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Verena Holmes

1889 – 1964

Born 23 June 1889
at Highworth
(now part of Highworth School
and known as Gower House)

Daughter of Florence Mary Holmes (née Syme) (d. 1927), and Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes, chief inspector of elementary schools for England.

Verena Holmes Baptism Record, Ashford St Mary the Virgin Register of Baptisms 1883-1892

Verena Holmes baptism record
St. Mary the Virgin, Ashford


Upon leaving school Verena began studying photography, despite her true interest laying in engineering. It wasn’t until the 1st world war that she got the opportunity to begin work in this field.

Due to men being called up to fight in 1914, Verena, alongside other women, was hired to cover men’s work whilst they were away.  She built wooden propellors for the Integral Propeller Co. in Hendon during the 1st World War and took evening classes at Shoreditch Technical Institute.

Later on, she went up to Lincoln where she began working at Ruston and Hornsby, and attended the local technical College. Before the end of the war Holmes successfully secured an apprenticeship at the firm, where she trained up to become a draughtsman.

In 1919 she co-founded the Women’s Engineering Society alongside Caroline Haslett.

In 1922 she graduated with BSc from Loughborough Engineering College.

After the war, due to employment scarcity, Verena worked in several different sectors, including technical journalism in the USA and work at a Marine Engineering Firm.

In 1924 she was admitted as an Associate member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and of Marine Engineers.

She also began working for the North British Locomotive Co. in this period and was the first female admitted to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in 1931.

At the same time, she was also elected President of the Women’s Engineering Society.

Between 1932-39 Verena worked at Research Engineers Ltd. as a designer, here she invented a poppet valve for steam locomotives.

During the 2nd World War, Verena was influential in setting up the Women’s Technical Service Register (1942) and as part of it devised a training course for women munitions workers. In recognition for her war work, Verena was finally promoted to Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1944.

She also used her engineering talents to support the admiralty. She made apparatus such as rotary gyro valves for torpedoes and new supercharges.

In 1946 she founded her own female only engineering firm named with fellow WES member Sheila Leather. ‘Holmes and Leather’ was based at Beresford Works, Beresford Road, Gillingham, Kent.

She became a Member of the Education Advisory Committee of the Air Ministry in 1948.

She spent her later life continuing her work as an engineer, and pushing for the movement of women into engineering. She retired from the role of Honorary Secretary at the Women’s Engineering Society in 1961


1919  Founding member of
Women’s Engineering Society (WES)

1924  First woman admitted as Associate Member of the
Institution of Mechanical Engineers

1927  Honorary Secretary of WES

1929  Vice President WES

1931-1932 President WES

1931  First woman admitted to
Institution of Locomotive Engineers

1944  Gained full membership of the
Institution of Mechanical Engineers

1946  Formed all women engineering manufacturer,
Holmes and Leather, in Gillingham,
with fellow WES Member Sheila Leather

1921-1955 17 Patents

Verena Holmes Patents

GB790638A 1955-02-01 Improvements in or relating to stencilling apparatus
GB645819A 1948-10-21 Improvements in and relating to apparatus for cutting paper and the like
GB390933A 1932-03-03 Improvements in double-beat valves
GB380198A 1931-07-11 Improvements in valve gear for fluid pressure units
GB347114A 1930-01-21 Improvements in or relating to valve gear for fluid pressure engines, pumps and the like
GB276564A 1927-02-03 Improvements in aspirators for extracting fluid from the human body
GB283647A 1926-10-15 Improvements in internal combustion engined locomotives and other motor rail vehicles
GB285777A 1926-10-15 Improvements in internal combustion engined locomotives and other motor rail vehicles
GB282140A 1926-09-11 A new or improved device for the reproduction, radiation and amplification of sound
GB278827A 1926-07-29 Improvements in personal head lamps
GB261511A 1925-09-24 Improvements in head rests
GB261856A 1925-08-31 Improvements in scissors, and like tools comprising two leg members pivotally connected
GB228991A 1923-11-14 Improvements in diving dresses
GB193919A 1921-11-04 Improvements relating to valves and valve-gear for internal combustion engines
GB189194A 1921-08-19 Improvements in rotary valves specially applicable to internal combustion engines

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  1. Pingback:International Women in Engineering Day 2022 – Ashford's Heritage

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