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The Papers of Arthur Hungerford Pollen

Reference Code: GBR/0014/PLLN

Scope and Contents

The papers are comprised of articles and press cuttings about naval gunnery and tactics; correspondence with Royal Navy personnel, 1901-1929; private and professional correspondence, 1883-1937; personal papers belonging to Arthur Hungerford Pollen's wife and parents; and literary papers and materials collected by Anthony Pollen in the course of research for his father's biography.

Including copies of minutes of the proceedings of the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, 1925.

Also including correspondence between Arthur Hungerford Pollen and Admiral Sir Reginald Custance, 1905-34, and some papers of Admiral Sir Reginald Custance, 1909-35.


  • Creation: 1797 - 2013

Conditions Governing Access

With the exception of the correspondence between Anthony Pollen and Jon Sumida, which remains closed until 2029, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Arthur Hungerford Pollen was born on 13 September 1866 in London, the sixth son and eighth of ten children of John Hungerford Pollen, architect, decorative artist, and curator, and prominent convert to Catholicism, and Maria Margaret Pollen, née La Primaudaye, an authority on antique textiles. Pollen received a Catholic education in Münster, after 1872; and at the Oratory School, Birmingham, 1878-84. His early years were divided between London, Germany, and Sussex, where until 1889 his parents rented a Jacobean manor house, Newbuildings Place, from their friends Wilfred Scawen Blunt and Anne Blunt. In 1884 Pollen went up to Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated with a second-class degree in modern history in 1888. He went on to qualify as a barrister, entering Lincoln's Inn in 1893. In 1895 Pollen stood unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate for Walthamstow.

Throughout his career, Pollen retained a keen interest in journalism and the arts. In 1889 he founded a monthly review, 'The Paternoster', with Hilaire Belloc, a friend from the Oratory School. Between 1891 and 1893, he undertook a number of expeditions to hunt big game in North America with his friend Henry Somers Somerset, and contributed the preface and illustrations to Somerset's hunting memoir 'The Land of the Muskeg' (1895). During his early legal career, Pollen supplemented his income through writing as a gallery and theatre critic for publications including the Westminster Gazette, and briefly edited the society column of the newly-founded Daily Mail.

On 7 September 1898 Pollen married Maud Beatrice Lawrence, daughter of Joseph Lawrence, a Conservative MP and chairman of the Linotype Company, a leading manufacturer of newspaper equipment. They had a daughter, who died at the age of four in 1905, and two sons, Arthur and Anthony.

Pollen was appointed Managing Director of the Linotype Company, where he worked closely with his father-in-law, in 1898. Thereafter he became an entrepreneur in printing, engineering, and manufacturing, and a keen inventor. Though he lacked practical naval experience or a formal scientific education, Pollen became particularly interested in the challenge of improving the accuracy of naval rangefinding after witnessing gunnery practice in the Mediterranean in 1900. He went on to pursue several years of research and development work on a new computerised fire control system with his colleagues at the Linotype works. Following several unsuccessful trials in 1905-6, he won the support of Sir John Fisher, Captain John Jellicoe, and Percy Scott, and was commissioned by the Admiralty under a monopoly and secrecy agreement to work on developing and testing his ideas for new rangefinder mountings, mechanical calculators, and automated plotting units. Pollen's designs for instruments, however, were ultimately rejected by the Admiralty in favour of Frederic Charles Dreyer's fire control tables and manual rate-plotters.

Pollen continued to perfect his inventions, and his privately circulated papers on naval technology, tactics, and strategy were read in influential political circles. He established the Argo Company in 1909 to hold his patents, and in 1911 he took a holding in T. Cooke & Sons of York, an optical company which manufactured components for his equipment. Pollen's most important technical innovation was an analogue computer known as the Argo Clock: a differential analyser which enabled big guns to engage with long-range targets when both the attacking ship and its enemy combatant were moving at speed in varying directions. In 1913-14, Pollen marketed his instruments to foreign navies and received commissions from Austria-Hungary and Russia.

During the First World War, Pollen gained a national reputation as a naval critic. Between 1915 and 1919, he was a features writer on naval subjects for the weekly journal 'Land and Water', edited by his childhood friend Hilaire Belloc. In June 1917, Pollen travelled to the United States to promote his commercial range-finding equipment, having been unofficially recruited by John Buchan, Director of Propaganda in the British Foreign Office, to promote the work of the Royal Navy and encourage the development of the American navy during his five-month trip. Battle experience was eventually seen to validate Pollen's technical and tactical views, and key members of his pre-war design team were charged with the development of the Royal Navy's post-war fire control systems. After unsuccessful applications in 1920 and 1923, in 1925 the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors ordered that £30,000 should be paid to Pollen for his contributions to the Dreyer system, which he argued had incorporated elements of the Argo Clock without his knowledge or permission.

Following the end of the war, Pollen devoted himself to business, serving on the boards of the Birmingham Small Arms Company, Follsain Metals, the Daimler Company, and the Car and General and Motor Union Insurance Companies. In 1926, he returned to the Linotype Company as Managing Director. He was also a Vice President of the Council of the Federation of British Industries. He was strongly opposed to socialism and nationalisation, and became a chairman of the protectionist British Commonwealth Union. In 1927 he was a Master of the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers. In 1936, at the age of seventy, he became a director of the board of lay trustees who had taken over publication of the Catholic journal 'The Tablet'.

Arthur Hungerford Pollen died on 28 January 1937 at his home in St. James's Court, Buckingham Gate, London.

His publications include: The Gun in Battle (1912) and The Navy in Battle (1918).


59 archive box(es)

Language of Materials



The original deposit and the related papers and correspondence on naval topics in Accession 1847 were organised by Anthony Pollen into separate series with named sub-headings during the course of his research into naval and family history, and have been extensively annotated. The collection of press cuttings and the typed transcriptions of personal correspondence present throughout the papers appear to have been arranged and selectively weeded by Maud Pollen. As the various accessions from different branches of the Pollen family appeared to be closely related, the decision was taken by cataloguing archivists to treat the materials as one collection, using the catalogue structure originally devised by Stephen Roskill, and the file titles used by Anthony Pollen, where possible.

Other Finding Aids

Copies of the collection level description and the catalogue are available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, and the National Register of Archives, London.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were deposited in Churchill Archives Centre by Arthur Pollen's son, Anthony Pollen, 1967-83; his granddaughter, Anne Pollen, 2015 (Accession 1847); and his great-grandson, Louis Jebb, 2017 (Accession 1981).

Related Materials

Churchill Archives Centre also holds the papers of Admiral Sir Frederic Charles Dreyer, creator of the Dreyer fire control table, who was involved in the controversy with Arthur Pollen over their competing inventions to improve the accuracy of the Royal Navy's gunnery (reference: GBR/0014/DRYR). There are also more letters from Pollen in the Admiralty correspondence of Reginald McKenna (reference: GBR/0014/MCKN).


A selections of Pollen's articles on naval tactics have been published in Jon Tetsuro Sumida, 'The Pollen Papers: The Privately Circulated Printed Works of Arthur Hungerford Pollen, 1901-1916', Publications of the Navy Records Society, Vol. 124 (1984); Roskill Library classmark 623.553 Pol.


This collection level description was prepared by Sophie Bridges, July 2005, and expanded by Heidi Egginton, January 2019. The papers deposited by Anthony Pollen were catalogued by Stephen Roskill in 1971. Accessions 1847 and 1981 were catalogued by Louise Watling, 2016, and Heidi Egginton, 2018-19. Biographical information was obtained from the website of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Who Was Who, and Pollen's obituaries.


Pollen, Arthur Joseph Hungerford, 1866-1937, inventor

2005-07-07 16:48:55+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087