William Glanville
Sir William Henry Glanville CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (1 February 1900 – 30 June 1976) was a British civil engineer
Civil engineer
A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering; the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.Originally, a...

. During WWII he and the Road Research Laboratory were involved in important war work, developing temporary runways, beach analysis, and tank and aircraft design. He also worked on the explosives calculations and scale models used to develop the bouncing bomb
Bouncing bomb
A bouncing bomb is a bomb designed specifically to bounce to a target across water in a calculated manner, in order to avoid obstacles such as torpedo nets, and to allow both the bomb's speed on arrival at the target and the timing of its detonation to be pre-determined...

s used in the Dam Busters Raid
Operation Chastise
Operation Chastise was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, subsequently known as the "Dambusters", using a specially developed "bouncing bomb" invented and developed by Barnes Wallis...


He was widely recognised for his contributions to engineering and, amongst a string of professional awards, was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), as a Companion of the Order of the Bath and knighted
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...


Early life

William Glanville was born on 1 February 1900 in Willesden
Willesden is an area in North West London which forms part of the London Borough of Brent. It is situated 5 miles north west of Charing Cross...

, Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

, the second child, and only son, of Amelia and William Glanville. His father was originally from Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

 and worked as a builder. William was educated at Kilburn Grammar School and served briefly in the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 during the final stages of the First World War. Upon demobilisation he applied to study civil engineering
Civil engineering
Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including works like roads, bridges, canals, dams, and buildings...

 at East London College (now Queen Mary, University of London
Queen Mary, University of London
Queen Mary, University of London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

 from which he graduated with first class honours in 1922.

Building Research Station

Upon graduation Glanville entered employment as an engineering assistant at the Building Research Station (which would become the Building Research Establishment
Building Research Establishment
The Building Research Establishment is a former UK government establishment that carries out research, consultancy and testing for the construction and built environment sectors in the United Kingdom...

) in East Acton
East Acton
East Acton is a place in west London, England. It is partly in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and partly in the London Borough of Ealing...

. Glanville was only the third person employed by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research
Department of Scientific and Industrial Research
Several countries have organizations called the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, abbreviated DSIR.-United Kingdom:...

 to undertake research work at the underfunded station which was established in April 1921. Glanville's first investigation at the Building Research Station (BRS) was to study how the water permeability of concrete varied and, with Duff Abrams
Duff Abrams
Duff A. Abrams was an American researcher in the field of composition and properties of concrete. He developed the basic methods for testing concrete characteristics still in use today. A professor with the Lewis Institute, he studied the component materials of concrete in the early 20th...

, was one of the first to attribute this primarily to the water-cement ratio
Water-cement ratio
The water–cement ratio is the ratio of the weight of water to the weight of cement used in a concrete mix and has an important influence on the quality of concrete produced. A lower water-cement ratio leads to higher strength and durability, but may make the mix more difficult to place...

 and not to the type and proportions of aggregate
Construction Aggregate
Construction aggregate, or simply "aggregate", is a broad category of coarse particulate material used in construction, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, recycled concrete and geosynthetic aggregates. Aggregates are the most mined material in the world...

 used. He also found that concrete became much more impermeable when cured
Curing (chemistry)
Curing is a term in polymer chemistry and process engineering that refers to the toughening or hardening of a polymer material by cross-linking of polymer chains, brought about by chemical additives, ultraviolet radiation, electron beam or heat...

 by immersion in water, compared with the more popular air curing method. In 1925 the BRS moved to Garston
Garston, Hertfordshire
Garston is a village in Hertfordshire, England, more or less contiguous with Watford and now, despite retaining a local identity, is effectively, a suburb...

 near Watford.

In 1931 he was consulted by London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

 on the drawing up of a code of practice for the use of reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete is concrete in which reinforcement bars , reinforcement grids, plates or fibers have been incorporated to strengthen the concrete in tension. It was invented by French gardener Joseph Monier in 1849 and patented in 1867. The term Ferro Concrete refers only to concrete that is...

 in buildings. The report, drawing heavily on Glanville's research, was published in 1933 and later incorporated into British Standards
British Standards
British Standards are the standards produced by BSI Group which is incorporated under a Royal Charter...

 code 114. His research covered almost every aspect of concrete use in construction and included shrinkage stresses, creeping, and permeability as well as work on indeterminate structures, timber roofs, and curved bracing members. Glanville remained at the research station until 1936 when he was asked to become deputy director of the Road Research Laboratory
Transport Research Laboratory
TRL is a British transport consultancy and research organisation based at Wokingham Berkshire with approximately 500 staff. TRL is owned by the Transport Research Foundation , which is overseen by 80 sector members from the transport industry. TRL also own small UK regional offices situated in...

 (RRL) in Crowthorne
Crowthorne is also a suburb of Johannesburg, South AfricaCrowthorne is a village and civil parish in the Bracknell Forest district of south-eastern Berkshire. It has a population of 6,711...

, Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...


Road Research Laboratory

At the RRL Glanville took on an increasingly more administrative role, devolving research to his assistants, however he still found time to undertake a comprehensive study of the performance of concrete roads. He also established a section of the laboratory to work exclusively on soil mechanics
Soil mechanics
Soil mechanics is a branch of engineering mechanics that describes the behavior of soils. It differs from fluid mechanics and solid mechanics in the sense that soils consist of a heterogeneous mixture of fluids and particles but soil may also contain organic solids, liquids, and gasses and other...

, a subject which was beginning to come to the fore of building and infrastructure design. He was made director of the RRL in 1939.

War work

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Glanville was put in charge of the research and experiments department of the Ministry of Home Security
Ministry of Home Security
The Ministry of Home Security was a British government department established in 1939 to direct national civil defence during the Second World War.-Background:...

 as chief scientific adviser at the Princes Risborough
Princes Risborough
Princes Risborough is a small town in Buckinghamshire, England, about 9 miles south of Aylesbury and 8 miles north west of High Wycombe. Bledlow lies to the west and Monks Risborough to the east. It lies at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, at the north end of a gap or pass through the Chilterns,...

 station. The station was situated here to avoid German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 air raids, when these failed to materialise he returned to the RRL and acted as an advisor to the Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

 and the Ministry of Aircraft Production on the construction of concrete runways and specialised airfields. The latter included "Prefabricated Bituminised Surfacing" (PBS) made from bitumen-impregnated hessian which could act as a runway surface over swampy or otherwise difficult ground. These PBS airstrips had a service life of around four months and were easily transportable, in the course of the war 60 million square yards of PBS were manufactured in the UK, US and India. The soil section of the BRS, assisted by Glanville, was also responsible for the assessment and categorisation of European beaches prior to the Normandy Landings.

The soil section, which Glanville set up, was particularly useful to the war effort with soil analysis impacting aircraft and tank designs. Glanville had a particular interest in explosives and he helped Edward Terrell
Edward Terrell
Edward Terrell OBE was a Liberal politician, a successful barrister and magistrate with a flair for invention; by 1940 he had registered a number of patents relating to pens, ink bottles and peeling knives...

 of the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

's DMWD develop a stone-chip-and-bitumen protective plating "plastic armour
Plastic Armour
Plastic armour was a type of vehicle armour originally developed for merchant ships by Edward Terrell of the British Admiralty in 1940...

" which was installed on the bridges and gun positions of most allied merchant vessels.
Post war Terrell shared some of his Award of £9,500 for the invention with Glanville.
Glanville's most famous contribution to the war effort was his work, with Barnes Wallis
Barnes Wallis
Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, CBE FRS, RDI, FRAeS , was an English scientist, engineer and inventor. He is best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the RAF in Operation Chastise to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II...

, on the bouncing bombs used in the famous Dambusters raids
Operation Chastise
Operation Chastise was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, subsequently known as the "Dambusters", using a specially developed "bouncing bomb" invented and developed by Barnes Wallis...

. Glanville was responsible for calculating the correct explosives charge and for the use of scale models to test the theory on. Post-war analysis of the raids has shown that Glanville's breach size forecasts were accurate to within 10%.


After the war Glanville remained with the RRL and concentrated on research into roads. The organisation soon adopted a radical new form of study, implementing experiments on live highways. This method resulted in improvements to surfacing materials, road marking paint, and non-skid treatments. The laboratory was significantly enlarged in 1946 and took on a wider remit to investigate road safety and traffic management. Research in this area lead to better tyre materials, zebra crossing
Zebra crossing
A zebra crossing is a type of pedestrian crossing used in many places around the world. Its distinguishing feature is alternating dark and light stripes on the road surface, from which it derives its name. A zebra crossing typically gives extra rights of way to pedestrians.The use of zebra...

s, speed limit
Speed limit
Road speed limits are used in most countries to regulate the speed of road vehicles. Speed limits may define maximum , minimum or no speed limit and are normally indicated using a traffic sign...

s, and laws regarding the wearing of safety helmets and seat belts. The RRL also investigated headlight dazzle and braking distances.

Professional institutions

Glanville was involved with many professional institutions and other bodies. He had many contacts abroad through his road research and chaired the Institution of Civil Engineers
Institution of Civil Engineers
Founded on 2 January 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers is an independent professional association, based in central London, representing civil engineering. Like its early membership, the majority of its current members are British engineers, but it also has members in more than 150...

 (ICE) committee which organised the biennial overseas conference. Glanville was elected President of the ICE in November 1950 and such was his popularity in that office that there was a movement amongst members to waive the law that limits presidents to one term that had long been in the statute books. He was a member of the organising committee of several road related bodies as well as the International Society for Soil Mechanics in 1957 and the ICE conference on civil engineering problems overseas from 1952 to 1970. He served on the British Standards
British Standards
British Standards are the standards produced by BSI Group which is incorporated under a Royal Charter...

 codes of practice committee from 1940 to 1965, on the Royal Engineers
Royal Engineers
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers , and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army....

' advisory board from 1950 to 1965, and on the board of the British Nuclear Energy Conference from 1953 to 1958. He was also a member of the Civil Engineering Research Council and its later incarnations, and in 1969 was president of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers
Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers
The Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers was founded in 1771, and was originally known as the Society of Civil Engineers, being renamed following its founder's death...



In 1965, at the age of 65, Glanville retired from the directorship of the RRL and established a private civil and structural engineering consultancy. He was asked by the president of the International Road Federation
International Road Federation
The International Road Federation is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that promotes the development and maintenance of roads, with a focus on safety and sustainability. The organization has two key functions, providing expertise on road issues to governments and financial...

 to serve as their consultant, a service he provided for ten years, and acted as an expert witness for the Ministry of Transport
Department for Transport
In the United Kingdom, the Department for Transport is the government department responsible for the English transport network and a limited number of transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are not devolved...

 and the Department of the Environment
Secretary of State for the Environment
The Secretary of State for the Environment was a UK cabinet position, responsible for the Department of the Environment . This was created by Edward Heath as a combination of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Public Building and Works on 15...

 in court cases. William Glanville died suddenly of a stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

, on 30 June 1976, at his home in Northwood, Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...



Glanville obtained the degrees of PhD in 1925 and DSc in 1930 in the course of his work at the BRS. He was recognised by the government for his important work and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1944 New Year Honours
New Year Honours
The New Year Honours is a part of the British honours system, being a civic occasion on the New Year annually in which new members of most Commonwealth Realms honours are named. The awards are presented by the reigning monarch or head of state, currently Queen Elizabeth II...

, a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 1953 New Year Honours, and was knighted
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

 in the 1960 New Year Honours. He was awarded the Institution of Structural Engineers
Institution of Structural Engineers
The Institution of Structural Engineers is a professional body for structural engineering based in the United Kingdom. It has 27,000 members in 105 countries. The Institution provides professional accreditation for structural engineers...

 Gold Medal in 1962 and was a fellow of that institution. He received the Viva Shield and gold medal of the Worshipful Company of Carmen
Worshipful Company of Carmen
The Worshipful Company of Carmen is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. Carmen, or drivers of carts, caused upset in 1481. The King conscripted carts to carry his wine allowing rural carters to force food prices up. By offering to provide the King's carriage and clean the streets the...

 in 1965. He was an honorary member of the Institutions of Municipal Engineers, Highway Engineers and Royal Engineers, and of the Concrete Society. He was a fellow and governor of Queen Mary College
Queen Mary, University of London
Queen Mary, University of London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

, London, and almoner
An almoner is a chaplain or church officer who originally was in charge of distributing cash to the deserving poor.Historically, almoners were Christian religious functionaries whose duty was to distribute alms to the poor. Monasteries were required to spend one tenth of their income in charity to...

, governor of Christ's Hospital
Christ's Hospital
Christ's Hospital is an English coeducational independent day and boarding school with Royal Charter located in the Sussex countryside just south of Horsham in Horsham District, West Sussex, England...

, Horsham
Horsham is a market town with a population of 55,657 on the upper reaches of the River Arun in the centre of the Weald, West Sussex, in the historic County of Sussex, England. The town is south south-west of London, north-west of Brighton and north-east of the county town of Chichester...

 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 in 1958. In all he published 115 articles, papers and books.

Personal life

Glanville married Millient Carr on 20 June 1930 by whom he had a daughter and a son. The latter would follow in his father's footsteps and become a civil engineer.

In popular culture

Glanville was played by Colin Tapley
Colin Tapley
Colin Tapley was a British actor. Born in New Zealand, he served in the Royal Air Force and an expedition to Antarctica before winning a Paramount Pictures talent contest and moving to Hollywood. He acted in several films before returning to Britain during the Second World War as a flight...

 in The Dam Busters (1955)
The Dam Busters (film)
The Dam Busters is a 1955 British Second World War war film starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd and directed by Michael Anderson. The film recreates the true story of Operation Chastise when in 1943 the RAF's 617 Squadron attacked the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany with Wallis's...

, the film depiction of Operation Chastise. However the portrayal is somewhat misleading in that it depicts Glanville and the RRL as subordinate to Barnes Wallis whilst this was not the case and both parties worked on an equal footing.
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