Obituary - Dr John Kenneth Almond MIMMM

Fellows' Lounge
18 Feb 2019

Dr John Kenneth Almond MIMMM 1928-2018

Dr Almond was known for his huge breadth of interests and he became a hub for information exchange on matters of industrial archaeology, not only relating to mining and metallurgy but to the industrial history of the nation

Born in Colchester, Essex on 12 October 1928, third child to John William, a Methodist minister, and Evelyn May (née Wilton). John Kenneth – known to all his friends as Jake – spent his early years in Chelmsford and Hartley Witney. He attended secondary schools in Ramsgate, Southwell and the Holme Valley, before serving two years’ conscription (1947 to 1949) in the Royal Air Force, training as a Leading Aircraftsman wireless fitter and enjoying the experience. 

Jake then studied for three years at the Royal School of Mines in London as an undergraduate in Metallurgy, with mineralogy lectures from the legendary Prof H H Read. Vacation work included periods at the Eyre Smelting Company and Fry’s Metal Foundries. He won the Nuffield Vacation Scholarship in 1951, spending three months with the Rhodesia Broken Hill Development Company, North Rhodesia. He also spent four months in 1952 at Stanhope, Co. Durham, working as a mill shift operator for Fluorspar Ltd in their gravity and flotation plant; an experience he wrote up as the winning entry to RSM’s 1952 Students’ Competition, and subsequently published in Mine & Quarry Engineering in 1953. This was followed by another three years in the same school as a postgraduate research student in Mineral Engineering, in 1955 submitting his successful thesis for PhD (Eng) London with the title “Applications of high frequency vibrations in mineral dressing”. He won the Arthur Claudet Prize of the IMM for an article (“Pulp density measurement with ultrasonics”) jointly with his supervisor Dr A R Burkin, resulting from his PhD studies. Thus he left London with the qualifications BSc (Eng) 2nd Class Hons. in Metallurgy, Associateship of the Royal School of Mines, PhD in Mineral Engineering, and Diploma of Imperial College. 

His professional employment started in 1955 in Gambia where he spent 18 months as mill shift boss for Gambian Minerals Ltd (a subsidiary of British Titan Products) commissioning a plant to produce ilmenite, rutile, and zircon from beachsands mainly by magnetic and H-T separations. Duties also included recruitment and training of local staff, and safety. Whilst in Gambia he married Honor Powell with whom he spent the next 47 happy years. 

There followed nearly three years (1957 to 1960, when the company was nationalised) as technical manager in Kerala, South India for Hopkin and Williams (Travancore) Ltd processing beachsands at two plants together producing 200,000 tonnes a year of ilmenite, chiefly by magnetic separation. Jake designed and commissioned equipment for rutile recovery, implemented a mechanisation programme, and for six months had overall responsibility for the entire Indian operation. 

Jake and Honor returned to Africa in 1960 when he joined the Government of Uganda Geological Survey and Mines Department, Entebbe, in charge of their laboratory unit employing up to 10 subordinates, and responsible for advising miners and prospectors on physical and chemical processing methods. All kinds of mineral samples from the public and Geological Survey were assessed, including tungsten ores, detrital tin and columbite gravels, ceramic raw materials, gold-bearing sands, iron ores, bismuth, graphite, beryl and micas. He prepared trial batches of minerals in a programme to promote growth of the Ugandan mineral economy and contributed to the first national growth plan. After a disastrous flooding from Lake Victoria in 1964, Jake designed and commissioned an entirely new facility including versatile, small-scale, water efficient, continuous plant that he described in an article in the Transactions of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy in 1973. Jake entered the cultural life too, for some years was Committee Member and Editor for the Uganda Literary and Scientific Society, and took a great interest in local wildlife studies. 

His career was interrupted in 1968 by a thyroid problem and they returned to the UK, where in 1969 Jake took a one-year course of technical-teacher training at Garnett College, London, obtaining a distinction in teaching practice during a period spent in the Metallurgy Department of Sir John Cass College. 

In 1970 Jake took up a post as lecturer in extractive metallurgy at Teesside Polytechnic (later University) where in 1971 he was appointed to senior lecturer; a post he held until retirement in 1994. The main thrusts of his teaching work were hydrometallurgy, electrometallurgy, and mineral processing for degree level students, together with iron & steelmaking and raw material resources, for various levels ranging from technician to post-graduate. Outside the Polytechnic Jake undertook teaching work for the Open University for over 25 years in such subjects as basic earth science, geochemistry and history of technology, participating in summer schools and field trips. During his long career he was elected Member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, and a Chartered Engineer; Member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers; and Member of the Institution of Metallurgists. 

Whilst lecturing in Middlesbrough, Jake studied part-time at Durham University for a Master of Education degree, that he was awarded in 1982 for his thesis “Factors influencing education in metallurgy in England and Wales, 1851 to 1950”. By then he had become firmly involved in industrial archaeology becoming, for example, a committee member of the Teesside, soon to be renamed Cleveland Industrial Archaeology Society (CIAS) in 1971, Chairman in 1973, Treasurer from 1976 to 1986, and Editorial Board Member from 1974 to the time of his death. As Editor also of TIAS and CIAS Newsletters (118 editions in total) from 1973 until his death, he insisted on producing them on an antique typewriter until September 2011. He became a leading light in CIAS and a long-time member and valued contributor to many other societies including The Historical Metallurgy Society (Council Member 1982 to 1987, and again 1990 onwards). He was Chair when the Archaeo-Metallurgy sub-committee was launched, and later served on HMS’s conservation sub-committee. He was also involved with the Newcomen Society, Cleveland Institute of Engineers, Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society, Association for Industrial Archaeology, Teesside Ships Society and the National Traction Engine Club. 

His deep interest in mining, whilst being well served in CIAS with the Cleveland ironstone industry, extended to the Pennines, where he had spent time as a student. From 1994 he was deeply involved in the design of interpretation about the lead smelting mill at Nenthead, which had come into the ownership of a preservation trust. From 1996 through to 2011, he was a Trustee of the North Pennines Heritage Trust at Nenthead. This required working collaboratively and with great patience with archaeologists, enthusiasts, Trust employees and business people to conserve and interpret this important site. In 2003, he collaborated in the production of a book covering the fluorspar industry of the North Pennines with a concise paper on the dressing of fluorspar ores, including his own original observations of this industry. He was a keen member of 4 

The Friends of Killhope, Peak District Mines Historical Society, and Northern Mines Research Society. 

His papers and scientific articles number over 30, plus many unpublished technical reports from his time in Africa. He wrote a detailed section on zinc production technology in the British Museum publication about zinc and brass in 1990, and other papers followed on such subjects as the history of steel making, steam locomotives, and the early history of froth flotation. Always a popular speaker, Jake was invited to lecture to the Royal Society of Chemistry, won an Iron and Steel Institute prize for a lecture given in Sheffield, and delivered to local history and specialist groups frequent talks that were always well-attended. His particular skills and training put him particularly in demand for help with research studies on old metalliferous slags, zinc smelting, and extraction of copper from pyritic ores, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. He reviewed books for the IMM Bulletin; contributed to books on Victorian technical education, 19th Century steelmaking, and on alum making; and he collaborated in 1983 on the compilation/ revision of a Slovenian metallurgical/technical dictionary, as further examples of his wide range of interests. 

The sheer breadth of Jake’s interests was legendary, as is evident from the long list of his publications, and the newsletters etc. that he produced; and he became a hub for information exchange on matters of industrial archaeology, not only relating to mining and metallurgy but to the industrial history of the nation. His collection of books, papers and manuscript notes is so large and detailed that it will be conserved and form the basis of a J K Almond archive graciously housed at the Materials Processing Institute, Middlesbrough, where it will be available for researchers. He was passionate about conserving records of past industrial activities and discoveries; and this will be an excellent memorial. Jake was a polymath and his interests included wireless radio construction, from his early days in the RAF. He was a keen member of the British Vintage Wireless Society and collected a vast array of spare parts of radios and other electrical equipment! He was also a music lover, and shared with Honor a passion particularly for organ music, reflected in his membership of the Electronic Organ Constructors Society and the Cleveland Organists and Choir Masters Association. Until age and frailty reduced his mobility, he was a keen gardener and delighted in his orchard – spending many hours researching old varieties of apples and recipes for the annual harvest. He never lost his interest and concern for Africa and the development of its mineral economy; and kept up-to-date with current issues of politics, unfair division of wealth, and the role played by illegal mining in funding paramilitary groups. Nor was he solely interested in the past with respect to energy. He was certainly expert on the history of mining and fossil fuels, but was also deeply interested in nuclear power and in the prospects for renewables. Despite his Methodist upbringing, in later life Jake was a committed humanist and member of the Northeast Humanists. 

His cruel and untimely death on 13 December 2018 following a fall at home robbed us of a kind, gentle, generous, and intelligent man with incisive wit, encyclopaedic knowledge and remarkable perspective on how the past forged our today and will shape our future. 

Jake’s wife Honor died in 2002 and they had no children. He is survived by niece Rosalind, and nephews Martin and Colin. 

Dr F W Smith with contributions by E Birch, P Jackson, and C Morris