Tributes 15 Oct 2020

Jeff Farrow, Died September 2020

Tributes have been shared in honour of Jeff Farrow who is remembered by his colleagues who worked together for Thames Water in the UK and for his contributions to construction of the Thames Water Ring Main project in the 1980s and 1990s. As an all round engineer, Farrow turned his hand to computer programming for the introduction of project data recording by computers, project management, technical excavation innovation and his core focus of precast concrete segmental lining design. “A more dedicated, tenacious and hardworking engineer you could not hope to meet,” said Roger Remington who was Director of the Thames Water Ring Main project for Thames Water in the 1980s and 1990s. “He was a great ally, collaborator, colleague and co-worker. A modern-day Brunel is how the BBC described him in TV programme about the Ring Main project. He was a great friend.”

From his engagement as a civil engineer with UK consulting engineering firm Howard Humphreys & Partners, Farrow joined the Southern Division of the recently formed Thames Water following the reorganisation of the UK water companies in 1975. He was given the role of Project Manager for expansion of the Shalford Water Treatment Plant.

Jeff Farrow
Jeff Farrow
Died September 2020

On being informed by London head office that his project was over spent by half a million pounds, and knowing this was not to be the case, had him realise that a computer system would be needed to manage the volume of data to manage progress of complex projects. From one of the small desktop computers available at the time from Hewlett Packard, and with no desktop printers yet available, the project became the first mainframe computer programme of its type in the country and used to monitor many millions of pounds of Thames Water engineering projects, including the London Water Ring Main. “Such was the success of the system that it was given the name PROFISY (Project Financial Information System),” recalls Remington, “and was copyrighted by Thames Water.”

All this progressed in parallel with Farrow’s daytime job of being a designer and manager of various engineering projects. In particular was design of a new concrete segmental lining systems for Phase 2 of the London Water Ring Main project.

Phase 1 of the project began in 1984 and was running late and over budget as a result of tunnelling problems, explained Remington. Planning work on Phase 2 commenced in 1988, which led to a complete rethink for Stage 2. Tunnel lining with concrete wedge-block segments had been developed by the Metropolitan Water Board in London in the 1950s and they were small in size, 12 pieces, and each piece able to be carried by one man. To achieve the rates of progress required in Phase 2 the new system required larger, longer and heavier segments.

With Farrow leading the design, it was decided that Thames Water would, in conjunction with others, design, test and manufacture a new 8-piece, 1m long wedge-block lining with all segments needing mechanical handling. In addition, it was decided to purchase half of the segment manufacturing system used on the 1980s-1990s Channel Tunnel Project and move it to the west of London to test and manufacture the new lining segments.

Such was the success of Farrow’s segment design, the original target rate of 250m of tunnelling/week was exceeded, with an average of 400m/week and a world record of more than 500m in one week. “This directly led to Phase 2 of the project being completed ahead of programme and made up for the delays in Phase 1 finishing the total project 2 years ahead of programme and within the overall scheme budget,” added Remington.

Fellow engineer and Thames Water colleague Peter Hemmings recalls that he and Farrow worked together on many management issues, including a process to find a solution to a TBM brought to a sudden halt by uncharted deep piles below Pimlico on a Ring Main drive under London, working in conjunction with the construction crew. “In latter days Thames Water started a slow process of effectively outsourcing its core engineering knowledge and resources, a process that Jeff and I could not live with easily. I moved on to International projects and Jeff, who thrived on technical innovations, moved into a valued role with research and development. He was still enthusing about water engineering and what he was up to when we connected at the 25th Anniversary of the completion of the Ring Main in October 2019.”

Colleagues, engineers, staff and partners at the 2019 25th anniversary of the successful completion of the Thames Water Ring Main project – Roger Remington (third from right back row) and Jeff Farrow (back row tenth from left)
Colleagues, engineers, staff and partners at the 2019 25th anniversary of the successful completion of the Thames Water Ring Main project – Roger Remington (third from right back row) and Jeff Farrow (back row tenth from left)

“The Thames Water Ring Main team will remember Jeff for his acute ability to take on a whole range of technical engineering problems, throw them around, look at them from all angles and come up with ingenious solutions for the rest of us to implement,” said colleague Robin Clarke. “He was the brains of the team.” Long after retirement Farrow was clearly still enjoying working. “It was the technical challenge it provided, and especially the satisfaction he got from helping graduates and young engineers who found him so approachable,” said Clarke.

In 1997/98 Divisional Director Paul Nash asked Farrow to come and work with him at the North London offices of the construction arm of Thames Water Services. The proposition was to improve the project management and success of engineering teams. Transferring from the employer role to contractor role, he quickly became absorbed in the role. “Jointly we wrote the TPS/Barhale JV tender for AMP 1 and set a new standard for quality of responses to the Thames Water client team,” said Nash.

As well as a great collaborator in social events, Farrow joined Thames Water with Nash and colleagues to run the 1996 London Marathon, “one of five that we ran together and raising more than £25,000 for international charity Water Aid”.

Thames Water colleague Peter Glass recalls that it was in March 1974 that Farrow was on secondment from Howard Humphreys & Partners as Assistant Resident Engineer at Sherborne St John sewage treatment works near Basingstoke when he become an employee of the Thames Water Authority. “He soon produced excellent work with his mentor Gerry Winterbourne.” They designed with great originality a new type of aeration tank that used oxygen instead of air. The need for a gas tight concrete roof was met by careful crack control and stainless steel reinforcement. He was promoted to Senior Engineer in the Godalming design office, where he and Vic Lee produced a pioneering software package called SOCPMS. It was a precursor to the PROFISY system in 1983 to control the financing of large Thames Water capital works programmes.

When the Thames Water Technology & Development Department for larger capital projects was formed in 1984, Farrow was appointed Principal Design Engineer. In 1990 he became one of 25 high profile Project Managers. As his work on the Ring Main project reached a successful conclusion, he was given a large and varied portfolio on standards and quality management in the chief engineer’s group.

“He was a friend, colleague, father, grandfather, husband and general, all-round amazing person to so many,” said Glass in tribute to Jeff Farrow who died after a short battle with a discovered brain tumour on 21 September 2020.


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