Development & Alumni Relations Office 

G F Chambers, BSc (Civil Engineering) 1938, CBE (died 6 December 2006)

George Frederick (Fred) Chambers was born in Belfast on 2 January 1918. He was educated at Methodist College, Belfast and Queen’s University, Belfast, where he obtained his BSc Degree in Civil Engineering with First Class honours in 1938.  He became a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1945.

In 1937 he took a summer vacation job with R. D. Duncan and worked on survey and design for the Sydenham Bypass. After graduating he went to London Transport and worked on the widening of rail bridges and cuttings particularly on the Metropolitan line near Harrow. These works were closed down on the outbreak of war, so late in 1939 he returned to Northern Ireland and worked with Concrete Piling Ltd under I. C. Malcolmson on a new slipway bridge in the Harland & Wolff Shipyard. After that he worked with Belfast Water Commissioners under S. H. W. Middleton. One night he and two labourers crawled for about 4 hours through a 42" brick culvert at Woodburn in order to examine it and remove tree roots. Ever since then he has suffered from spasmodic back trouble.

In July 1942 he joined R. D. Duncan’s staff in the Ministry of Home Affairs and worked on roads and water and sewerage schemes. This included the recommendation of the payment of grant to local authorities for the maintenance and improvement of all classes of roads and for the restoration of damage done to roads by the armed forces. He also worked on the preliminary design of new approach roads to Belfast and on other road proposals in the Belfast area.

Early in 1944 he went to work for Sir William Halcrow and partners on the survey and preliminary design of hydra electric schemes in North West Scotland.  In 1945 he returned to the Ministry of Home Affairs as chief assistant to R. D. Duncan on all aspects of roads works. His duties included the testing and discussion with local authority officials of the road proposals which were referred to in the reports of the Planning Commission "Planning proposals for the Belfast Area’ (published 1945) and "Road Communications in Northern Ireland" (1946). He also had oversight of the resumption of direct labour construction in 1947 and 1948 of the Sydcnham Bypass.

In the late 1940’s F. H. O. Fox became responsible for the Government aspects of work on trunk and local authority roads while Fred Chambers continued to have charge of the teams working on the three proposed approach roads to Belfast. When Frank Fox left in 1951, Chambers resumed responsibility for all roads matters and A. H. K. Roberts took charge of structural aspects.

When R. D. Duncan retired in September 1957, there was an open competition for the appointment of his successor and on 22 November, Fred Chambers became Chief Highway Engineer in the Ministry of Commerce. He continued as Chief Highway Engineer until he retired in March 1980, but gave up the Railway Inspector duties about 10 years earlier.

For the 22 years between 1957 and 1980 he was the key person in the implementation of the NI rural motorway programme. His own staff led by George Allen on the roads side and in turn by Alec Roberts, Leslie Clements and Corden Stevenson on the structures side, had oversight of all detail design contract documents and site supervision of the motorways and maintained close contacts with the agencies responsible for the individual schemes. The Sydenham Bypass, which was completed in 1959 was designed and supervised by his own staff.

Fred Chambers was also responsible through other staffsuch as Bailie Russell, Eric Boland, Ronnie Ross and Jackson McCormick for the preliminary design of all the motorways (including several which were never built) and for the government input into the reconstruction, improvement and maintenance of all trunk and local authority roads, for the roads aspects of plans for new or expanded towns and for all traffic management and traffic forecasting work. He and his staff worked closely with the senior administrative staff in the Ministry. He was personally heavily involved in the early stages of other major projects such as the new bridge across the Bann at Coleraine, the new bridge across the Foyle at Londonderry and the proposed urban motorway in Belfast.

After the reorganisation of local government in 1973 he continued as Chief Engineer at Roads Service Headquarters and was a member of the Roads Directorate with the Director Noel Prescott, and the Assstant Secretary, Dan Barry and later Jackson
McCormick.

Fred Chambers always tried to produce the best solution possible and always set high standards for his staff. He was the leader of a happy team.

He was willing to learn form others whom he met such as Ministry of Transport engineers, consulting engineers and County Surveyors from England and Scotland and from visits to works abroad . He attended many meetings of professional bodies in Northern Ireland and Britain.  Early in his career he acted as Assistant Secretary in the Northern Ireland Association of the Institution of Civil Engineers and presented a paper on "Concrete Roads" to that Association in January 1949. He also spoke to the Association in 1964 and 1966 about his visits abroad.  He became a member of the Institution of Municipal Engineers about 1946 and a Fellow of the Institution of Highway Engineers in 1965.

He was a keen, and well equipped 'handyman’ with an excellent knowledge of woodwork, meta1lurgy, electrical work and radio and television construction.

For many years he was a keen yachtsman and particularly liked cruising (often single handed) off the West Coast of Scotland. When he sold his yacht he bought a motor caravan in which he and his wife travelled widely.

In his younger days he was a keen tennis player. Later he took up golf for a time. His other interests includcd gardening, church matters, classical music, and photography. During World War II he was in the Auxiliary Fire Service in Belfast.

He lived with his wife, Kay, in Bangor. They have one son, a petro-geologist, and two daughters, a doctor and a science teacher.

He died on 6 December 2006.

 

 

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