Louis Gustave Mouchel
Mouchel and ferro-concrete
Mouchel's involvement with the iron industry, and his ties with France, brought him into close proximity with the French engineer François Hennebique (1842-1921), who had been a contractor in Brussels. A self-educated builder, Hennebique had patented an idea of strengthening concrete using iron and steel bars a forerunner to the widespread modern reinforced-concrete method used in construction today.
In 1892 Hennebique patented his monolithic reinforced concrete system in Belgium and in France. Realising the potential of his technique, Hennebique spent his latter career perfecting his system of béton armé directly translated as 'armoured concrete' which involved placing steel bars at the bottom of concrete slabs. Hennebique became the first individual to make systematic provision for shear reinforcement in beams, and to use reinforced concrete in individual frameworks.
Mouchel first became acquainted with Hennebique when he contracted his future partner to carry out designs for extensions at his works. At that time, a number of companies in Britain were using reinforced concrete, since W.B. Wilkinson's patent of 1854-5, but mainly for floors, roofs and beams rather than complete building frames. Combined with a systematic use of shear walls, this application was Hennebique's achievement (Cusack iii
Mouchel was so impressed with his work that he arranged for Hennebique to visit Weaver & Co. He subsequently accompanied one of the company's directors to France to see examples of ferro-concrete construction there. In 1897 Hennebique's Nantes agency secured the contract for the construction of a six-storey provender mill for Weaver & Co
in Swansea (Cusack iii
). The mill became the first reinforced concrete-framed building in the UK (now demolished).
Hennebique worked closely with Mouchel during the design and construction of the flour mill. With his business expanding across Europe, he offered Mouchel an exclusive license to use the ferro-concrete technique in the UK. In 1897 an agreement was signed between the two Frenchmen, with Mouchel forming a new business called 'Mr L G Mouchel, General Agent, Hennebique's Patent Construction in Ferro-Concrete'. The choice of the term 'ferro-concrete' as an anglicised version of béton armé was Mouchel's own.
In 1897, Mouchel's agency received its first commission: a retaining bank
(sea wall) for the London & South Western Railway at Southampton. This was the beginning of Mouchel's influence in industrial, commercial, marine and civic concrete construction.
portait and other images courtesy Mouchel