Stokes with a prototype 'Stokes Mortar'

STOKES, (Frederick) Wilfrid Scott  [1860 - 1927]

Frederick Wilfrid Scott Stokes, always known as Wilfrid, was a prominent engineer who contributed to designs across a range of fields from canal sluice gates to rotary kilns for cement making. He is, however, best remembered for the piece of weaponry which bore his name and saw extensive use in the First World War.

He was born Frederick Wilfrid Scott Stokes on 9th April 1860, the son of barrister and schools inspector Scott Nasmyth Stokes and his wife Emma. The family lived at 28 Huskisson Street L8, moving to 4 Chatham Place L7 (now demolished)  by 1871. His older brother Adrian was a noted artist. Wilfrid Was educated at St. Francis Xavier college and the Catholic University College, Kensington.   In 1871 his father's promotion meant that the family moved to Chelsea. He served an apprenticeship with Great Western Railways and after a variety of jobs joined the Ipswich engineering firm of Ransomes and Rapier in 1885. He became managing director in 1897 and chairman in 1907, holding both posts until his death in 1927.

What would have been a laudable but low-key career was transformed when, during the First World War he served with the Inventions Branch of the Ministry of Munitions. Early on in the conflict he submitted plans for a portable mortar which were rejected. Undeterred he experimented with various adjustments and eventually gained acceptance, the 'Stokes Mortar' being deployed for the first time at the Battle of Loos in 1915. Subject to further improvements, it was the first genuinely portable light mortar and was used extensively during the remainder of the war. It was capable of firing high explosives, incendiaries, gas and smoke and besides its land applications was also used at sea in the Zeebrugge naval operation. Its success brought the Stokes a knighthood in 1917.

It should be noted that the knighthood was not the only honour bestowed upon Stokes. In recognition the contribution of ‘his’ sluice gates to irrigation in Egypt, the Khedive awarded him Second Order of Osmanieh and the Second Order of Medhijieh.

Wilfrid Stokes died on 7th February 1927 at Ruthin Castle, Denbighshire. Probate records show that his estate was valued at £65k, about £4.5 million at today’s rate.

28 Huskisson Street L8

The Stokes family home at the time of Wilfrid's birth in 1860


There is a brief Wikipedia entry and a fuller account on the website of Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. There is also an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.