concept of quality management and Walstead Burial Ground.  The answer is Frederick William Lanchester.

Frederick is commemorated along with his sister, Mary Lanchester [1864-1942] and brother, Henry Vaughan Lanchester [1863-1953] on a stone tablet at the base of Henry Jones and Octavia Lanchester, their parents’ gravestone.  It is understood the ashes of Frederick, together with those of his brother and sister are interred in this grave.

Henry and Octavia Lanchester, died in 1914 and 1916 respectively, having lived at ‘Southlea’, Sunte Avenue, Lindfield for a number of years.  he was an architect, as was his son, Henry Vaughan Lanchester who was eminent in the profession and worthy of further mention another time.

Frederick William Lanchester was born in Lewisham on the 23rd October 1868.  He studied engineering and attended the Royal College of Science but did not graduate.  However in recognition of his contribution to aerodynamics and engineering in 1920 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham.  In the years that followed he was accorded numerous other prestigious honours.

His early years as an employed engineer were spent developing gasoline engines and after setting up his own workshop in 1893, Frederick built his first engine.  The following year, this was fitted to a boat creating the first all British powerboat.  In 1895, he produced the first four-wheeled gasoline car in England.  This led to the Lanchester Car Company being established.  the cars were highly regarded for the quality of their engineering and the business was later acquired by Daimler.

Frederick, a visionary genius, was responsible for many significant inventions in automobile engineering, including disc type brakes, an ‘automatic’ transmission system, power steering, four-wheel drive, fuel injection, the dynamic balancing of engines and low voltage ignition.  He filed over 400 patents ranging from components for reproducing music to a colour photographic process.

However his overwhelming interest was aerodynamics and powered flights.  He was the foremost proponent on the theory of flight based on the vortex theory.  This remains the foundation for flight to this day, although he was initially persuaded to delay the publication of this theory, which was so advanced for its time that it might have damaged his reputation as an engineer.

Many other papers followed culminating in his two-volume treatise in 1907 on aerodynamics, entitled ‘Aerial Flight’.  This was followed by further valuable contributions to the literature on aeronautics such as, ‘Flying Machine from an Engineering Standpoint’.

consequent upon the outbreak of the Great War, Frederick became convinced of the need for a mathematical analysis of the relative strengths of opposing battlefield forces to describe the effectiveness of aircraft.  Resulting from quantitative studies of casualties in land, sea and air battles, he developed the two Lanchester Laws – the Linear Law of Combat and the N-Squared Law of Combat. These were published 1914 as his seminal work, ‘Aircraft in Warfare – the Dawn of the Fourth Arm’.

His work in aeronautics continued into the 1920s and 1930s with papers on the counter-rotating propellers, rocket-assisted flight and other technical topics.  In 1931, Frederick received the Daniel Guggenheim Medial for his ‘Contribution to the Fundamental Theory of Aerodynamics’.  Five years earlier the Royal Aeronautical Society had bestowed its Gold medal upon him.

However at this time Frederick was becoming increasingly absorbed in musical reproduction leading to many significant developments in the design and manufacture of advanced speakers, microphones and amplifiers.

Following the start of World War Two, the U.S. military started to study the Lanchester Laws of Combat.  These were successfully applied in U.S. military strategy in the later stages of the war, including operations in the central Pacific.  To this day the Lanchester principles are taught in military colleges.  Frederick’s extensive writings on military subjects including logistics became a founding element in the science of Operational Research.

Frederick died on 8 March 1946 little with little wealth, his life of invention and visionary theories had not translated into a personal fortune.  he had spent most of his adult life in the Midlands.

After the end of WW2, Dr W Edward Deming, an American helping with the reconstruction of Japan introduced Frederick’s work on Operational Research to that country in 1952.  This resulted in Lanchester being regarded as one of the four founds of the concept of Quality Management, which became the cornerstone of Japanese industrial success.

Subsequent research by the Japanese produced a reworking of the Lanchester Laws of Combat into a strategies for corporate competition.  In 1962 the theories were further refined by Dr Taoko as the Lanchester Strategy of Sales and Marketing.  Briefly this provides rules for selecting a strategy depending upon whether a company was attacking a new market or defending an existing market position.  These have since been widely applied by Japanese corporations with over 2 million books on the subject sole in Japan.

Many regard the application of Lanchester’s theories as being, in part, responsible for the Japanese focus on competitive advantage and market share resulting in their country’s economic success.  Arguably,his name is better known and more highly regarded in Japan than in Britain, particularly since the university named in his honour, has been renamed the University of Coventry.

Lindfield should be proud to have an engineer and polymath of the eminence of Frederick William Lanchester resting and commemorated in the Walstead Burial Ground.

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