Sir Morien Bedford Morgan, cb, ma, ceng,
director rae farnborough, master of downing college, cambridge
Morien Morgan attended several secondary schools, and although the County School at Aberdare cannot claim him as their own, it was nevertheless the first secondary school that Morien attended.
Morien Morgan was a distinguished aeronautical engineer who influenced the design and manufacture of British aircraft from the mid 1930s to 1972 when he retired from the Royal Aircraft Establishment, (RAE), Farnborough. He was Master of Downing College, Cambridge from 1972 to 1978.
Morien was born in Bridgend on 20th December 1912, the son of John Bedford Morgan, a draper, and Edith Mary Morgan (née Thomas), a teacher. He was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford as a chorister, and elementary schools in Bridgend, and the Town (Council) School in Foundry Town, Aberdare. Whilst at Aberdare the family lived at 1 Plasdraw Place. Morien entered the first Form of the County School in January 1925, and left the school from Form IVa on 21th July 1927, (suggesting that he skipped a form, bearing in mind also that there was no Form II in those days). The family moved to Cardiff in 1927 and Morien attended Canton Secondary School, and later still Rutlish School, Merton, London.
In 1931, he entered St Catherine’s College, Cambridge as a scholar, graduating from there in 1934 with first class honours in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos, and with the Seely Prize for Aeronautics.
After a year as an apprentice at Mather and Platt in Manchester, he began in 1935 his long association with the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough when he joined as a junior scientific officer in the Aerodynamics Department. Here he specialised in the stability, control and handling characteristics of aircraft, and gained a reputation for being particularly responsive to the suggestions of the pilots who were to fly his aeroplanes. In 1944, he gained his own pilots licence and progressed from having to observe flight behaviour as a passenger to experiencing the controls for himself..
He became Head of the Flight Section in 1946, but within two years he became Head of the newly formed Guided Weapons Department of the RAE. In 1954, he was appointed as one of the two Deputy Directors of the RAE, a post he was to hold for five years. During this period he became interested in the possibility of supersonic civil aircraft and by 1956, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee was set up with Morgan as Chairman. It was from this beginning that the Concorde project was realised, and Morien was a keen advocate through all the setbacks and victories involved.
A period in Whitehall followed. From 1959 to 1969 he held the posts of Scientific Adviser to the Air Ministry, Controller of Aircraft at the Ministry of Aviation, and Controller of Guided Weapons at the Ministry of Technology. This was a difficult period of rising costs and cutbacks, and his technical and administrative skills and political judgment were applied to maintain many of the projects that he enthusiastically supported. At this time he was known as one of the numerous Welsh ‘Taffia’ that held many of the top posts in the aircraft industry.
He moved back to the RAE in Farnborough in 1969 as its Director, where he ensured that the Establishment gave the best support possible for the British aircraft industry.
In 1972, he retired from the Civil Service, and was elected Master of Downing College, Cambridge, where he is remembered for his congenial nature and ability to form effective relationships with both staff and undergraduates. During this phase of his career he was also a member of various public bodies including the Airworthiness Requirements Board and Chairman of the Air Traffic Control Board.
It was while he was at the Masters Lodge at Downing that he died suddenly on 4th April 1978. His remains were cremated on 11 April and his ashes buried in St Benet’s churchyard, Cambridge. Morien’s life was celebrated in a memorial service at Great St Mary’s, Cambridge, on May 20th 1978.
Morien Morgan received many honours and awards, notably: President of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1967-68, and he became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1972. He was appointed C.B. in 1958 and knighted in 1969.
Morien maintained his love of music, playing the piano and organ, and taking the tenor parts in choral music. He married Sylvia Axford in 1941, who was a civil servant and the daughter of George Frederick Axford, an instrument maker of Farnborough in Hampshire. They had three daughters Carol, Deryn and Gwyneth, born between 1942 and 1947.
This appreciation of the career of Morien Morgan is based upon the following sources, which may be consulted for more detailed information: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; The Times Obituary (6 April 1978), currently (Dec, 2009) available online; an appreciation by E.G. Broadbent (Royal Society); some of the numerous articles in the archive of Flight International; and, Who Was Who. Thanks are also due to The Master, Fellows and Scholars of Downing College Cambridge for granting permission to display the Ward portrait of Sir Morien.
There is currently, January 2013, a short video
clip from a BBC documentary of Sir Morien discussing Concorde -
click here to see it, (52 seconds into video clip). NB: Clip opens in a new window.