Patrick Jenkin, a personal recollection by Professor Richard Darton

In this article Professor Richard Darton OBE, Head of Department from 2004 to 2009, pays a personal tribute to Patrick Jenkin...

Lord Jenkin
Lord Jenkin of Roding last visited the Department in 2015 during our Alumni Weekend event when he presented his grandfather’s instruments.

Patrick Jenkin, Lord Jenkin of Roding, died aged 90 on 20th December 2016. The grandson of our first Professor, Charles Frewen Jenkin (elected 1908), Patrick was a good friend to the Department, a benefactor and the Patron of our Centenary in 2008.

His father had died early, so Patrick started his schooling in Oxford and knew his grandfather well. He found the Professor to be rather a serious man, apt to withdraw to his study if the company were too lively. Patrick’s description of Charles Frewen Jenkin matched the Royal Society memoire of him written by his successor as Head of Department, Sir Richard Southwell. And indeed there is an echo of this tendency to sobriety and determination in a memoire of Charles Frewen Jenkin’s own father, Fleeming Jenkin, Professor of Engineering at Edinburgh (written by Robert Louis Stevenson, no less).

Both Fleeming and Frewen Jenkin were noted polymaths, but if their descendant Patrick were no scientist, his range of interests, like theirs, was terrific. With a degree in classics and law, Patrick qualified as a barrister and practised commercial law. At an early meeting he was delighted to find that we had both worked for the same company, Distillers. He brushed aside my protest that whilst I had been a gap-year lab technician, he had been the Board’s legal advisor so our paths were not likely to have crossed, and he continued to treat me as an old comrade-in-arms! He was charming company with no trace of grimness about him.

Patrick had won his parliamentary seat at Woodford in 1964 succeeding Sir Winston Churchill, about whom he had a fund of anecdotes. After an initial period in opposition, Patrick’s rise to the cabinet was swift and he occupied a range of posts using his analytical and organisational abilities, at the Treasury and in Industry, Energy, Environment – he told me that he personally, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury had signed the contract for construction of the Thames Barrier, some £500 million which was a lot of money in 1974!

His knowledge of public affairs was vast, and his interest in science and engineering was genuine. In the House of Lords he was a long-time member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and he was involved with very many institutions and charities related to science, engineering, environment and health, and indeed much else. He wrote that ‘though I have never been a scientist or engineer, in every job I held in politics, I had to understand the science enough to hold my own in Cabinet and Parliament.  I believe that engaging the public in science and technology is essential in today’s world’. 

The Jenkin family instruments are showcased in the lobby of the Department’s Jenkin building, displayed below the photograph of our first Professor, Charles Frewen Jenkin.

He was an ideal Patron of the Department’s Centenary. He spoke at the Jenkin Day lecture in September 2007 (Sir Vivian Ramsey on Law and Engineering) that inaugurated the Centenary year of celebration, and at the Garden Party in June 2008 that ended it. He hosted a celebratory dinner for us at the House of Lords, an event attended by three Barons – himself, Lord Patten (Chancellor) and Lord Avebury (alumnus of the Department, died 14th February 2016). A lasting mark of his appreciation of our work was his agreement in 2015 to a long-term loan of his grandfather’s drawing instruments and a mirror galvanometer to the Department – they can be seen in the Jenkin building ground floor lobby.

Published on 09 February 2017