National Physical Laboratory

Sir Richard Tetley Glazebrook

Richard Glazebrook

Born in Liverpool on 18 September 1854 to a local surgeon, Glazebrook was educated at Dulwich and Liverpool Colleges, before studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1872.

The Royal Society appointed Glazebrook as the first Director of NPL and he took up his post on 1st January 1900, a post he held until his retirement in September 1919. He was then appointed a member of the Executive Committee, of which he was Chairman from 1925 to 1932.

During his time as Director, Glazebrook regularly promoted the work of NPL, since it was still in its early stages. By the time he retired, he had successfully established NPL as a world leader in physics. He was regarded as approachable but a man who "didn't suffer fools gladly," and was freely given the nickname 'Caesar' by one of the Superintendants. As a successful Director, he was aware of what most of his staff were doing and often paired up scientists across different departments to find solutions to problems.

View an original Certificate of Examination for a standard barometer,
signed by Sir Richard Tetley Glazebrook in April 1909

Early photographs of the site show that the main transport at this time was horse drawn. It was recollected by members of staff at the time that he used to drive to the station in a horse and trap.

Glazebrook certainly left his mark on NPL: he credited junior scientists who helped with his work, at a time when scientific papers were often published under the name of the head of the department; he obtained the money necessary to maintain NPLs standards in the early days when money was scarce; he supported the formation of the Bushy House Football Club (later the Sports Club); and later Glazebrook Road, which runs past the Sports Field, was named in his honour.

Richard Glazebrook 2
Sir Richard Glazebrook with King George V while visiting NPL during the First World War


Glazebrook carried out important research in aeronautics, notably on conditions of stability, and was subsequently Zaharoff Professor of Aviation at Imperial College, London, 1920-1923.

He received a number of awards over his lifetime: the Royal Society Hughes' medal in 1909, the Albert medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1918 and the gold medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1933. He was knighted in 1917, received the KCB in 1920 and KCVO in 1934 and was the first President of the Institute of Physics.

Watch some historic footage from 1934 of Sir Richard Glazebrook outlining his illustrious career.

Last Updated: 3 Apr 2017
Created: 19 Apr 2010

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