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Kendrick (née Boak), Mary Patricialocked

(1928–2015)
  • Keith Powell

Kendrick (née Boak), Mary Patricia (1928–2015), tidal engineer, was born on 2 May 1928 at 19 Curzon Street, Nottingham, the daughter of Charles Manley Boak (1875–1942), haulage contractor, and his wife, Dorothy Ellen, née Davis (1898–1973). Her father was born in Paisley, her mother in Nottingham; they had married in Nottingham in 1926. Mary Boak was educated locally at Hollygirt School for Girls, but during the Second World War she was evacuated with the boarding school to the Leicestershire village of Billesdon.

In 1945 Mary Boak gained a place at Nottingham University to study for combined honours in geography and economics. Her studies were interrupted after her first year when she took up a temporary job as a companion and governess in France, which gave her the chance to hone her French language skills prior to returning to Nottingham University in 1948. She graduated in 1951, and on 29 September the same year married Albert Leslie (Les) Kendrick (1922–2008), an RAF radar officer and government scientist. They had two sons, Timothy (b. 1960) and Benjamin (b. 1966), and a daughter, Susan (b. 1963).

After a series of secretarial jobs Mary Kendrick applied in 1956 for a similar role at the government’s Hydraulics Research Station (HRS) in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. At her interview she was told that her degree qualified her for the better-paid role of assistant experimental officer, and, not being one to miss an opportunity, she jumped at the chance to take that role. At that time the HRS was commissioned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to undertake an investigation into the deteriorating tidal volume and increasing siltation in the Mersey estuary, and this study formed the mainstay of Kendrick’s first few years with the HRS as she became involved with field survey work and the use of scaled physical models, built at the laboratories in Wallingford, to understand better the causes of siltation in the estuary. She astonished the all-male crews of the survey vessels plying the tidal races of the estuary as, clad in corduroy trousers and woolly jumpers, she spent hours measuring currents with unwieldy instruments, some so heavy they could only be lifted by winch, to determine sediment transport pathways using radioactive tracers and fluorescent dyes.

In 1960 Kendrick was promoted to the post of experimental officer, and in 1963 she and her colleague (William) Alan Price produced their seminal paper, ‘Field and model investigations into the reasons for siltation in the Mersey estuary’, published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 1964 this paper was awarded the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Telford gold medal, and Kendrick became the first woman to receive this award. She continued with physical model and field studies of tidal processes in a wide variety of estuaries around the world, and in 1968 she was appointed to head the team at the HRS working on the Thames flood prevention project. This culminated in the construction of the Thames Barrier in 1982. The Thames project involved exhausting fieldwork campaigns, sometimes for days at a time, collecting data on the tidal processes within the estuary and then using this data in conjunction with the results from a large physical model of the Thames, the better to understand the effectiveness of the schemes proposed and their likely impacts on the broader estuary. During this time she also advised on a proposal for a third London airport at Maplin Sands, off the Essex coast.

In the 1970s Kendrick was one of just a few members of staff at the HRS—and the only woman—appointed to the position of principal scientific officer, a post considered much superior to those of the experimental grades. At this time she founded the Estuary Study Group, an international forum through which scientists and engineers could exchange ideas without pressure from commercial companies. She was also a founding member of the Women of the Year Association.

In the early 1970s Kendrick was asked to undertake work for clients from Australia and New Zealand at the port of Belawan in Sumatra, Indonesia. She made a ten-day visit which included hair-raising expeditions through tropical mangrove swamps, which led to a colleague sketching her knee-deep in mud with the caption ‘Mary of the Belawan’. Later in the 1980s, she made good use of her fluency in French while working on the movement of sand in the Rance estuary, near Mont St Michel.

On her retirement from the HRS in April 1988, Kendrick was appointed by the UK government as the acting conservator for the Mersey, a position created almost two centuries previously to safeguard the navigation of the river in Liverpool. She was the first woman to take up the post, which was usually reserved for admirals, and served in this role for ten years, retiring in 1998. During this time she was also made an MBE for services to engineering and became an active member of the UK national committee of PIANC (the Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses, founded in 1885 to facilitate the exchange of guidance and technical advice relating to waterborne transport infrastructure). She represented PIANC at the Parliamentary Maritime Group and was a regular representative at PIANC international meetings until poor health caused her to retire at the end of 2014. She attended her final PIANC meeting in Marseille in 2013.

In 2007 Kendrick was recorded by the Mersey Basin Campaign as part of a series of personal reflections, talking about her role as acting conservator. In the interview she reminisced about regularly going on dredgers up the Manchester Ship Canal, getting onto vessels going out along the sea channels to inspect the river training walls and replace buoys marking the dredged channel, and about getting stuck in mud on the tidal foreshores while inspecting sewage and other outfalls, recollections which amply reflected her approach to life and her love of the sea, and estuaries in particular.

Kendrick was an internationally recognized expert in the field of estuarine hydraulics who spoke with authority and commanded respect, not just because of her attitude, which was always sympathetic and compassionate, but also because of her knowledge and passion. She died of bronchopneumonia at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading on 8 June 2015. Her daughter, Susan, a violinist, went missing in Spain in 1995 and was later found murdered. Kendrick was survived by her sons Timothy, a financial adviser, and Benjamin, a mathematician.

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