The IET Archives has just completed the cataloguing of a collection of the papers of Beryl Platt, Baroness Platt of Writtle. This group of papers donated to the IET Archives is a subset of her papers, and consists primarily of those documents related to her involvement in the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign. Other papers of Baroness Platt have been given to Cambridge University where she studied in the 1940s.
The image below shows the cover of Baroness Platt’s privately published memoirs which are included in the collection. The volume is titled, ‘A Life of Surprises: a Memoir by Baroness Platt of Writtle’, and was published in 2009.
Baroness Platt of Writtle CBE DL FREng (1923-2015)
Beryl Catherine Platt, Baroness Platt of Writtle, (née Myatt; 18 April 1923 – 1 February 2015) was a British Conservative politician and member of the House of Lords. Her background was in engineering, and she worked in aeronautics and aviation safety. She retained a strong interest in science and technology, particularly the role and advancement of women in these fields.
Beryl Platt initially gained entrance to read Mathematics at Cambridge in 1941 but eventually ended up switching to Aeronautical Engineering. When she arrived at Girton College, Cambridge, she was one of five women amongst 250 men studying Mechanical Sciences (now Engineering); she was only the ninth woman to be accepted since her original predecessor in the First World War. During WWII the course was reduced to an intensive two years, including for Beryl, three weeks’ experience on the shop floor of the Hawker Aircraft Company. When she completed her engineering studies in 1943 women did not receive the same honours as their male counterparts: she was not awarded a degree, only a ‘title of degree’. It was not until five years later, in 1948, that women were admitted to degrees at Cambridge.
Upon graduation in 1943, Beryl was advised by C. P. Snow in his role at the University of Cambridge Appointments Board to contribute to the war effort and so she chose to return to the Hawker factory. This was the beginning of six years of work between 1943 and 1949 as a technical assistant in the aviation industry, before ending her professional career.
In 1965, Beryl was elected to Essex County Council and held this role until 1968, when she was appointed to the office of Alderman of the Essex County Council from 1969 and 1974. She was also appointed chairman of the Essex County Council between 1971 and 1980. Beryl was created a life peer taking the title Baroness Platt of Writtle, and joined the House of Lords on 28 May 1981. On 24 June 1981, less than a month after joining the House, she made her maiden speech on a “subject very close to [her] heart”, that of higher and further education.
Beryl was a member of the European Communities Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men between 1983 and 1988 and became chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 1983. In 1984, as a result of encouragement from the Finniston Report, the EOC together with the Engineering Council set up the WISE campaign – Women into Science and Engineering. The initiative was very much spearheaded by Beryl and was established in order to highlight the career opportunities for girls and women in science and engineering professions. Beryl became Patron of WISE in 1995. The image below shows Beryl greeting HRH The Princess Royal (The Royal Patron of WISE) at the 2002 WISE awards in October 2002.
Beryl was an active member of the House of Lords and between 1990 and 2008 she served on a number of committees relating to science, technology and engineering, including the Select Committee on Science and Technology. She was also a Fellow or Honorary Fellow of many professional engineering organisations including the IET and if all her post-nominal letters were included her name would run to several lines. However, Beryl herself suggested the shortening of her address to Baroness Platt of Writtle CBE DL FREng.
The Beryl Platt, Baroness Platt of Writtle, Collection of Papers
This collection of the papers of Beryl Platt relates primarily to her involvement with WISE and the training and education of women engineers. It includes correspondence in relation to WISE (mostly invitations to speak, invitations to write articles, and providing information for her speeches), and her annotated speeches, lectures and articles about WISE and related subjects. It also includes WISE publications and publications issued by others on the topics of the education and training of women in science and engineering. Originally the WISE campaign was envisaged as only a 1-year campaign but it is still going strong today and its 2016 awards ceremony will take place on 10 November 2016 – here is a link to its website – WISE. The stickers below were issued for the original 1984 campaign and its 10-year anniversary campaign in 1994.
For those wishing to consult the Beryl Platt collection of papers, they have been catalogued with an archive reference SC MSS 271 and are available to consult by appointment at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, London.