“Foulkes was born in Frankfurt in 1902. After leaving school he studied at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin. He specialised in factory planning and in 1929 obtained a doctorate in engineering. Observing the rise of Nazism, he left Germany for Spain in 1933, where he was joined by his fiancée, Senta. They married, but realised that the Spanish political climate was becoming as untenable as in Germany, and in 1936 they came to Britain. Starting out with little capital, but equipped with expertise, energy and determination, Foulkes established MSE to make machine tools, then in short supply in Britain. In spite of this, when war with Germany broke out, bureaucracy decreed that he be interned on the Isle of Man, as a ‘friendly enemy alien’ for a year.
After the war, MSE turned to the development of centrifuges and other specialised laboratory equipment. Because he was always eager to observe scientists at work in their laboratories, Foulkes designed and produced efficient and safe equipment tailored to their requirements. He also offered an exceptionally good service for making modifications to match the scientists’ expectations with the equipment’s performance. As a result, MSE established itself as a ‘best buy’ the world over, and in 1966 the company was one of the first to win the Queen’s Award for export achievement.
Ernest Foulkes identified the need to revitalise Britain as an industrial country; as an engineer, he developed a profitable and innovative business, as a successful businessman he invested the profits of the company in the education and training of the next generation for the benefit of the country that had given him the opportunity to use his gifts to the full.
[When Foulkes retired in 1972 he sold the company to Fisons, who later sold it on to Sanyo and the family lost contact with MSE. In 2007, however, a Foulkes Fellow established that Henderson Biomedical Ltd., a company that had previously serviced MSE centrifuges and knew their high quality and longevity, had bought up the remaining parts from Sanyo and was again servicing MSE products. It was therefore a sentimental reunion when Maureen Foulkes and her son Nick (who has written a biography of his grandfather) visited the Henderson factory in South London and saw the familiar MSE logo again. MSE lives on …]
His final years were marred by failing eyesight and painful arthritis. He is survived by his wife and daughter, Maureen, who has taken over the chairmanship of the Foulkes Foundation.”
Adapted from the obituary by Dr Robert Mahler, one of the Trustees Emeritus of the Foundation, published in The Independent, 8 July 1993.