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March 21, 2014
The Importance of a Thimble in the History of the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable

One of the collections in the IET Archives, rediscovered as a result of the move of the archives out of Savoy Place, is an album of transatlantic telegraph ephemera which contains material from the period 1862 to 1872 (catalogue reference SC MSS 254). The album, titled, ‘Atlantic Telegraph 1865’ is likely to have belonged originally to Sir Peter FitzGerald, the 19th Knight of Kerry (1808-1880). Sir Peter was a Vice-Treasurer of Ireland in the last ministry of Sir Robert Peel and he succeeded his father as an Irish landlord, residing on Valentia Island just off the coast of mainland Ireland.

Valentia is important in the history of the transatlantic telegraph cable as it was the location of one end of the cable that was successfully laid over the period 1865 to 1866 and Sir Peter devoted much of his time and efforts to ensure that the laying of the cable was a success.

The album contains press cuttings, letters, photographs and other paper-based ephemera primarily related to the 1865-1866 Atlantic telegraph cable. There is a significant amount of correspondence with noted politicians of the time such as a letter from William Ewart Gladstone when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, letters from Sir Robert Peel, 3rd Baronet, the Irish Secretary in Palmerston's ministry, and letters from Stratford Canning, 1st Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe. There is also a significant amount of correspondence and ephemera related to those closely involved with the 1865 Atlantic telegraph cable such as the Atlantic Telegraph Company and officers/passengers on the various ships involved with the cable laying operations.

The relevance of a thimble to the transatlantic cable was mentioned to us recently by a thimble researcher, Anne Jansen, who was made aware of a ‘thimble letter’ contained within the album, having heard about it from Tessa O’Connor at the Valentia Heritage Centre in 1988. A press cutting in the album next to the letter says:-

 “The contents of a lady’s thimble would hardly be expected to constitute a very powerful instrument. They would scarcely have been thought capable of one of the most astonishing feats ever performed by science. The Chairman, however, of the Atlantic Telegraph Company informs us that this little instrument has actually achieved such a feat. By way of experiment, the Engineer of the Company joined the extremities of the two cables which now stretch across the Atlantic, thus forming an immense loop line of 3,700 miles. He then put some acid in a lady’s silver thimble with bits of zinc and copper, and by this simple agency he succeeded in passing signals through the whole length in little more than a second in time.”

The letter in the album, relating to this thimble, is reproduced below;

The letter, dated 12 September 1866 is from Latimer Clark, who acted as an engineer for the Anglo-American Telegraph Company at the time (the engineer referred to in the press article) and went on to become the 4th President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers (predecessor of the IET). The letter sent to Emily Fitzgerald, daughter of Sir Peter, says,

“Mr Latimer Clark presents his compliments to Miss FitzGerald and begs to return her thimble with many thanks, assuring her that when containing a little acid and a fragment of zinc, it formed the most efficient battery, and messages were readily transmitted by its means through both the Atlantic cables, even when they were joined together in a loop at Newfoundland, so as to form a circuit 3742 miles in length. Valentia September 12 1866.”

The album contains a small image of Emily next to the letter and the press cutting. The photograph is shown below. 


Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 21 March 2014 at 09:09 AM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 21 March 2014 08:57 AM     Archives     Comments (1)  

February 7, 2014
Archive Office Now Relocated to Savoy Hill House

The IET's new Archive Centre is due to open to members and the public at the end of February. Visitors to the Archive Centre will need to arrange the timing of their visits in advance to allow time for the retrieval of collections from offsite storage (further details regarding visiting arrangements will appear on the library and archives pages of the IET website in due course). The core collections will be stored onsite with the remaining collections stored in a specialist facility in Oxfordshire - these collections will be retrieved as and when required for consultation by researchers. 

The new Archive Centre comprises an archive office, where staff and researchers will be located, and a strongroom which will hold the IET's core collections including rare books and items temporarily retrieved from offsite storage. 

The move of the archive office from its temporary home at Michael Faraday House in Stevenage is now complete and planning is underway for the transfer of the ‘permanent' collections into the strongroom at Savoy Hill House. 

In the last days at the old home of the archives in Savoy Place three pictures of Savoy Hill House were discovered and given to the archives team. It is rather fitting that these three framed pictures now adorn the walls of the new Archive Centre in Savoy Hill House. The pictures, all taken from the same viewpoint, are reproduced below and show; Savoy Hill House in 1926 (a caption describes the picture as the BBC building from the time when the BBC was based at Savoy Hill House); again in 1949 showing the bomb damage to one corner of the building; and finally in 1966 with the bomb damage repaired and the corner of the building rebuilt. 


Savoy Hill House - October 1926 (archive reference IET/SPE/1/19/1)



Savoy Hill House - January 1949 (archive reference IET/SPE/1/19/2)



Savoy Hill House - June 1966 (archive reference IET/SPE/1/19/3)



Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 07 February 2014 08:58 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 20, 2013
New Archive Acquisition - Papers of Professor Brian P Smith, Bsc(Eng), CEng, MIMechE, FIProdE, FBIM, FInstM, FIMC

The papers of Professor Brian P Smith, a former President of the Institution of Production Engineers (IProdE), have recently been deposited in the IET Archives. The Institution of Production Engineers was formed in 1921 and changed its name to the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers (IMfgE) just prior to its merger with the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1991.

The IET Archives holds the archives of the IMfgE/IProdE, including a comprehensive set of organisational papers. These include a full set of Council, General Meeting and Committee minutes as well as presented papers for the whole 1921-1991 period. Despite this, the IET Archives holds very few personal papers of prominent members and individuals associated with the IMfgE/IProdE. The exception to this is a small collection of Presidents' papers from the period from 1979 to 1988 when the relevant individual was in office.

The offer of the Brian P Smith papers from the Smith family therefore came as a very welcome offer particularly as they cover not just the period that Brian P Smith was President of the IProdE (1974), but also his whole life. After serving a full apprenticeship at Royal Ordnance Factories from 1941-46, he was one of a small team which established a new tool industry in the Cumberland Development Area, and was its General Manager when he left to join PA Management Consultants Ltd in 1949. He was appointed PA's Director of Research in 1959 and became Managing Director of the UK company in 1966. He became Chairman of the UK company and Managing Director of the international company in 1972 and subsequently Director of Development of the international company.

In 1976 Brian P Smith resigned his permanent position with PA to become an Associate Consultant with them, and on 1 January 1977 became the first Wolfson Professor of Design Management at the Royal College of Art. In this role his aim was to bring closer together the worlds of industry and design, and to build their mutual understanding and respect. He was a member of the Design Council and served on its Finance and General Purposes Committee; he was nominated by the Duke of Edinburgh as Vice-President of the Royal Society of Arts in 1976.

Building on his training as an engineer, his interests in management were to analyse the less tangible aspects of leadership, communications, human behaviour and design. He believed that such subjects were susceptible to a scientific approach and to practical training and that they were at the root of organisation and management performance.

The deposited collection consists primarily of Smith's published papers / articles, and notes / hand-outs for the many talks and speeches on management that he gave during his lengthy career as Managing Director of PA Management Consultants. However, there is also a wealth of additional material about Smith's life including, his own book of verse, his leisure and travel diaries, his journal, images of his many paintings (examples shown below) and audio recordings of two of his speeches including his speech at an IProdE dinner in 1974. The journal and travel diaries are particularly interesting as they cover Smith's thoughts and musings on a very wide range of topics.






Correspondence with a wide variety of senior government members and officials, Buckingham Palace and well known individuals such as the actress Joanna Lumley, the American jazz music impresario Norman Granz and the journalist Bernard Levin can be found in the collection.

The collection is titled, 'Papers of Professor Brian P Smith', and has been catalogued as collection SC MSS 251. It can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014.

Written by Jon Cable

Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:17 PM by Library and Archives Moderator


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 20 December 2013 02:43 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 11, 2013
New Archive Acquisition - North London Electricity Supply Papers
A recent deposit to the IET Archives covers the subject of electricity supply and distribution in the North London area. The collection comes from a former Principal Engineer of the Lea Valley Area of the Eastern Electricity Board which was one of the 15 Area Electricity Boards created at the time of nationalisation of the electricity industry through The Electricity Act 1947.

The main group of papers are related to the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company (Northmet). In addition to a copy of the document titled, 'North Metropolitan Electric Supply Acts 1900 to 1905', there are several interesting diagrams and maps. For example, there is a Northmet January 1907 plan of distributing mains in the Enfield District, and also a circa 1936 map with transmission lines and feeders in the Northmet area showing the lines leading from Willesden Power Station and Brimsdown Power Station. Another interesting item is a 1944 Northmet handbook supplement which includes public lighting maps.

The collection also includes 2 Northmet histories. One paper, written in July 1944 (supplemented in November 1946), marked private & confidential, is titled, 'Outline of the History of the Northmet Power Company', compiled by E T Kingbury and edited by Evelyn Boys. The second history is a contemporary account titled, 'Electricity Supplies in Essex - The First Half Century'.

One original document of wider interest perhaps is an original contract between British Insulated & Helsby Cables Ltd and North Metropolitan Electrical Power Distribution Company Ltd, dated 22 February 1907, relating to the installation of the Enfield Distribution System. British Insulated & Helsby Cables Ltd (BI&HC) was formed in 1902 from the merger of British Insulated Wire with the Telegraph Manufacturing Company of Helsby. In 1925 it was re-named British Insulated Cables Limited which after merging with Callenders of Erith in 1945 became British Insulated Callenders Cables Cables Ltd (BICC). A significant collection of BICC records is held by National Museums Liverpool.

The contract has the original signatures of two of the directors of BI&HC, Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti and Edmund Knowles Muspratt. Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, the noted electrical engineer and inventor, was President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1910 and 1911. Edmund Knowles Muspratt was an English industrialist who was a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry and President of the Society of Chemical Industry in 1885/1886.

This collection of papers titled, 'the Vickers collection of North London electricity papers', has been catalogued as collection SC MSS 250 and can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014. This new collection complements our existing collection of Northmet papers which is NAEST 170.

Written by Jon Cable.

Edited: 09 January 2014 at 02:36 PM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 11 December 2013 08:50 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 3, 2013
New Archive Acquisition - J E Calverley and T E Calverley Papers

The IET Archives recently received a donation from the Calverley family of a small number of the papers of John Earnshaw Calverley and his son Thomas Earnshaw Calverley, who recently passed away and whose obituary appears on page 25 of IET Member News, November 2013. Both the father and the son were very successful and noted electrical engineers whose personal histories are also interwoven with the history of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

John Calverley was the co-inventor of the transverter together with W E Highfield, and the papers deposited in the IET Archives consist primarily of correspondence and agreements related to the transverter and transverter related publications. The transverter was exhibited by English Electric at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 and the majority of papers date from the 1910's and 1920's. Unexpected discoveries amongst John Calverley's papers were letters from John Somerville Highfield, who was the IEE President in 1921. William Eden Highfield was John Somerville Highfield's younger brother and together they had their own engineering consulting business. Despite W E Highfield being the co-inventor of the transverter with John Calverley, several of the letters in this collection, relating to the commercial arrangements concerning the transverter, were between John Calverley and J S Highfield.

The John Calverley papers also give an insight into commercial arrangements in the early 20th century between inventors and their employers when inventions were patented whilst working for those employers. In this case John Calverley and W E Highfield were both working for the company Dick Kerr and Company Ltd (taken over by English Electric in 1919), when they invented the transverter.

Thomas Calverley, John's son, was honoured in 1983 by the Royal Academy of Engineering as one of the UK's 1000 most eminent engineers, and he was closely involved with the IEE. He won the IEE's Salmon Scholarship for 1939-40, was awarded a premium in 1945 for his South Midlands Students' Section paper, 'electrical technique in resistance welding', became Chairman of the North Staffordshire Sub-Centre of the IEE in 1961-62 and was Vice President of the IEE between 1980 and 1984.

The deposited papers of Thomas Calverley relate mainly to his biographical history including career summaries, important career dates, CV's, and career/award correspondence. The career correspondence covers his time with various employers including Cavendish Laboratory, English Electric and Preece Cardew & Rider and records tributes paid to Thomas when leaving a particular company or retiring. For example there is a glowing personal letter to Thomas written to him by the 2nd Baron Nelson of Stafford, Chairman of English Electric/GEC from 1962 to 1983, dating from when Thomas left the company in 1970. This material also includes articles written by Thomas, photographs, details of his Chairmanship of CIGRE Study Committee 14: DC Links, and correspondence regarding the award of the IEEE's prestigious Uno Lamm HVDC Award.

The John Calverley papers have been catalogued as collection SC MSS 248 and the Thomas Calverley papers have been catalogued as collection SC MSS 249 and can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014.

Written by Jon Cable.

Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:19 PM by Library and Archives Moderator


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 03 December 2013 10:13 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 19, 2013
Anniversary of the Death of Gertrude Entwisle

Gertrude Lilian Entwisle, AMIEE, Hon. MWES, died on 18 November 1961 at the age of 69. She joined the Women's Engineering Society (WES) in 1919 on its formation and played a major part in its history. Gertrude was a member of the Council of WES from the outset until her retirement and she was President of WES from 1941 to 1943.

When Gertrude retired from Metropolitan-Vickers on 30 June 1954, a biography of her career printed in The Woman Engineer said that her retirement was, "the very first retirement in Great Britain of a woman who had a complete career in industry as an employed professional design engineer". The biography also told the story of how Gertrude came to work for Metropolitan-Vickers as;

"In 1915, the exigencies of the first World War caused Mr J S Peck, the Chief Engineer of British Westinghouse (as Metropolitan-Vickers then was) to write to the College of Technology in Manchester enquiring whether it knew of any lady engineers. After all, his firm had just successfully tried the tremendous experiment of employing an office girl so why should it not try to find some female technical staff? The Chief Engineer was an American and woman engineers already existed in the USA. The letter was handed by the Technical College to the Manchester High School for Girls who forwarded it to Gertrude Entwisle. Now Miss Entwisle had shaken the University of Manchester staff by attending the engineering lectures which were open to second year Physics undergraduates and so she decided to risk the British Westinghouse."

To read the full six page biography in The Woman Engineer the journal can be consulted in the IET Archives once the new archive centre opens in early 2014. The IET Archives holds the archives of WES (collection NAEST 92) which includes its journal. The 1954 biography contains several pictures of Gertrude and of motors designed by Gertrude. There is also a fascinating picture of Gertrude in 1914 (see below) as a member of the second year Honours Physics class at Manchester University which also shows the lecturers including Professor Sir Ernest Rutherford.

Gertrude is also an important figure in the history of the IET. In 1916 she became the first woman student member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and by 1920 she was the first woman Associate Member of the IEE.

Written by Jon Cable

Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:20 PM by Library and Archives Moderator


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 19 November 2013 09:31 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 11, 2013
WWI Material in the IET Archives

On Armistice Day it is perhaps appropriate to mention the records relating to World War 1 that are held in the IET Archives. The archives of the IET would possibly not spring to mind as a source of World War I material. However, in addition to honour rolls, the archives does hold, for example, personal papers of engineers which include recollections and material related to their experiences during World War 1.

The Institution of Electrical Engineer's Roll of Honour is not actually a roll but a memorial book, published in 1924, commemorating those members of the Institution who died during the First World War. The volume contains an introduction titled, 'the causes and origin of The Great War, 1914-1919'. There then follows an alphabetical list of biographies for those IEE members who died during the war which includes some photographs.

As part of the 2013 project between the IET and which involved the digitisation of the pre-1930 IEE membership lists, the IEE honour rolls from World War I and World War II were also digitised. These digital copies will be made available in 2014 for IET members to view for free via the website.

An example of relevant personal papers can be seen with the papers of Harry Stephenson Ellis MIEE MIMechE (1881-1967) which is collection NAEST 155.

A series within these papers, NAEST 155/3, covers Harry's service in World War I. Harry became the City of Bradford's Chief Assistant Electrical Engineer in 1907 and was promoted to Deputy City Electrical Engineer and Manager of the Electricity Department in 1910. In 1912 he moved to South Shields to become the Borough Electrical Engineer, and during the First World War he served with No.3 Signals Section of the Durham Royal Engineers Volunteer Home Force. The 14 items in NAEST 155/3 cover Harry's attempts to serve overseas and his service with the Signals Company. Items include a printed letter from Neville Chamberlain, Director-General of National Service and future Prime Minister, to Ellis, and a photograph of the Signals Company which includes Ellis (see below).

Additional World War 1 material, whose presence might not be expected in the IET Archives, includes some records relating to the London Electrical Engineers (Territorial Army) which includes a photograph album with regimental pictures from 1915 and 1916.







The IET Archives' collections are currently closed to visitors while new facilities are being built, but they will re-open to members and researchers in early 2014.

Written by Jon Cable

Edited: 06 February 2014 at 01:29 PM by Library and Archives Moderator


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 11 November 2013 08:22 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 5, 2013
New Discovery - Pre-WWI German Railway Signalling Equipment Catalogues
When the library and archive teams moved out of Savoy Place in the summer of 2013, and all the storage locations were, in theory, empty, a series of 'final walk- abouts' were arranged. This gave an opportunity to look at the back of cupboards, reach to the back of plan chests and get on hands and knees to see if anything remained.

Whilst there have been several smaller refurbishments over the decades of the IET's involvement with Savoy Place, this was the first complete move out of the building since the Institution of Electrical Engineers moved into the building over 100 years earlier in 1910. Perhaps unsurprisingly several items were found as a result of these searches and this is the story of two large volumes found in a basement cupboard at the back of a low shelf. These were the last two items found, on Friday 2 August 2013, before contractors moved into the building to begin strip-out work the following week.

Both volumes, in mixed condition, were trade catalogues for railway signalling equipment produced by German engineering companies between 1908 and 1910. These two catalogues were acquired at some point, perhaps directly, by Products Corporation Limited, Buchanan Buildings, EC1 which can be seen by the company's blue handstamps inside the volumes. Later the volumes were acquired by the IEE library as evidenced by library accession handstamps.

The earlier volume from 1908 (archive reference NAEST 045/439) is an A3-sized catalogue for the German company Maschinenfabrik Bruschal which was formerly called Schnabel & Henning and was founded in 1868. The catalogue, written in French, is targeted at the Swiss railway equipment market. The company, after several mergers, became fully owned by Siemens and Halske in 1941.

The later volume from 1910 (archive reference NAEST 045/440) is an A3-sized product book for the German company C Stahmer of Georgsmarienhutte which was founded in 1862. The company made railway and mining equipment and this book covers signalling equipment. The catalogue is in German. The company merged with Maschinenfabrik Bruschal in the 1914-18 period.

You can search for catalogue descriptions from deposited collections and IET records, in the IET's Archive online catalogue

Written by Jon Cable

Edited: 09 January 2014 at 02:22 PM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 05 November 2013 09:30 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

October 18, 2013
New Archive Acquisition - W S Thomson papers
The IET Archives recently received a donation from the family of W S Thomson, of a small number of his papers.

W S Thomson, BEng, CEng, MIEE, became a Student member of the IEE in 1929 and a Graduate member in 1934, when he worked as a Research Assistant at GEC Witton, Birmingham. In 1938 he became a Member of the IEE and at the same time became an Applications Engineer for Alkaline Batteries Ltd of Redditch - he held this position and stayed as a Member of the IEE until 1972.

This brief biography helps to put the donation into context. Amongst the papers is W S Thomson's original typescript paper titled 'insulator testing and maintenance on live high tension lines' which he read before the South Midland Student Section of the Institution of Electrical Engineers at Birmingham, April 21 1936. This paper was awarded a Students Premium by the Council of the IEE but a copy was not held by either the IET Library or the IET Archives. The paper came with the original photographs and diagrams used in that paper, several of which relate to high tension lines in New Zealand from the early 1930's.

Another part of the donation was Thomson's unpublished typescript volume from 1977 titled, 'nickel-cadmium vented pocket-plate storage batteries'. The IET Archives holds a number of unpublished manuscripts from former members, which for one reason or another do not manage to reach the publication stage, but can be a valuable source of information for researchers.

If nickel-cadmium batteries hold a particular interest then the W S Thomson collection is now catalogued and can be found by searching the archives with the reference SC MSS 247.

Written by Jon Cable.

Edited: 18 October 2013 at 09:47 AM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 18 October 2013 09:27 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

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