Mary Maxwell-Channell

This month, we focus on the story of engineer and businesswoman Mary Maxwell-Channell MBE, who was honoured in the 1946 New Year Honours list for her role in starting a factory producing munitions during World War II. The company was based in Flore, only 8 miles from Northampton, home to BINDT. 

Born Mary Gardner in rural Lancashire, England, in 1914, her parents were Thomas Gardner and Bertha May Foxcroft and she had seven brothers and sisters. They lived in Cockerham, near Garstang.

It is not known how Mary got into engineering. She may have studied in London at one of the ‘polytechnic institutes’ such as Borough Polytechnic Institute, which ran engineering courses for women organised by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) from 1930. Mary’s family suggest that she was inspired by the family of local industrialist Harold Carrington (father of surrealist artist Leonora Carrington), who lived at Crookhey Hall in Cockerham in the 1920s. 

Mary married engineer Robert Maxwell-Channell on 3 June 1937, while they were living in Warwickshire. Robert was frequently in trouble with the law, including during his earlier life in Australia.

The locality of Northamptonshire enters the story during World War II, with Mary Maxwell-Channell’s most prominent engineering enterprise Erinex Ltd, which carried out wartime engineering work during World War II. Erinex was based in the village of Flore. The company was initially started in existing buildings, including the baker’s shop, bootmaker’s shop, barn, washhouse and Salvation Army hall. Mary employed mainly women, initially from the village but then bringing in other staff and growing to further premises in Geddington, near Kettering. 

When Mary joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1943, The Woman Engineer journal wrote: ‘Mrs M M Channell controls her own business Erinex & Co. This firm is engaged in laboratory work on metal substitution, airscrew and spinner development, plastic development and in general engineering’.

Writing in an article, titled ‘A place in the country’, Mary stated: “When I made enquiries I found that what was required was initiative, organisation and capital, with some experience and connections. I provided the original capital of a thousand pounds and the Ministry of Aircraft Production agreed we should make parts for the incendiary bomb and gave us a direct contract.” 

Notably, the company bought an autogyro for transport between London and Flore. The factory continued after the war, with work including the manufacture of toasters and kettles. 

For her work founding a war industry at Erinex, Mary was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours of 1946. She also became a Member of Council of WES from 1947 to 1948. However, things did not go well for the Maxwell-Channells and their engineering business. Erinex Ltd and two other companies owned by Mary were wound up during 1948 to 1950 amid charges of the fraudulent conversion of company money by Robert Maxwell-Channell. 

Mary died in Bude, Cornwall, in 2012, using the name Mary Channell de Chanel.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, or are interested in joining the D&I Advisory Group, please get in touch: diversity@bindt.org

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