Obituary: Eric Carl Ozelton CEng FIStructE AIWSc

Published: 07/03/2017

Sadly Carl passed away on 3 September 2016. David Davies gives the following tribute.

‚ÄčIt’s not often in life that you have the honour of meeting a living legend but Eric Carl Ozelton was just that. Carl, as he preferred to be known, was the eldest of three children to Harry and Edna Ozelton, Gordon and Rita were his siblings. He was a chartered timber engineer and also the co-author of the greatly revered Timber Designers’ Manual

The following is an abstract, a tribute to Carl’s life which honours his memory from family, friends and fellow professionals.

Carl was born 11 June, 1939 in Thornaby-on-Tees when the British steel industry was at its height. Following his schooling he served an apprenticeship with Dorman and Long, of Sydney Harbour Bridge fame, as a steelwork draftsman. Working long hours in a room packed with drawing boards, flicking through his span tables, Carl learnt very early on that ambition wasn’t always favoured. Upon asking his line manager for an opportunity to enter into the graduate program he was swiftly informed that he was ‘too good a draftsman’ to excel upwards and should get back to work quick sharp. Disappointed, he sought a new path, one which provided him with the recognition he strived for and hence his career in timber was born. 

Prior to setting up his own practice in 1977 he was Technical Director at both Walter Holme & Sons Ltd, Liverpool and Prestoplan Homes Ltd, a timber frame manufactures in Preston.

It was around this time that he and his good friend Jack Baird were out one evening with their respective partners. Carl and Jack first met when they were involved in the structural timber section of The British Woodworking Federation. They were normally both in agreement about what was required for and of structural timber. Like Carl, Jack had started his professional life as structural engineer specialising in steelwork before becoming involved with structural timber. After the meal and before returning home, Carl and Jack must have been boring the ladies senseless by bemoaning the dearth of useful information on structural timber, including the fact that nobody had written a structural timber manual to rival the already published Steel Designers Manual. It was then, and in unison, that both ladies called-out “So why don’t you stop moaning and write one?”  That was that, and for the next three years Carl and Jack set out to write their own book, the outcome being the first edition of the Timber Designers’ Manual in 1976. 

Jack recalls:

"Carl and I approached the publisher, Crosby Lockwood Staples, and placed a large holdall on the desk (I assume this was full of paper text and not bank notes as this was the age prior to computers after all!). The publisher, Oliver, appeared enthusiastic but explained that he was required to consult three referees. One of whom advised that such a manual was ‘not necessary’. Gladly, Oliver decided to ignore his colleague and published the book regardless. He was delighted when it 'broke-even' within a year - apparently unusual for a technical publication. "

The second edition followed in 1984 and in the early 1990s the then publisher Blackwell Science Publishing contacted both Carl and Jack about the need for a Third Edition that was to include a part on the new European Code. At first they both declined but eventually Carl was persuaded and a third edition ‘revised by E C Ozelton’ was added to the collection. 

Through my own career I have come to learn that the Timber Designers’ Manual has a biblical following and Carl Ozelton held deity-like status by his engineering peers. A colleague of Carls, Frank Ward, remembers: 

"Carl would always have time to discuss any topic, no, he would make time. Your problems were his and on a few occasions when the discussion ended and I thought I had sucked him dry on a subject, I would get a call back a few days later with additional advice. He had pondered, researched and was happy to take time to expand my knowledge still further without personal reward. I will remember Carl fondly especially when I reach for the ‘Bible of Timber Design’, on an almost daily occurrence."

Another colleague, Andy Collet, who subsequently took over and continues to run Carls business when he retired, recollects: 

"Carl was one of the ‘old school’ engineers who made a judgment on a structure or a structural problem first, before putting figures to it, usually without the assistance of a mysterious computer program. Consequently he was very realistic and practical in his design analysis and solution. When he joined us the staff were somewhat in awe of the co-author of the TDM, but he was always humble and considerate in his interaction with them, however junior they were. One of his sayings, still in use today, was 'if all else fails, use bloody big nails!'"

Carl's work ethic and his contribution to the field of engineering was unsurpassed, he had a special grace, a spirit that said give me a challenge and I will meet it with joy. He was the most likeable, reliable, unassuming person I have met, he was a great friend, a pioneer and he will be dearly missed. He is survived by his two sons, Roy and Zander, his legacy is his published work.


David Davies IEng MICE MInstRE MAPM    

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