Philip Briggs – MdA 32-36
Submitted by Colin Russell BaA 1954-61 in collaboration with David Briggs.
Philip was born in Boston, Lincolnshire on January 22nd 1921, however his father, Lionel died when he was only one and a half and his mother, Hilda moved to Wilmslow, Cheshire to live with her parents. Philip attended two local schools until his mother applied for him to attend CH where he showed particular interest in Science, Maths and particularly Engineering in the Manual Training School.
In Wilmslow the family had strong lifelong connections to Dean Row Unitarian Chapel and through connections there Philip was able to spend his holidays in “mini apprenticeships” with clockmakers, locksmiths and motor engineers. Here he learnt skills that he practiced and developed throughout his life. He also acquired a radio licence to broadcast from his bedroom, the wireless set powered through a cable strung across the road to a friend’s house as there was no supply to his home. Philip’s uncle was the Chief Engineer for the Southport Gas Company and gave him a good grounding in soldering, electric circuitry and metalwork.
At the age of 15 Philip became frustrated with the teaching at CH and ran away to his favourite aunt’s home 35 miles from the school. His mother accepted that he did not want to return to the CH regime and arranged an interview with the Principal of UMIST and Philip became their youngest full time student to gain a BSc in Electrical Engineering. He also developed his keen interest in cycling and designed and built his own touring bicycle, which he used for long distance tours with friends around the country. He cycled from home to UMIST in all weathers leading convoys of cars during the pea-soup fogs of the time. His skills at repairing radios had also become a useful side line.
Having completed his BSc in 1940, Philip joined Ferranti where he was involved in the development, design and manufacture of electronics, including radar, for the UK Forces. In 1942 he volunteered for the Army and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the RAOC as a radio officer with the knowledge that he would quickly transfer to the newly formed REME. Following his basic training he went to North Africa solving issues with radios in tanks and trucks. The workshop that he commanded was shipped to Naples where he set up on the slopes of Vesuvius. He also managed to find the time to learn some Italian from the family he lived with utilising, to some extent, his knowledge of Latin. He fell ill and was repatriated in 1944 where he continued his recuperation at Pendine Sands, a newly established MOD testing facility in South Wales for the development of a wide variety of weapons. He was promoted to Acting Captain and at the end of the war went to Germany to locate and acquire German ballistic technology and equipment.
Philip was demobbed in 1946 and returned to Ferranti. He married Barbara in 1949 and their first son, Michael was born in 1950 with Richard following in 1952. David completed the family in 1959.
Philip left Ferranti and joined Fielden’s to invent more complicated electronic equipment, soon however he set up his own company, Dukes and Briggs with his partner, Bert Dukes, establishing a small factory firstly in Altrincham and subsequently in Trafford Park near Manchester. The company built electronic test equipment especially AC Network Analysers, stroboscopic lamps and variable power supplies all invented by Philip. However, the increasing demand for Philip to spend time on management led him to sell his share of the company and to set up as a consultant in electronics working from home whilst the company was bought by a rival.
The inventions and his creative skills provided Philip with the basis for an MSc from UMIST and subsequently his PhD based on his development of the Network Analyser, which had become a vital component for the electricity boards constructing the National Grid. At this time in the 1960’s, Philip and his family, together with close family friends built a two pairs of holiday homes in Anglesey from scratch, one of which is still used by the Briggs family. In 1964 Philip was elected as a councillor for Wilmslow Urban District Council and this led to him becoming Chair of Governors at The Hough Secondary Modern School in Wilmslow and this eventually led to his taking up teaching.
Within his design consultancy during the 1970’s Philip developed new approaches to burglar alarms, closed circuit TV security systems and even the reproduction of oil paintings. During this period he also pursued a law degree by correspondence with Manchester Polytechnic, which required him to occasionally attend lectures with his son Richard who was studying for the same qualification.
The 1980’s saw Philip expand his time as a locum teacher of Maths and Physics to a fulltime post at Thorngrove School and then at Wilmslow High School when it was established as the new, local comprehensive. This coincided with the arrival of the first computers in schools and Philip was the natural choice to manage that introduction and to teach the new curriculum. Cheshire County Council then utilised Philip’s expertise for the wider introduction of computers into schools. His reputation for fixing electrical and electronic equipment now spread to a regular service for family, friends, neighbours and Wilmslow organisations together with schools and for the local Talking Newspaper for the Blind.
Despite having run away from CH, Philip reflected positively on the education he had received and the resulting life chances and in 1998 he initiated a campaign with the school to contact Old Blues in and retired from the engineering profession. Contributions from over 200 Old Blues led to the establishment of the Christ’s Hospital Engineers, Design and Technology Fund and its first Presentee in 2003. She is now a CH Governor in her own right. The Fund has now presented a total of 7 children and currently has 3 pupils at CH.
During the 1980’s Philip created a virtual production line to gather and refurbish redundant computers. He worked to return each unit to near original condition and then arranged for their donation to various charities including Computers for Africa – the very large volume of machines threatening to overwhelm the home, much to Barbara’s consternation. At this time Philip also researched solar power for domestic use and designed, constructed and installed a system on the roof of their bungalow, single handed and whilst in his eighties. Subsequently he added a photo voltaic system.
Sadly Philip’s lifetime soul-mate Barbara passed away in 2018 and this was a great loss. However, Philip rallied and set to devising systems for the newly required process of shopping and cooking with characteristic meticulous record keeping and cost management.
Having always kept himself fit with walking and cycling, even taking part in a community cycle ride in his 90th year, it was only in 2022 that Philip accepted that he should move to a residential home and that was only after a workbench in his room had been agreed to. He was then appointed to be Chair of the Residents Committee even though he was nearly the oldest resident. He successfully initiated a few levels of change, but passed away suddenly whilst walking around the grounds just before lunch on June 7th 2023.