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Miss Shilling’s orifice

2 years ago

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Joana Fidalgo | Engineer


1 July 2022

Some people’s lives are so extraordinary that if you didn’t know otherwise, you’d assume them to be a work of fiction. Some become world famous for their exploits, but others do not. Indeed until I’d started researching the Breakthrough piece on fuel injection, I’d never heard of this person, let alone the life-saving invention for which she was responsible, even though it soon gained a nickname of typical British schoolboy innuendo. 

She deserved rather more for she was a brilliant woman who broke down many barriers in both her professional and personal lives. So please allow me to introduce you to Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling and tell you not just her story but also about her invention, known at the time and forever after as ‘Miss Shilling’s Orifice’.

Tilly was born 8 March 1909 in Waterlooville, Hampshire. Her parents, Henry, a local butcher, and his wife Annie realised early on there was something different about their daughter. While her sisters enjoyed traditional games and dolls, little Tilly spent her pocket money on pen knives and tools she’d use to pull apart anything she could get her hands on.

Her mechanical aptitude quickly became evident. She made headlines by winning a national Meccano-building competition aged just 12, then two years later bought her first motorcycle, a second-hand Royal Enfield she’d end up rebuilding many times over the years to come. Upon leaving school in 1926 she was determined to pursue a career in engineering, regardless of how many eyebrows were raised at her. Which was plenty. Luckily, she found an ally in one Margaret Partridge, a pioneer among women engineers herself who ran an electrical engineering company in Devon. It was there Tilly served her apprenticeship, installing wiring and generators in both domestic and industrial machinery.

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