Irving, Ronald Nicholas 1915 - 2005

English; British

(1915-2005), instrument maker

Ronald Nicholas Irving, "Ron" to those who knew him well, was the sole remaining proprietor of the instrument making firm H.N. Irving & Son's, carrying on his father's business and trade name. He was born in Kingston Vale, Roehampton on 29th April 1915, in 1918 the Irving family moved to Cambridge House, Teddington. Ron received his schooling at St. Marks, Teddington. After a short interregnum between 1925 & 1927 when Horace Irving relocated his family and business to Hitcham in Suffolk, they returned to Cambridge House before moving to Kingston Road in 1930.

Ron joined the family firm in 1936 after serving an apprenticeship with Ottway, an instrument making company based at the Orion Works, Ealing. In 1940 Ron was seconded by the Ministry of Works to the Balham firm Cashmore & Co. as a charge hand, and later a progress chaser in their design office. Although this work was comparatively well paid, he did not like the office environment, or the endless problems in dealing with mechanical engineers who lacked the necessary skills to perform their tasks effectively. Yet he was obliged to remain seconded to the company throughout the war, despite trying to enlist with the Royal Navy. Ron remained with Cashmore's until the company closed in 1954.

Telescope manufacture on the scale at which Ron and his father worked was never so lucrative as to provide a living. Ron took the bold decision to seek contract work from the Admiralty and in the mid 1950's the National Physical Laboratory. In this venture H.N. Irving & Sons were successful. The mainstay of the business was not telescope making but the manufacture of hypsometers, used by the NPL, Universities and the petro-chemical industry to calibrate high temperature and pressure, thermometric measuring instruments. Many of the "test baths", as Ron referred to them, went all over the world, some to unlikely destinations in Eastern Europe, and even India. This part of the business was sold in 1985.

Ron could also restore, repair or replicate antique brass telescopes and microscopes, make eyepieces, finder telescopes and guide 'scopes, rack & pinion focusers and diagonals, and although output declined in his later years, it was still formidable. To some extent this was simply because he outlived the few remaining traditional telescope makers. Two of his biggest restoration jobs, executed throughout most of the 1980s & 1990s were the complete rebuild of a 10-inch f/10 Newtonian, originally made by Geo. Calver c1894, now housed in Brayebrook Observatory, and the equatorial mount of a Cooke 8-inch refractor, now in Redhill.

Ron continued to make telescope parts and accessories until shortly before his death following a brief illness. He died in Kingston hospital on Thursday 29th September 2005.