William Geoffrey (‘Geoff’) Heath was born to Florrie and Percy on 3 March 1924 at their home ‘Dene Cottage’ in Mellor. A blizzard was raging, and the doctor could not attend the birth, so the midwife was assisted by a local worthy Mrs Effie Jean Jowett. Visiting Geoff on subsequent birthdays, she would claim ‘I held him before his mother did!’, much to Florrie’s annoyance.
Mrs Jowett was the widow of a Mellor landowner; she had inherited a good deal of real estate and property in the village and therefore expected respect from her neighbours and the local tradesmen, but her circumstances were somewhat straitened after her husband’s death. She was a good friend of the Chapmans (Florrie’s parents) and the Heaths. She appears again in this story.
When Geoff was barely two years old, the family moved into their new house ‘Beaumont’. Florrie and Percy remained there until Percy died in 1977, and there Geoff and his older sister May grew up.
Geoff started school in 1929, attending Mellor School with most of the other village children. He joined the Wolf Cubs when he was seven, and progressed to the Boy Scouts at the age of eleven. Following in May’s footsteps, he sat for the County Minor Scholarship 2 examination in March 1934, a week after his tenth birthday. Being successful, he was admitted to New Mills County Secondary (later Grammar) School the following September.
About this time, he joined the Mellor Junior lacrosse team, but ball games especially those involving running were never his forte, and he was positioned as the goalkeeper.
In the late 1930’s, the world was threatened with war, and Geoff, along with other members of the Scout troop, joined the Messenger Boy corps of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Although he was trained and prepared to cycle between the ARP Wardens’ posts to carry messages in the event of an air raid causing a telephone breakdown, he never had a call on his services. He also joined the Air Training Corps, but was disgusted to find that the officer in charge was concerned only with ‘square-bashing’ rather than any aspect of air training.
Geoff progressed through the grammar school to the sixth form, where he specialised in mathematics and physics. He was Head Boy in his last year. May had by then won a scholarship to University College, Hull (now Hull University) and was able to tell Geoff about the Aeronautics course which was running there. He had always been interested in mechanical things, taking great pleasure as a youngster in making cranes and traction engines in Meccano. In his teens, he was a keen cyclist, and took out a provisional patent 3 on a variable-speed gear which he invented. He also built model aircraft, several of which he designed himself; one design was published in a model aircraft magazine 4, featuring on the front cover. Although his father would have liked Geoff to follow in his footsteps in the financial world and had already made enquiries from his commercial friends about a position in a bank Geoff made it clear that he wished to become an engineer. Much to his father’s credit, he accepted this view.
After passing his Higher School Certificate (HSC) 5, Geoff obtained a State Bursary 6 which enabled him to study Aeronautics at Hull. This course was originally devised as a two-year post-apprenticeship for employees of the nearby Blackburn Aircraft factory who had already obtained a Higher National Certificate in appropriate subjects. During the War, the rules were changed to allow direct entry by grammar school pupils with an HSC provided they ‘topped up’ their qualifications with subjects (such as technical drawing) which they had not previously encountered, and passed the University of London’s Intermediate Engineering examination. Since one’s time at university was restricted (for males) to two years in wartime, this policy involved compressing three years’ work into two. Despite this, Geoff succeeded in passing his final examination with a Distinction. He had another attempt at a ball game, playing hockey (again in goal!) for the College team. During his last year, he edited The Torch, the student magazine.
Towards the end of their final year Geoff and his colleagues appeared before the Joint Recruiting Board, who decreed that they should go into some form of aeronautical engineering, since the country needed engineers more than it needed armed service personnel. Anticipating this decision, Geoff had already found a job. To the north of Manchester, the great aircraft company of A V Roe & Co Ltd (Avro) had its Chadderton factory, where the Design Office was situated, whilst at Woodford in Cheshire the Final Assembly plant and airfield were to be found. Geoff and two of his colleagues from Hull had found (unpaid!) vacation work at Woodford during the long vacation at the end of their first year.
Since Chadderton was the nearest aircraft design organisation to Geoff’s home, he naturally opted to look there for employment. It so happened that his father (an accountant) had a client who was a close friend of Roy Dobson the managing director of Avro. Geoff was thus able to make contact with Mr (later Sir Roy) Dobson, who arranged for him to be interviewed by the Chief Technician. Despite the Chief Aerodynamicist’s efforts to persuade him to join his department, Geoff stuck out for and obtained a job as a stressman (structural analyst). He started his career in the aircraft industry in August 1944.
Holidays were restricted in wartime, but Geoff had two weeks’ leave due in July 1945. Remembering the good times the family had enjoyed before the war in CE Holiday Homes, he booked a vacation at the home in the Isle of Wight. There he met Harry Gunn, who suggested that Geoff might like to join the Manchester branch of Comradeship an organisation which fostered and continued the friendly atmosphere of the holiday homes. Geoff did so, and through that organisation met the young lady who would become his wife.
This young lady was Joan, the elder daughter of Tom and Annie Melvin, whose home was in Moston not far, by coincidence, from the Avro factory. She was born in Butterworth Lane in Chadderton on 23 September 1921, and was employed before her marriage at HMSO the Government Stationery Office in Hollinwood. Joan introduced Geoff to the delights of Plas-y-Nant, the holiday home near Caernarvon in North Wales. The holidays there were mainly for mountain walkers, and together they enjoyed many happy hours on the Welsh hills. One mountain in particular became their favourite Tryfan, rising like a stone pyramid to just over 3000 feet. Joan and Geoff became engaged in December 1948, and were married at Joan’s church Chain Bar Methodist on 1 July 1950.
Both Joan and Geoff were members of their respective Methodist churches, having been brought up through the Sunday School, where both were teachers. Joan had been in the church company of the Girl Guides, serving as a Guider, whilst Geoff had returned to Scouting after his time at university, and became the Scoutmaster of the 1st Mellor & Marple Bridge Troop a position which he held for seventeen years 7 until his resignation in 1962.
His interest in young people was reflected in his appointment as a Governor of the new Marple Hall Grammar School during its construction in 1960. He was able to play his part in the selection of the staff, including the headmaster and headmistress, before the school opened. Marple was then under the jurisdiction of Cheshire County Council, but when it was transferred to Stockport Metropolitan Borough as part of Greater Manchester in 1974, Geoff’s appointment was terminated.
Besides teaching in the Sunday School, Geoff followed his father as the pianist. He had started to learn the piano when he was seven, encouraged by his father. After his father’s death in 1977, he became the church organist, having deputised for him beforehand. He also held various positions in the Church, including society steward and treasurer. Within the ‘circuit’ of local Methodist churches, he served for four years as circuit steward.
Once their engagement had been announced, Joan and Geoff began to consider where they should live. Joan was only too happy to live in Mellor, and Geoff had no wish to leave the village of his birth. After looking at an old cottage in Moor End (the upper part of Mellor), they decided to commission a new house. Mrs Jowett was approached so that a piece of land could be rented; the only plots available were in Townscliffe Lane, which provided not only a southern aspect, but also a magnificent view of Cobden Edge, rising to over 1000 feet.
William Chadwick, who had built ‘Beaumont’, had just built a bungalow in preparation for his own retirement, and he was asked to design something along similar lines. The result was a ‘bungalow with an upstairs’ all the main rooms, including the principal bedroom, at ground level, but with two bedrooms and a boxroom on the first floor. With wartime restrictions still in force, supplies of timber and other building materials were in short supply, but the house was eventually finished in 1950. Joan and Geoff named it ’Tryfan’ after their favourite mountain; many years were to elapse before the houses in Townscliffe Lane were numbered, and ‘Tryfan’ became plain 54. At the time of writing, Joan and Geoff were still living there.
Their first child, Sally Anne, was born on 30 July 1952 at Stepping Hill maternity hospital in Stockport. Her brother, Christopher Melvin (Chris), was born on 31 January 1957, again at Stepping Hill. Both children were baptised at Mellor Methodist Church, and grew up like their parents in the Sunday School. Sally joined the Brownies and the Guides; Chris had a spell in the Cubs. Both children attended Ludworth Primary School, and both succeeded in passing the 11-plus examination to enable them to attend Marple Hall Grammar School.
After passing her A-levels, Sally went on to Loughborough University to read Industrial Mathematics a four-year course involving a year in industry, which she spent at Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight. After obtaining her degree she obtained a job with English China Clays in Truro, Cornwall. There she met a young accountant, Michael (Mike) Anthony Hall; they were married at Mellor Methodist Church on 30 October 1976, and went to live in a converted barn in Probus, just outside Truro. They had two children: Rebecca Jane (Becky), (born 29 June 1980) and Anthony John (Tony), (born 29 January 1982). Sally and her family later moved into Truro, and then, as Mike’s job changed, to Hawkchurch in East Devon and later to Frampton-on-Severn in Gloucestershire.
Mike was a devout Roman Catholic, and the children were brought up in the Catholic faith. Sally, however, continued the family tradition of Methodism, holding various offices in her local church. When the children were established in secondary education, Sally became a lay inspector for Ofsted the Office for Standards in Education.
After gaining her A-levels in 1998, Becky took a ‘gap year’ as an au pair in Luxembourg and Germany before going up to St Hilda’s College, Oxford, to read Engineering with Economics. After passing her final examinations in 2003, she married another Oxford graduate Timothy James Dougall on 19 July 2003.
Becky and Tim had a son (Xavier John), born 16 November 2013.
Tony left school in 1998, and then studied for a BTec in Computer Studies at Gloucester College of Art and Technology. He also took a ‘gap year’,undertaking various voluntary tasks in Europe and Central America before going to Brighton University to read Computer Studies. He obtained his degree in July 2006.
In his teenage years, Chris was a keen cyclist, and his greatest cycling achievement was his solo ride from his home to John O’Groats (the most northerly point of Britain), then to Land’s End (the most southerly point) and back home, staying overnight at Youth Hostels. He went from grammar school to Wolverhampton Polytechnic, where he read biology. Having obtained his degree, he found employment in a succession of companies in the food industry, being mainly concerned with quality assurance. Whilst working for Oxo and living in Croydon, he renovated the Victorian terraced house in which he was living. In Croydon he met Paula Clark, and spent some time renovating her house to an equally high standard. They became partners, and were able to sell both houses and buy an old farmhouse in Old Dalby, Leicestershire, when both found employment in Nottingham. Chris also renovated this house, adding a utility room and a conservatory and installing central heating. Paula was a keen horsewoman, and the farm buildings and the adjoining land were ideal for her equestrian pursuits, which Chris also adopted, buying a horse and gig.
Both Chris and Paula became Masters of Business Administration (MBA). At the time of writing, Chris is a technical manager in the food industry, and Paula has a senior management post in the National Health Service.
Geoff bought his first car when the children were little, and, until the novelty wore off, the family would go out in it for a trip round Derbyshire every Saturday. The car took the family on many seaside holidays, Tenby in South Wales being a favourite resort. The last holiday which they had all together was a visit to Spain in 1970, crossing to France by ferry and then driving south to their destination.
Joan also saw the need for a car of her own, and her first one was an ancient Austin A30, which was liable to ‘die’ in the most inconvenient places. Once the children were off their hands, she and Geoff developed a love for overseas holidays, visiting Italy, Spain and Portugal on guided tours. It was during a visit to Rome that Joan was impressed by the little Fiat 500 car, which nipped through the dense traffic so easily. On returning to England, Geoff bought one for her, which she drove until her 70th birthday, when (with Geoff at home to act as chauffeur) she relinquished her driving licence, and handed on the car to Paula.
Geoff progressed in his job in the Stress Office 8, which involved the analysis of aircraft structures in the design stage, becoming first a section leader, responsible for the supervision of half-a-dozen stressmen, and later an Assistant Chief Stressman, looking after all the sections working on one particular aircraft. Starting with work on the Lincoln (which was developed from the famous Lancaster bomber), he worked on the Shackleton maritime reconnaissance aircraft and the Tudor airliner, including the Tudor VII, which was the first four-jet-engined civil aircraft with a pressure cabin. Unfortunately, it never went into commercial service.
He was greatly interested in the development of new structural forms, especially ‘sandwich construction’, which was used to great advantage in the 720 supersonic fighter. This project was cancelled before it flew, although a prototype and a structural specimen which was successfully tested were built. In particular, the criteria for optimum (minimum weight) design were his special concern 9.
In 1947, Geoff performed the preliminary structural studies for the submission to the Ministry of Defence of a new aircraft which became the Vulcan delta-winged bomber. After working for many years on the Vulcan and on several projects which never came to fruition, he became the Assistant Chief Stressman on the new 748 airliner, being responsible for many innovations, including the interpretation of the ‘fail-safe’ concept in the structural design 10.
In 1966, the company (then a part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation) moved its design offices to Woodford. The Chief Stressman retired, and Geoff was appointed to fill the vacancy. He became involved in the adaptation of the airframe of the Comet airliner into the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
The Chief Structural Engineer died in 1968, and Geoff was promoted in his place. He now had control not only of the Stress Office, but also of the Structural Test Department and the Materials Laboratories a staff of around 160. He held this position for the remaining 20 years of his working life. In conjunction with a member of his staff, he had a further patent specification 11 to his name. During this phase of his career, the company became part of British Aerospace.
Geoff became active in various technical discussion groups, both within the company and outside it. He sat on various committees of the Aeronautical Research Council, The Society of British Aircraft Companies and the Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive. In the late 50’s he was a member of the Structures Panel of the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee, whose feasibility studies led to the Government’s decision to proceed with the development of Concorde. He also served on the British Aerospace Structures Committee, which he chaired in the later stages of his career.
His greatest pride was in his membership of the Structures and Materials Panel of AGARD the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This organisation had representatives from the sixteen nations within NATO, and its panels met twice-yearly in one of their countries. Before joining the Panel, Geoff had already presented a paper 12 at one of its regular symposia. He joined the Panel in 1975 and remained an active member until 1988. He was appointed Deputy Chairman in 1982, and was Chairman of the Panel from 1984 to 1986 13. Before becoming Chairman, he enlivened the Panel Dinner a feature of every meeting by writing topical verses 14 which were sung with great gusto to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’.
For many years, Geoff was responsible for organising a series of lectures on aircraft design in the Aeronautical Engineering Departments of both Manchester and Salford Universities. In 1986, he was invited to become a Professorial Fellow (visiting professor) at Manchester. This honorary post involved giving advice on topics covered in the degree course, recommending research projects, and assessing students’ performances in oral presentations of their final year’s projects.
Early in 1988, British Aerospace went through one of its cataclysmic reorganisations, and volunteers for redundancy were called for. With only 10 months to go before his official retirement date, Geoff was one of the first to accept the terms of this offer, and he took early retirement at the end of May 1988.
By this time, Geoff was a Chartered Engineer (CEng), a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (FIMechE) and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAeS). He had also been a Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). In July 1993, he received a certificate to mark his fifty years of membership of the RAeS. This Society had already honoured him with two prizes the Hodgson Prize in 1980 for his paper The Changing Scene of Structural Airworthiness 15 (originally presented at the 14th International Aeronautical Conference in Paris), and the George Taylor Prize in 1984 for Held Up by Stress 16.
Along with a few fellow ‘Aeronauts’ from his student days, Geoff attended the Convocation weekend at Hull in 1994 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their finishing the course. During the formal part of the proceedings, Geoff proposed that the Diploma in Aeronautics for which they had all worked so hard should be recognised as a degree. At the time of the original award, Hull was a University College unable to award its own degrees, and could thus grant only a Diploma in Aeronautics. Geoff was supported by his old college friend Harry Sunley, and to their delight the proposal was eventually accepted by the University authorities 17. In December 1994, those Aeronauts who were able to be present were given their BSc (Hons) certificates at a degree ceremony. This was the culmination of Geoff’s aeronautical career fifty years after passing his final exam!
Both Joan and Geoff were keen walkers, and living on the edge of the Peak District National Park meant that they were able to go out regularly into the hills and dales of Derbyshire. Several holidays were taken in Seefeld in Austria, where walks in the pine forests were a great attraction, and for thirteen years they went in autumn to the Lake District to enjoy the colours of the trees as they walked the Cumbrian hills.
Joan was a founder-member of the Moor End Women’s Institute, serving for many years on the committee. She was always very interested in handicrafts of all kinds, going to classes in pottery, painting, needlework and calligraphy at various times in her life. Her abiding interest, however, was hand-spinning, a skill which was self-taught. Starting with the raw fleece, she would wash it, dye it with natural materials, card it, spin it, and knit it up into garments of her own design. Her family never wanted for an attractive sweater! At the time of writing, Joan continues to pursue this hobby, but now prefers crochet to knitting.
But Joan found her greatest joy in the garden, which blossomed into colour every summer. Geoff built her a little greenhouse, and there she (at the time of writing) still spends many happy hours raising plants from seed.
Besides the greenhouse, Geoff tackled various other jobs around the house to improve it. An extended garage and a ‘walk-in’ loft were his biggest projects, helped in both cases by Chris, then a teenager. Later, Geoff decided to try his hand at woodturning, which became like Joan’s spinning the principal hobby. He adapted an old fuel store leading off the garage into a workshop and installed a lathe. Other pieces of equipment followed, and later a bigger lathe was obtained.
Eventually, he felt sufficiently competent to sell his products at craft fairs, and for several years he set up his stall in many locations, managing to persuade sufficient members of the public to buy his wares to make the enterprise worthwhile. He also found a steady outlet through a local shop which mainly sold pottery and paintings.
A Derbyshire supplier of woodturning requisites began to publish an occasional magazine, and Geoff always keen on writing was able to get an article 18 published. A new magazine (Woodturning) was then announced by The Guild of Master Craftsmen, and Geoff offered to set the prize crossword in each issue. The Editor accepted his offer, and over 80 crosswords appeared over the years. Geoff has also placed a set of cryptic crosswords on the Internet. In 2006, he was invited to produce a puzzle to be displayed on the back of a bus in New Zealand as part of a campaign to get people out of their cars. In 2008, he was commissioned to compile a set of crosswords by a London artist in connection with her project based on various organisations located in and around Stanmore at the end of the Jubilee Underground line. Travellers on the line were given booklets containing the puzzles, which bore the title ‘The Answer Lies at the End of the Line’.
On retirement, Geoff bought a small word-processor, and he began to write more articles. Seven of these 19 appeared in Woodturning, and six of them were later re-printed (along with other contributors’ articles) in book form. Eventually the original word-processor was replaced by first one and then another more powerful computer, and Geoff began to write programs to assist with crossword compilation.
In 1991, a few local craftsmen got together to found the High Peak Woodturners, with headquarters in Hazel Grove, Stockport. Geoff was one of those present, and was the speaker at the inaugural meeting, which took place the following month. He instituted the club’s newsletter, The Circular, and continues to produce it on his computer. As an extension to this newsletter, he maintains a website for the club.
The Mellor Society was formed in the 1970’s as a residents’ association concerned with the preservation of the village amenities. Although both Joan and Geoff were members from its inception, initially neither played an active role. However, Geoff was persuaded to help with the collection of subscriptions and the distribution of newsletters, and this led to him being co-opted on to the committee. He then became Membership Secretary, re-organising the subscription collection system, and writing computer programs for the analysis of the collectors’ returns. In 1996, he became Chairman of the Society, which by then had a membership exceeding 1100, 75% of the adult population of Mellor being members. In 2005, he was appointed Vice-President. He resigned from office in 2008, when the Society underwent re-organisation.
In 1992, the Society’s Treasurer invited Geoff to collaborate with him in compiling a book of walks featuring the many footpaths in Mellor. The actual writing was undertaken by Geoff, and the book 20 was published by the Mellor Society in 1993. The first edition of 1000 copies was soon sold, and a further run of 500 copies was ordered in 1994. This edition sold out in 1996, and a revised edition was printed in 2002.
One of Geoff’s diversions was writing comic verse, usually for a small group (such as the executive mess at Woodford, of which he became President) who would appreciate the topical references. However, two poems in particular reached a wider audience and won prizes: one in the Mellor parish church magazine, and the other in New Scientist. Both were written as entries for a competition inviting parodies. One 21 was about the Vicar of Mellor, in the style of W S Gilbert’s Model Major General, whilst the other 22 was about a mummified cat, in the style of T S Eliot’s McCavity.
Several other activities kept Geoff busy. Always interested in music, he has for many years been a member of Marple Choral Society, singing his tenor part in their twice-yearly concerts. When the little Methodist church in Mellor closed in 1991 (Geoff being one of the two trustees called on to sign the transfer documents), Joan and Geoff transferred their membership to Jubilee Methodist church in Marple Bridge, where Geoff joined the Church Council and (at the time of writing) is Church Treasurer and Gift Aid Secretary. He represents Jubilee on the Circuit Committee and he edits and prints the church newsletter.
On retirement, he decided to try his hand at drawing and painting, although art had never been his strong suit. He attended a local class for several years, and produced an occasional acceptable picture, but he only succeeded in convincing himself that he was not making the progress he would have wished. He therefore tried his hand at pottery, which had much more in common with woodturning.
When the University of the Third Age a self-help organisation for retired people opened a branch locally, Geoff joined, and promptly started a group for devising cryptic crosswords. Several of the group’s puzzles appeared in the U3A News the magazine of the University of the Third Age.
Another interest was the history of the Heath family, which resulted in the preparation of this website.
19 Like a Potter’s Vessel, Woodturning, Issue 4, Summer 1991; Lenticular Leanings, Woodturning, Issue 7, March/April 1992; Widgets and Wheezes, Woodturning, Issues 10 & 11, Sept/Oct & Nov/Dec 1992; Creating Harmony, Woodturning, Issue 20, March 1994; Inside Out, Woodturning, Issue 28, Dec/Jan 1995; Getting Hooked, Woodturning, Issues 39 & 40, February and March, 1996; The Turn of a Card, Woodturning, Issue 48, Dec 1996/Jan 1997. Back