Obituary: Engineer key to transforming UK’s leading technology university dies

A Hampstead engineer who played a key role in the evolution of the UK’s leading technology university has died, aged 85.

Lord Henry Chilver, who had a home in Kidderpore Gardens, helped transform an aeronautics college based at RAF Cranfield in Bedfordshire into a largely self-sufficient post-graduate university with a strong emphasis on research contracts.

Under Lord Chilver’s stewardship the then Cranfield Institute of Technology ballooned in size across a number of campuses, with a growth in the institution’s research and development income.

The peer’s ethos of working on products which appealed to industries led the institute, which later became Cranfield University, into developing links with the likes of Nissan, Rolls-Royce and Boeing.

Today the university hosts 3,800 students from around the world, carrying out research for a variety of market sectors.

Lord Chilver, who had previously worked at University College London (UCL) and Cambridge University, helped pioneer the policy of generating commercial revenue while remaining independent and today Cranfield University survives with just 20 per cent of its funding coming from the government.

His approach earned him admirers in Westminster and Margaret Thatcher appointed him to chair the advisory committee on advanced research and Ddvelopment to the cabinet between 1982 and 1985 after he left his post at Cranfield.

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Lord Chilver also served as a temporary head of the Post Office from 1980 to 1981, when he oversaw the successful separation of postal and telephone operations.

Born in Essex to a cabinet-maker father and a mother involved in the furniture trade, he studied during the week and helped out the family business over the weekend.

After completing a degree and PhD at Bristol University he went onto teach at Cambridge University from 1954, going on to become director of engineering at Corpus Christi College in 1957.

In 1959 he married Claudia Grigson, a doctor, and two years later went to UCL.

In 1977 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and he was knighted a year later. He was made a life peer in 1987.

He is survived by wife Claudia, daughters Helena and Sarah, and three sons, John, Mark and Paul. He has 14 grandchildren.