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January 19, 2016
UK Electricity Supply Industry Papers Covering the Period up to Privatisation in 1990

A collection of papers authored by Ray W Orson, and covering a significant period of change in the UK’s Electricity Supply Industry (ESI), has recently been donated to the IET Archives.

Ray W Orson CBE sat on The Electricity Council, the governmental body set up in 1957 to oversee the Electricity Supply Industry in England and Wales. He was its Commercial Officer in the 1970s and 1980s, and was its expert on tariffs until he retired early in 1989. Ray continued to work in the electricity industry for a period before becoming visiting Professor at the University of Surrey.

The deposited papers are primarily reports and memoranda written by Ray Orson. He wrote these documents for The Electricity Council, the National Grid Company, the London Electricity Board and others, and they relate to financial / organisational aspects of the UK’s ESI and its privatisation which began in 1990 following the Electricity Act 1989. The majority of these papers come from the years in the run up to privatisation and during the first year of ESI privatisation in 1990. Topics covered in the reports include; economic pricing in electricity supply; the competitive market and capacity planning; and regulation of public utilities. One of the papers written in January 1989 for the London Electricity Board, on the subject of ‘the competitive market and capacity planning’ (archive reference SC MSS 266/15), is shown below;

Some of the most interesting documents are a series of 6 reports written by Ray Orson for the Spanish electricity company Iberduero through the later part of 1989 and up to 1992. Iberduero was to merge with Hidroeléctrica Española in 1992 to form the Spanish multinational company now known as Iberdrola. Orson provides a report for Iberduero on the ‘about-to-be-privatised’ electricity industry in February 1990, just a month before the new ESI structure was introduced on 31 March 1990. He goes on to provide reports dealing with the first few days and months of operation of the new structure in April 1990 and June 1990. The April 1990 report (archive reference SC MSS 266/31) is shown below;

The collection of papers (SC MSS 266) has been catalogued at item level i.e. each individual report has its own entry in the IET Archives online catalogue. It can be consulted at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, by appointment.


Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 19 January 2016 03:59 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

January 6, 2016
Early ICI Billingham Electrical Engineering Drawings

The IET Archives has recently received a donation of 200 electrical engineering technical drawings relating to ICI Billingham. The large majority of these drawings date to two specific periods, the late 1920s and the early 1950s. The earliest drawing was produced in 1926 and the latest in 1966.

The drawings, primarily of electrical switchgear and transformers at the various substations on the Billingham site, were produced by some noted British electrical engineering suppliers of the time. These include; A Reyrolle & Co of Hebburn, Tyne and Wear; The British Thomson Houston Company, Willesden, London (BTH); and The British Electric Transformer Company of Hayes, Middlesex. The bulk of the drawings, some 140 in total, were produced by A Reyrolle & Co. One of Reyrolle’s drawings, number 10W370, showing a ‘wiring diagram for A gear – summation metering panel’, is shown below.




History of the ICI Billingham Site

In March 1918, the Minister of Munitions gave approval for a factory to be developed at the site, initially known as the Government Nitrogen Factory, which would manufacture ammonium nitrate. Brunner Mond took over the works in March 1920 and ran it as Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates Limited – this name can be seen at the bottom of the drawing shown above.

Brunner Mond, Nobel Explosives, the United Alkali Company and the British Dyestuffs Corporation merged in December 1926 to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). Brunner Mond's Billingham works, that had been run as Synthetic Ammonia Nitrates Limited eventually, although not immediately, became known as ICI Billingham. Most of the drawings in this donation therefore date to the very early years of the existence of ICI. The name of ICI disappeared when the company was acquired by AkzoNobel in 2008.

The reason for the dates of the drawings falling into two main groups is down to two significant periods of development at the site. There was a major expansion of the site around 1928 when the power station and several large production plants were built. This necessitated a large number of new substations around the site, and many of the drawings relate to that expansion. There was then a new wave of expansion in the early 1950s when the power station was extended to meet an increase in demand for steam and electricity.

A paper on the steam and electric power plant at ICI Billingham was written by its designers, Humphrey, Buist and Bansall. This paper appeared in the IEE Journal, vol. 68 no. 406, October 1930, pp 1233-1275, and contained many figures including the site plan shown below.



The paper, which claimed many new features for the plant, was not without a little controversy and the discussions that followed the presentation of the paper, at the IEE in London and also at the IEE’s North-Eastern Centre in Newcastle, had several speakers who stated that some of the features were not as novel as claimed by the designers. The discussions about the paper were also printed in the IEE Journal.

One of those who participated in the discussion about the paper was the well-known electrical engineer Charles Hesterman Merz (1874-1940), who pioneered the use of high-voltage three-phase AC power distribution in the UK. Merz commented, “some of the points specially referred to as novel are, perhaps, not quite so novel as would appear. For instance, the cable tunnels are in accord with recent practice in power stations in various parts of the world.” 

Hand-coloured Engineering Drawings

From a purely aesthetic perspective some of the most attractive drawings are the 16 hand-coloured drawings of The British Electric Transformer Company, two of which are shown below. The first drawing (archive reference NAEST 236/4/8) below is a sectional arrangement of windings for a 1,500 KVA transformer dating to 1929. The second drawing, also from 1929 (archive reference NAEST 236/4/17) is a sectional arrangement of a 750 KVA core type transformer.




The Story of the Rescue of These Engineering Drawings

When the ICI drawing registry at Billingham closed circa 2005, the majority of the engineering drawings were not retained. However a number of the electrical drawings were kept as being of ‘specialist interest’ and it is these 200 retained electrical drawings that form the collection now in the IET Archives.

The depositor, John Wheeler (IET Member) and a colleague were responsible for deciding how to disperse the registry’s historic material. The majority of the historic material went to the Teesside Archives, the photograph collection went to Beamish Museum, and the ‘special interest’ electrical drawings, which were outside the scope of the Teesside Archives, have now come to the IET. The whole archive project was summarised in an article that John wrote for the journal of the Business Archives Council (BAC). It can be found in the BAC journal, Business Archives Principles and Practice, vol. 89, May 2005, pp 53-64.

The collection of drawings (NAEST 236) has been catalogued at item level i.e. each individual drawing has its own entry in the IET Archives online catalogue. It can be consulted at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, by appointment.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 06 January 2016 12:20 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 23, 2015
BTH Research Laboratory - Recently Discovered Oral Histories Circa 1957

A recording of interviews of retired BTH Research Laboratory staff, made around 1957, has recently been discovered by the family of the original interviewer and a digital version of these interviews has just been donated to the IET Archives.

British Thomson-Houston (BTH) Research Laboratories came into existence in 1924 when BTH completed a new building (no.52) at its Rugby works. The first staff, which only numbered 18 people, came together by combining the earlier Experimental Electrical and Insulation Laboratories and the group was led by R C Clinker as Chief. A photograph of the Research Laboratory staff in 1929 is shown below.

Many well-known scientists and engineers passed through the doors of the Research Laboratory over the years and the facility had many noteworthy achievements. Amongst other things BTH Research Laboratory engineers produced the first 16mm sound film in Great Britain, exhibited in 1931, and undertook pioneer work on fluorescent lamps with the first high wattage mains voltage lamps being designed and made in the Research Laboratory.

Discovery of the recording of the interviews

The recordings were made circa 1957 by K J R Wilkinson (image below) who had worked at the BTH Research Laboratory and who in the late 1940s was in charge of the Special Investigations and Measurements Section of the Electronic Engineering Department (this department was split off from the Research Laboratory in 1946).

Mr Wilkinson, later to become Dr Wilkinson, FIEE, sadly passed away in 1985. However his tape recorder survived and had been left untouched until recently when his family came to repair the machine at which point they came across this recording of interviews.

Contents of the Recording

The recording consists of 9 interviews plus a 1956 BBC broadcast made by Charles Clinker about R C Clinker (1874-1931), the first Head of the Research Laboratory. The 9 interviews are quite remarkable, not only giving an insight into the Laboratory and the people that worked there, but also recording the voices of some famous individuals and their stories from their time at BTH.

Sir Hugh Warren (1891-1961) is one of the interviewees. Sir Hugh was initially the Deputy Chief of the Laboratory when it was created but became the Head of the Research Laboratory in 1929. Professor C J Milner, who worked at the Laboratory from 1936 to 1952, and later became Chair of Applied Physics at NSW University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, is another interviewee.

Professor Milner recounts the work at BTH on the klystron working together with Sir Mark Oliphant, Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham. Professor Milner said that during WWII it was policy for BTH to work with and cooperate with Oliphant and his team at Birmingham, with BTH Research laboratories trying to make models of Oliphant’s Klystron. It was deemed vital to the war effort to do something in 3 to 4 weeks. However, BTH couldn’t make a model to Oliphant’s design. After two weeks, the BTH team was split in two and they proceeded to work 24 hours a day for the next 9 days but still to no avail. This work then came to a halt as it was overtaken by work elsewhere on the cavity magnetron for radar microwave generation.

Other BTH Material

This recording is not only the earliest oral history recording (excluding films) that is held in the IET Archives but it is also an important addition to the BTH material that is already held amongst the archive collections. In addition to a range of BTH publications such as, ‘BTH reminiscences: sixty years of progress’, published in 1946, the IET Archives holds an extensive collection of BTH Rugby photographs and glass plate negatives (28 albums and 13,000 glass plate negatives) relating to machinery produced from 1902 onwards at the Rugby site. Two of the images from this collection (archive reference NAEST 74), are shown below. The first image is a District Line train and the second image is of a Croydon Corporation Purley and Thornton Heath Tram.

The IET Archives is also very fortunate to hold a silent 16mm black & white film made by BTH in the late 1920s (archive reference IET/SPE/3/6/56) showing the work carried out at the BTH Research Laboratory on the process of adding sound to film. A still from this film which has now been digitised is shown below.

The BTH Research laboratory oral history recording (archive reference NAEST 237), and other BTH material can be consulted by appointment at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 23 December 2015 01:37 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 8, 2015
Amy Johnson - New Papers Uncovered in WES Archives

Amy Johnson (1903-1941), the famous English aviator shown in the image above, was the first woman pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Either solo or together with her husband, Jim Mollison, she set many long-distance flying records in the 1930s. She died tragically young, before reaching the age of 40, when the Airspeed Oxford she was flying for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), reportedly ran out of fuel, and crashed into the Thames Estuary. Although Amy had bailed out her body was never found.

Amy Johnson was a 2-term President of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), for the years 1935/36 and 1936/37, and had been a member of WES before that. Before and during the years of her Presidency she corresponded frequently with the Honorary Secretary of WES at that time, Caroline Haslett. A file of this correspondence has recently been uncovered in the archives of WES which are held in the IET Archives. This correspondence has now been catalogued at individual letter level with almost all of the letters being transcribed as part of the description. Each of the 85 letters and paper items has also been digitised. Amy is shown below, with Caroline Haslett in the background, addressing the 1935 WES Annual Conference.


Contents of the correspondence

The first of Amy’s letters to Caroline, dating from 9 June 1932, shows her generosity by saying, “use my name on the programme by all means – in fact make whatever use of it you can”. This is the only letter in the correspondence which Amy has signed as Amy Johnson (letter shown below). Amy was to marry the aviator Jim Mollison the following month in July 1932, and thereafter signed her letters sent to Caroline as Amy Mollison (Amy was to divorce Mollison in 1938 and soon afterwards reverted to her maiden name).


Amy spoke on several occasions to WES members. On one such occasion at an 'at home' held at the Club, 20 Regent Street, Monday 10 December 1934, Amy gave an address covering the reasons for the Comet failure (in the October 1934, England to Melbourne air race), lessons of the race, and the ground organisation needed in England – the full 9-page typescript annotated address can be found with this correspondence. At another meeting in January 1935, a debate was held on the topic, ‘that record-breaking flights no longer serve a useful purpose’. Not only is this fascinating given that Amy, who held many such records, was proposing the motion, but also because her husband Jim Mollison was opposing the motion!

A photograph of Amy, her husband Jim, and Caroline is shown below.


It is clear from the letters and their content that a close relationship formed between Amy and Caroline, beyond the relationship of just President and Honorary Secretary. The early letters from Amy all begin ‘dear Miss Haslett’, but by the time of the last letters in the correspondence, dating from 1937, Amy begins her letters ‘my dear Caroline’ and some of the content of the letters is of a more personal nature not just about the administration of WES.

This personal insight can be seen in a handwritten letter from Amy, dated 13 January 1937, sent from Val Mont, Glion sur Montreux, Switzerland, where Amy had been sent by her doctor to rest (letter shown below).


In the letter above Amy reveals her personal concerns by saying;

“I have been thinking a great deal about our talk about Lord Wakefield. It seems to me so strange that the man to whom I owe the most in the world should still be addressing me as 'Mrs Mollinson'. I don't really know him at all & have never even met Lady Wakefield. I sent them flowers for Xmas as I usually do & had such a funny cold note of thanks saying that 'Lady W thanked me for the flowers' & never mentioned himself.”

It was Lord Wakefield together with Amy’s father who funded the purchase of Amy’s plane G-AAAH, a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth which she had named Jason after her father’s business trade mark. By sad coincidence Lord Wakefield died just 10 days after Amy Johnson in January 1941 and both were commemorated in a tribute issue of the Woman Engineer, the WES journal, in March 1941, the cover of which is shown below.


This Amy Johnson / Caroline Haslett correspondence, catalogued as NAEST 92/13/1, can be consulted in the IET Archives at Savoy Hill House.

The archives of WES also contain the ‘appreciation’ written by Caroline Haslett shortly after her death which The Times was interested in publishing. In that tribute to Amy, Caroline said of her;

“All the world knows of Amy Johnson who at the age of 22 flew solo to Australia ten years ago, but it is perhaps those who knew her more closely who were able to appreciate her gifts and abilities, the generosity of her mind, her modesty over real achievement, her unquenchable spirit which, with her keen wit and boundless humour, must have carried her through times of tedium as well as of horrific experience. Whatever Amy did she did it with zest and relish. The sparkle and vigour of her personality communicated itself to all who came into contact with her…..”

Given the above it is very fitting that the new roof terrace in the refurbished Savoy Place will be named the Amy Johnson roof terrace in her honour.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 08 December 2015 11:04 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 25, 2015
Theresa Wallach - Motorcycle Pioneer of the 1930s

In December 1934, Theresa Wallach and her friend Florence Blenkiron set out from London to Cape Town, South Africa, on a 600cc single-cylinder Panther motorcycle with sidecar and trailer. They rode straight through the Sahara desert without a compass to complete a truly astonishing journey in record breaking time, arriving in Cape Town in July 1935.

The June 1935 issue of the Woman Engineer gave the following report about progress on their journey;

“Miss Wallach and Miss Blenkiron are now heading for Nairobi on their motorcycle combination; some of their more unpleasant adventures have included four nights in a tropical jungle without food or shelter, and capture by Tourags in the desert”.

Theresa was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2003 and more about her story and life including photographs can be found on the AMA website here - AMA Teresa Wallach Biography.

Teresa was also a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), whose historic papers are held in the IET Archives, and it was here that we have just uncovered references to Theresa. We are currently cataloguing and scanning, a previously uncatalogued file of WES papers relating to the famous aviator Amy Johnson. Amy was the two-term President of WES from 1935-1937, and the file of correspondence is primarily between Amy and the WES Honorary Secretary, Caroline Haslett, during this period.

Amongst these newly discovered papers are several letters that refer to Amy Johnson (under her married name Amy Mollison) introducing Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron to a WES meeting in London on May 26 1936. One such letter, from Caroline Haslett to Amy, dated 21 May 1936 referring to the meeting is shown below. The reference in the letter to Amy’s ‘latest triumph’ is Amy’s own record-breaking solo flight also from London to Cape Town which took place in May 1936, where she regained her Britain to South Africa record.

A brief report of Miss Wallach’s talk to WES appeared in The Willesden Chronicle on 29 May 1936. The report appeared in this journal because Theresa was a former pupil of Kilburn and Brondesbury High School, within the geographical remit of the Chronicle. This article with an image of Theresa is shown below:

A more lengthy account appeared in The Woman Engineer in June 1936, where it was reported;

“Miss Wallach was introduced by Mrs Mollison, who received a rousing reception, and who referred to many points of difference between her own London-Cape trips and those of the lecturer. In her remarks Mrs Mollison mentioned the earlier motor cycle records gained by Miss Wallach and Miss Blenkiron and also by Miss B Shilling, another member of the WES. With that generosity that is typical of sportsmen, the President made light of the dangers and trials of her own hazardous adventures in comparison with those about to be described. She found one too obvious similarity, however, the definite and complete refusal of all financial backing on the grounds that support would be aiding in sending the enthusiasts to certain death.

Miss Wallach gave a racy account of her adventures, referring lightly to the endurance test of the Sahara, the wild beasts that approached sufficiently close for discomfort, though never for real, the snakes that became part of the day’s experiences, the encounters with tribes in varying degrees of civilisation, the tackling of problems connected with the cycle, with water, with other provisions, including petrol, and, finally to the enthusiastic welcome at Cape Town.”

Theresa’s companion on the journey, Miss Florence C Blenkiron, became an Associate Member of WES in 1938 in recognition of the above feat and her considerable experience of the administrative side of steel production gained in the firm Hadfields Ltd.

More Extraordinary Feats!

The Women Engineer reported in autumn 1939 that Theresa Wallach was the only dispatch rider in the British army and she represented the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the Auto-Cycle Union’s National Rally 22-23 July when she gained a silver plaque. She had also gained her Gold Star in the spring, riding a 350cc Norton. This was the trophy awarded for completing a circuit of the Brooklands track on a motorcycle at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. Only two other women had been awarded the Gold Star (both members of WES).

Theresa’s story is another tale of pioneering engineers, who are perhaps less well known today, whose names are frequently mentioned in the WES archives (archive reference NAEST 92). The new Amy Johnson papers that contain the references to Theresa are expected to be available for consultation in the IET Archives from the New Year.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 25 November 2015 04:37 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

October 14, 2015
The Great Melbourne Telescope

The IET Archives has an ongoing multi-year project to conserve a collection of pamphlets known as the S P Thompson pamphlets. These pamphlets, covering a multitude of scientific and engineering subjects, came to the Institution of Electrical Engineers along with Silvanus P Thompson’s library of rare books in the first part of the 20th century, several years after S P Thompson’s death in 1916. Not only are many of the pamphlets exceedingly rare, but they often have letters within, as S P Thompson used to insert his correspondence, from leading scientists and engineers of the day, within a relevant pamphlet or book.


As a result of the fragility of these pamphlets and their poor general condition, the IET Archives only begins work on researching, cataloguing, and digitising the pamphlets once they have been conserved and can be handled more easily. The image below shows a volume of unconserved pamphlets which is titled, ‘Electric Discharges I’.

Unconserved documents


Despite many volumes of pamphlets being conserved over the years since they came into the possession of the IEE, each volume on a specific subject containing around 30 to 50 individual pamphlets, there remain several hundred volumes of unconserved pamphlets still to be worked upon. We usually manage to conserve around 3-5 volumes each year given the time consuming and expensive process of conservation.


Recently we received 4 volumes back from the conservators including one volume labelled, ‘Telescopes I’ and another labelled ‘Telescopes II’. The pamphlets and catalogues within shed light on a wonderful project called the Great Melbourne Telescope. An image of the conserved volume ‘Telescopes I’, with each conserved pamphlet individually protected, is shown below’.

Conserved documents


The Great Melbourne Telescope


The Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT) was built by Thomas Grubb in Dublin, Ireland in 1868, and installed at the Melbourne Observatory in Melbourne, Australia in 1869. The illustration below, showing the GMT, is taken from a pamphlet found in Telescopes I which records Howard Grubb’s lecture to the Royal Dublin Society in 1869 (Sir Howard Grubb was one of Thomas Grubb’s 8 children and joined his father’s firm in 1864).

Illustration of the Great Melbourne Telescope


The telescope had a 48-inch diameter speculum primary mirror, and was mounted on an equatorial mounting, enabling it to track stars accurately as they appeared to move across the sky. The design had been approved by a committee of British astronomers and scientists. At the time of commissioning it was the second largest telescope operating in the world, after Lord Rosse’s 6 foot reflector at Birr, Ireland, and it was the largest fully steerable telescope in the world.


The telescope was designed to explore the nebulae visible from the southern hemisphere, and in particular to document whether any changes had occurred in the nebulae since they were charted by John Herschel in the 1830s at the Cape of Good Hope.


When Melbourne Observatory closed in 1945 the GMT was sold to the Australian Government’s Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra where it was rebuilt in the 1950s with a modern drive and a new 50-inch pyrex mirror. In 2003 a bushfire destroyed the telescopes and buildings at Mount Stromlo and afterwards the remnants of the 50-inch telescope were transferred to Museum Victoria, which had previously acquired discarded parts of the original telescope in 1984.


Restoration of the Great Melbourne Telescope


A project is now underway to restore the Great Melbourne Telescope to working order so that it may be used for educational and public viewing at its original home at the Melbourne Observatory. The project is a joint undertaking between Museum Victoria, the Astronomical Society of Victoria and the Royal Botanical Gardens. A link to the project’s website can be found here - The Great Melbourne Telescope.


Once the IET Archives became aware of the GMT project we contacted some of the team members to let them know about some ‘Grubb pamphlets’ that had been discovered in Telescopes I. We thought that they might be of interest, if they didn’t already have access to the pamphlets, particularly as the pamphlets contained many technical details about the telescope. The GMT project didn’t have these pamphlets or copies of them amongst its papers and so we were happy to supply digital copies of 5 pamphlets to the project team. The pamphlets supplied were;


‘Royal Dublin Society: afternoon scientific lectures: the Great Melbourne Telescope: a lecture by Howard Grubb CE, May 29 1869’. 17pp.

‘The Great Melbourne Telescope: an examination of and reply to the official reports from Melbourne respecting the instrument, its erection at Melbourne, etc, etc: by Thomas Grubb FRS’. 20pp. This pamphlet was for private circulation only.

‘Telescopic Objectives and Mirrors: Their Preparation and Testing: A Discourse by Howard Grubb delivered as The Royal Institution, April 2 1886’.

‘Report of the Committee on the Melbourne Telescope to the President and Council of the Royal Society’. Dated 19 February 1868.

‘Telescopes for Stellar Photography’, by Sir Howard Grubb. Lecture and following discussion given by Sir Howard April 18 1888 at the Society of Arts.


Museum Victoria kindly supplied us with two recent photographs related to the project (photographs taken by Rodney Start), one of which is shown below.

GMT project image


Museum Victoria also has many 19th century images related to the GMT which can be seen on its website here - GMT Images.


The volume titled Telescopes I included many other interesting pamphlets and catalogues, not just Grubb related material, including a 19th century pamphlet by the German Astronomer Heinrich Louis d’Arrest (1822-1875) which included the plate shown below.


Plate showing the Great Melbourne Telescope

Telescopes I and all the other conserved volumes from the SPT pamphlet collection are held permanently in the strongroom at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, and are available for researchers to view by appointment.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 14 October 2015 02:40 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

September 22, 2015
Reflections from 1947 Concerning Princess Elizabeth and her Future

After the recent celebrations concerning the length of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we have delved back into the IET Archive collections to uncover a fond tribute to the young Princess Elizabeth which occurred in 1947 on the occasion of her engagement to Lieutenant Mountbatten.

The tribute came in a radio broadcast by Dame Caroline Haslett which was heard on the BBC’s Women’s Hour, 10 July 1947 (Women’s Hour, still running today, was first broadcast in October 1946). Dame Caroline became the 1st Secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 and was latterly its President in 1941. From 1946-1954, covering the time of the broadcast, Dame Caroline was the only woman member of the Council of the British Institute of Management. In addition, from 1947-1956 she was also the only woman member of the British Electricity Authority. The Caroline Haslett collection can be consulted in the IET Archives (archive reference NAEST 33).

Dame Caroline met the British Royal Family on many occasions through the various offices that she held and her high regard for Princess Elizabeth can be read in the broadcast script.

The two images below show Princess Elizabeth, the year before the broadcast, with her grandmother Queen Mary during an industrial visit to Battersea Power Station in April 1946, a visit that is referred to in the broadcast script.




Dame Caroline Haslett’s Script

Dame Caroline’s script which is reproduced in full below, discusses the life of the young Princess whilst she was growing up, mentions her interest in industry, and describes some of the visits with which the Princess was involved. Finally Dame Caroline sends ‘loyal and loving wishes’ to Princess Elizabeth and expresses her certainty that the newly engaged couple will ‘carry on and uphold all that is best in the great traditions of our country’.

Almost 70 years after the original broadcast, with Queen Elizabeth still working tirelessly for the country, Dame Caroline, had she been alive today, would no doubt be overjoyed to see that her certainty in 1947 had been so well founded.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 22 September 2015 03:26 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

September 9, 2015
Commemoration of Royal Events in the IET Archives

Today, with the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II surpassing the length of Queen Victoria’s reign, we have taken the opportunity to look through the IET Archives collections to see how the IET’s predecessors and other organisations commemorated notable royal events.

Celebration of Royal Events by the Institution of Electrical Engineers

In 1977 on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, the IEE’s General Purposes Committee (GPC) was tasked with investigating ways of commemorating the Silver Jubilee. Its recommendation was that three undergraduate scholarships were to be awarded annually to mark the event. The relevant paragraph from the GPC report to the March 1977 IEE Council is shown below.


Later that year, in October 1977, the Chief Executive of the City of Westminster, David Witty, approached the IEE about donating a special seat to commemorate the Jubilee which the Council had available for erection along the Embankment in London. This resulted in the IEE donating two seats and the photograph below shows one of the two seats shortly after installation.



Going a little further back in time on the occasion of the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953, the following photograph shows that the IEE chose to mark the event by displaying all the Commonwealth flags on the top of its building at Savoy Place.



Celebration of Royal Events by the Institution of Production Engineers

Another of the IET’s predecessor organisations, the Institution of Production Engineers (IProdE), celebrated royal events in a different manner. The IProdE was formed in 1921 and changed its name to the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers in 1991 shortly before its merger with the IEE also in 1991. The IProdE celebrated both the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 and the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, by producing illuminated manuscripts for the respective monarchs which also showed the institution’s seal. The IProdE made copies of these congratulatory messages and framed them together with the letters received, in each case from the Home Office, which conveyed their Majesty’s thanks. The framed copies are shown below.


Celebration of Royal Events by the Electrical Association of Women (EAW)

Perhaps the most unusual way that a royal occasion has been celebrated can be seen in the EAW collection held by the IET Archives (archive reference NAEST 93). The EAW chose to celebrate the occasion of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip in November 1947 by presenting her with an electric blanket – probably still quite a novelty in 1947.

Princess Elizabeth sent a very warm personal letter in response addressed to Dame Caroline Haslett, who was at that time a Director of the EAW. Elizabeth mentions in particular the monogram embroidered by the students of The School of Stitchery and Lace. The EAW arranged for a photograph of the blanket to be mounted together with the reply from Elizabeth and this is shown below.



Today we celebrate this special day in history by highlighting some of the royal correspondence in the IET Archives that reflects the high regard in which the royal family has been and continues to be held.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 09 September 2015 11:37 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

August 12, 2015
Perpetual Motion in the IET Archives

Further research on a letter and postcard from 1914 has not only uncovered the letter writer, Robert B Clifton, Professor of Physics at Oxford University from 1865 to 1915, but also brought to light an interesting story about a ‘perpetual motion machine’.

Background to the Letter of 31 August 1914

In this letter R B Clifton, who is writing to Professor Silvanus P Thompson, is clearly answering earlier questions put to him by Thompson about the ‘perpetual motion’ machine, also called a ‘toy’ by Clifton which was held at Oxford University’s Clarendon Laboratory.

This perpetual motion machine is still housed at Clarendon today and is known as The Clarendon Dry Pile or The Oxford Electric Bell, a pair of voltaic ‘dry piles’ connected to two bells which have been ringing at Oxford since it was set up in 1840. Here is a link to Oxford’s online exhibition about The Clarendon Dry Pile including an image - Clarendon Dry Pile 

The Letter of 31 August 1914

In the letter, Clifton discusses The Clarendon Dry Pile as follows;

“In 1870 it had to be moved from the Museum to the Clarendon Laboratory and I carried it myself. It was working when I took it from the old house & it started gaily when I put it down in its new home. Since October 1870 it has not been touched and has never stopped action.”

Clifton goes on to say;

“Of all the toys I have ever seen ours is the only one in which the piles are insulated by a covering of sulphur.”

Perpetual Motion Machines and Toys

Perpetual motion, a motion that continues indefinitely without any external source of energy, is impossible due to friction and other sources of energy loss. However, purported perpetual motion machines that could work forever without an energy source and perpetual motion experiments were very popular as ideas/concepts in the early to mid-19th century. Clifton, in his letter, discusses some of these toys, and says;

“When I was at school in Brighton (1846-51) there was a toy of the same type as ours which interested me greatly – it was in the shop corridors of Noakes Chemist etc, North Street, and if I remember right it bore the names of Watkins and Hill as makers. After about 1850 I was often in Watkins and Hill’s shop at Charing Cross – the old shop before Elliott Brothers took the business and moved into the Strand. There I met an elderly man who, as I was told, had made a great lot of these toys, but I cannot recall his name. I have seen several of them in various places but I think our specimen must be nearly the last, perhaps actually the last survivor.”

I believe Noakes’ spider – a spider moving over a web, died before I left Brighton for I have a distinct recollection of grief at the loss of an old friend”.

In his subsequent postcard of 1 September 1914, Clifton mentions another ‘dry pile’ as follows;

“Since I finished my letter I have looked at a Bohnenberger Electroscope supplied by Watkins & Hill to a friend of mine who gave it to me many years ago. The piles, no doubt made by the same man that made those at the Laboratory, are still charged so that the instrument works fairly well when the leaf is a full inch from a terminal of each pile”.

A Bohnenberger Electroscope can be found in Florence’s Museo Galileo and an image and description in English can be found here - Bohnenberger Electroscope.

A Mystery Resolved

Knowing the above story – it becomes very clear why the letter and postcard were stored by S P Thompson in the particular book where the items were found. The book from which the items came was 'Della Pila Elettrica a Secco. Dissertazione dell' Ab. Giuseppe Zamboni' or ‘The Electric Dry Pile. Dissertation’, by Giuseppe Zamboni (1776-1846), published in Verona in 1812. The Zamboni pile was an early electric battery invented by Giuseppe Zamboni in 1812. Images of the title page and figure 1 from this book showing Zamboni piles are shown below.




Who Was Robert B Clifton?

R B Clifton (1836-1921) was the Professor of Experimental Philosophy at Oxford (effectively the Professor of Physics). According to the book ‘Physicists Look Back: Studies in the History of Physics’, edited by J Roche, Clifton was, ‘elected on the basis of one original paper of which he was the junior author and because of the reputation of the excellent lectures he gave as a Professor of Physics at Owen’s College, the forerunner of the University of Manchester’. The book also mentions a, ‘widely accepted view’, that Clifton was chosen by the Electors to the Chair in preference to Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-94) and comments that Clifton had no interest in research, so that during his professorship, there was practically no research at the Clarendon Laboratory.

Experimental Philosophy was first examined as a degree subject at Oxford in 1850 and the Reader, then the Reverend Robert Walker, was promoted to Professor in 1860. Robert Clifton took over from Walker in 1865 and held the office until 1915, the year after this letter and postcard were written. Clifton designed the original Clarendon Laboratory, which was built by 1872 and was the first purpose-built physics laboratory in the British Isles. Further information about the history of Physics at Oxford University, the Clarendon Laboratory and Clifton can be found on the Oxford Department of Physics history web pages here - History of Physics at Oxford.

Where Did the Letters Come From?

The habit of S P Thompson to enclose his correspondence with authors, scientists and engineers within books and pamphlets in his library, now in the possession of the IET, has been mentioned in earlier blogs. This letter and postcard written in 1914 by R B Clifton and sent to S P Thompson had been put to one side in the archives some time ago for further investigation as the writer of the letter and postcard had not been determined at that time. A note kept with the items mentioned the book in which the letter and postcard had been found. Not only is this important for tracking the provenance of an item but also the book forms a very interesting part of the story.

The letters were recently recalled from storage and further work uncovered the author of the letter and postcard. Comments made within the letter such as the fact that Clifton had come to Oxford in 1865 and that his predecessor was the ‘Reverend Robert Walker (elected 1839)’, enabled the pinpointing of Clifton as the letter writer, and the signature at the end of the letter in hindsight is very clearly that of R B Clifton. The letter and postcard have been catalogued as items SC MSS 3/A/207 and SC MSS 3/A/208 respectively and can be consulted in the IET Archives.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 12 August 2015 at 02:40 PM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 12 August 2015 02:22 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

August 4, 2015
The History of Computing - Tabulating Machines

The IET Archives recently received a donation of 6 booklets dating from the 1920s to 1940s covering the subject of tabulating machines which give a fascinating insight into the history of computing and also the forerunners of the well-known computing companies IBM and ICL.

What are tabulating machines?

The tabulating machine was an electromechanical machine designed to assist in summarizing information and, later, accounting information. The machines used punched or perforated cards to add numbers coded on those cards. A typical punched card is shown below.



Invented by Hermann Hollerith, the machine was developed to help process data for the 1890 US Census. It led to a class of machines, known as unit record equipment, and the data processing industry. The term ‘Super Computing’ was used by the New York World newspaper in 1931 to refer to large custom-built tabulator that IBM made for Columbia University.

According to a 1921 article about the Powers tabulating system;

“The complete installation consists of 3 different machines, all of which are electrically driven. These are known as the Punch, Sorter and Tabulator. The whole of these machines are quite easy to operate, and any unexperienced girl can be taught to use either in an ordinary working day.”

Which companies were involved with and made tabulating machines?

Hollerith started his own business in 1896, founding the Tabulating Machine Company. In 1911, 4 corporations, including Hollerith’s firm merged to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company (CTR) and in 1924 CTR was renamed International Business Machines (IBM). A Hollerith tabulator illustrated in a 1929 booklet is shown below.



A competitor for the Hollerith Machine was the Powers Tabulating Machine Company which in 1915 established a European operation in the UK through the Accounting and Tabulating Machine Company of Great Britain Limited which in 1929 was renamed Powers-Samas Accounting Machine Limited.

During WWII the company produced large numbers of Typex cipher machines, derived from the German Enigma machine, for use by the British Armed forces and government departments. In 1959 Powers-Samas merged with the competing company the British Tabulating Machine Company to form International Computers and Tabulators which went on to become part of International Computers Limited (ICL). A Powers tabulator illustrated in a 1929 booklet is shown below.



The changing nature of the 20th century office

The typing pools of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s might seem very old fashioned now, but in the 1930s there were whole departments of large businesses that were dedicated to card punching and tabulating. The images below show the Punching Department and the sorting / tabulating rooms respectively at Cornhill Insurance Company in London in 1938.




The collection of booklets has been catalogued (archive reference NAEST 233) and is available to consult at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 04 August 2015 02:32 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

July 16, 2015
Particle Physics and the IET Archives

A group of four letters recently came to light in the IET Archives which were written from the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge to the Professor of Physics Silvanus P Thompson between 1900 and 1906. The two letters from 1906 were particularly interesting because they were discussing J J Thomson and the electron – Thomson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in the same year that the letters were written (1906) for the discovery of the electron and for his work on the conduction of electricity in gases.

It is fascinating to see how two contemporary physicists view and absorb a new discovery/theory concerning particle physics in 1906 and perhaps compare it with how modern particle physicists have reacted to the discoveries/theories resulting from the work at the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border.

Extract from Letter of 6 March 1906

“My dear SPT, ashamed of delay, but I am lazy. J. J. T. [J J Thomson] atom is not a hollow shell of pos. [positive] E. [energy] it is a solid uniform mass (or sphere) or jelly of it in the substance of which the electrons are embedded. This is to get at law of direct distance, and therefore, the equal periodicity of orbits independent of varying amplitude, shape etc…… I like it much. Of course the treatment of + E [positive energy] is excessively provisional. That is the real outstanding puzzle, and until + E can be tackled the whole theory is vague.”

Extract from Letter of 17 October 1906

“Dear Silvanus Thompson, I am bringing out a new edition of ‘Modern Views of Electricity’. I don’t want to change it much less to reopen it. I shall not be dealing with the electron business: that occurs in another volume; but the old book is often enquired for, and I think would still be useful to elementary students who should not lose sight of the old facts in attending to electrons and new facts…..”

Who Were These Individuals?

Sir Oliver Lodge, FRS (1851-1940), the writer of the letters, was a British physicist and writer involved in the development of, and holder for key patents for, radio. He identified electromagnetic radiation independent of Hertz’ proof and at his 1894 Royal Institution lectures, Lodge demonstrated an early radio wave detector he named the ‘coherer’. Lodge was Principal of the University of Birmingham from 1900 to 1920 and was awarded the IEE’s Faraday Medal in 1932.



Silvanus Phillips Thompson, FRS (1851-1916), the recipient of the letters, was a professor of physics at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury, and was known for his work as an electrical engineer and as an author. S P Thompson was the President of the IEE in 1899.



Sir Joseph John Thomson, OM, FRS (1856-1940) was an English physicist who was appointed to the Cavendish Professorship of Experimental Physics at the Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory in 1884. In 1897 Thomson showed that cathode rays were composed of previously unknown negatively charged particles, which he calculated must have bodies much smaller than atoms and a very large value for their charge-to-mass ratio. He is therefore credited with the discovery and identification of the electron and with the discovery of the first subatomic particle. Sir J J Thomson was awarded the IEE’s Faraday Medal in 1925.

Where Did the Letters Come From?

S P Thompson’s large scientific library and pamphlet collection came to the IEE in the early 20th century some years after his death. Thompson had a habit of enclosing his correspondence with authors and scientists and engineers amongst those books and pamphlets.

In the case of the books any letters discovered inside were subsequently extracted for their own protection and now form a separate collection within the IET Archives. However not all the letters were found at the outset and further ones have emerged since that time. These four letters between Lodge and Thompson probably come from within the pages of those books and pamphlets and had been put to one side at some point over later decades. The letters have been catalogued as collection SC MSS 265 and can be consulted in the IET Archives.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 24 September 2015 at 04:50 PM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 July 2015 03:47 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

May 14, 2015
Nuclear Reactor Plates in the IET Archives

Amongst the items held by the IET Archives are two nuclear reactor plates taken from the Merlin nuclear reactor. However, there is no need for the archivists to get out a Geiger counter every time we bring out the plates because they are information plaques attached to the outside of the reactor. The first plaque, shown below is from the opening of the reactor in November 1959.



The Merlin Reactor and Aldermaston

Merlin was a 5 MW research reactor at Aldermaston Court, Aldermaston, Berkshire, England, which operated from 6 November 1959 until 1962 before its license was revoked/surrendered in 1963. It was the first commercial scientific reactor in Britain and was privately owned and operated by Associated Electrical Industries (AEI). A British Pathé recording of the opening of the reactor (without sound) can be found on the British Pathé website here - Merlin Reactor Opening.

Aldermaston Court is a country house and park built in the Victorian era for the British Member of Parliament, Daniel Higford Davall Burr (1811-1885) with elements incorporated from buildings of earlier centuries that had been present on the site. In 1939 AEI bought the house and immediate grounds for £16,000, but despite this purchase, the government soon earmarked the location for an airfield, RAF Aldermaston. During WWII the land and house were requisitioned by the government as a barracks for the Women’s Land Army.

After the war, the airfield remained in use but after the airfield’s closure in 1950, the park was returned to AEI, which used it as a plasma research laboratory. AEI built the now demolished reactor between the house and its lake. This facility became the UK’s Atomic Weapons Research Establishment later the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) for research, commissioning, and de-commissioning of most such weapons.

How did the plaques come under the care of the IET Archives?

A little of the provenance of these items is unclear but they most likely came into the archives with the donation of the papers of Douglas Richard Chick, FIEE.

In 1946 Chick joined the Research Laboratory of AEI at Aldermaston, where he was appointed Section Leader of the Nuclear Physics Section. He later became Group Leader of the newly-formed Nuclear Sciences Group. In 1963, after the closure of the Merlin reactor, Chick moved to become Research Manager of the Vickers Company Research Laboratory, Ascot, where he remained until 1966, when he was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the new University of Surrey. The Chick papers include many of AEI’s research papers including reports about the Merlin reactor.

The second plaque, which is shown below, perhaps hints at the frustration of the engineers, technicians and scientists at Aldermaston when the Merlin reactor was shut down in 1962.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 14 May 2015 09:01 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

May 1, 2015
Can You Really Trust a Label?

On occasion objects come into the archive collections which are labelled and usually these labels are taken at face value unless there is good reason to believe otherwise. However, we recently examined an object label which caused us to question the accuracy of the information on the label.

Through a chance set of circumstances two particular boxes of objects were brought back to the IET Archive Centre from storage at the same time. Once those boxes had arrived it was noticed that the online catalogue showed two items with a different reference number, supposedly one in each box, and each with an identical description.

The description for both items was ‘gavel set presented to the IEE by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers upon the centenary of the IEE in 1971’.

The first thought was that there must be some duplication in the catalogue and there was an expectation that upon examining the contents of the boxes we would find that only one gavel existed. However, when we opened the boxes we did find a gavel set in each box.

The first gavel (new reference OPC/1/161/7) is shown below:

The wood for the gavel and stand match (wood colour and grain) and there is a metal engraved plate which says ‘THE INSTITUTION OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS - CENTENARY YEAR. Presented by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers, 17 May 1971'

The second gavel (new reference OPC/1/161/9) is shown below:



The mount (in 2 sections), with typed label glued to the base, and its associated gavel appear to be a second gavel gift set (the set is the same colour and wood grain - though these are different from the first gavel set) presented by the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Technician Engineers to the IEE upon its centenary in 1971.

Which is the real gavel presented by the IEETE to the IEE in 1971?

Whilst it is possible that the IEETE gavel the IEE two sets of gavels and stands this would be highly unusual. If the IEETE only presented one gavel set then the question becomes which set is likely to be the genuine set? Our belief is that the top gavel set is the original as someone has gone to the effort of having a metal plate engraved and this would be an appropriate treatment for a centenary presentation gift from one professional body to another. It is also unlikely that an organisation would stick a typed label to such a high profile gift.

Our guess, and it is no better than a guess, is that the second gavel set was discovered without a label at some point after 1971 and that it was assumed to be the IEETE’s gavel gift. The 1970s was a period well before the advent of archive cataloguing software and tracking tools such as barcodes and even the IEE’s Archives only came into existence after 1970.

The catalogue entries for these two gavel sets have now been amended to refer to each other and to mention the uncertainty about the provenance of the second gavel set.

Note: The IEETE and the IEE are both predecessor organisations of the IET. The IEETE, after a number of mergers and name changes, was one of the organisations that merged to form the IIE in 1998, which itself merged with the IEE in 2006 to form the IET.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 01 May 2015 04:54 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

April 10, 2015
Early History of the IEE in the North-East and a Recent Discovery

The first local centre of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in the North-East was the Newcastle Local Section which was formed in 1899. The Teesside Branch was spun out of this Section in 1912 and became the Teesside Sub-Centre in 1919 whilst the Newcastle Local Section itself changed its name to the North-Eastern Centre in 1919.

A Recent Discovery of Early Minutes Belonging to the Newcastle Local Section

In 2014, a donation was made to the IET Archives of the minute book of the Newcastle Section (archive reference IET/CEN/15/1/94). The donor had no idea how the minute book came to be in his attic but we were nevertheless very grateful to receive this wonderful volume. The minute book covers the period 1913 to 1921 and includes not only the minutes of the Newcastle Local Section Committee and its successor the North-Eastern Centre Committee but also includes minutes of the Teesside Branch Committee.

Other than a list of the members of the 1913-1914 Dinner Committee pasted to the inside cover, the first entries are for the Annual General Meeting of the Section held in Armstrong College on Monday 26 May 1913 and the 12th Committee Meeting of the Section for the 1912-13 session held again at Armstrong College, Monday 22 September 1913. These first entries are shown below.



The minute book gives a particularly valuable insight into the regional activities of the IEE. Until the discovery of this volume the IET Archives only held the minutes of the North-Eastern Centre dating from after 1920.

Formal regional groupings of IEE members around the UK were called Centres for most of the 20th century. Centres organised most of their own affairs, and whilst they would usually send copies of their minutes to the IEE at Savoy Place in London they were under no obligation to send their original records to the IEE’s archives. The original IEE Centre minutes that exist today in the IET Archives are those that particular centres chose of their own volition to send to London and several gaps remain in the series of Centre minutes.

Are minutes really that interesting?

The IEE Centre minute books from the early 20th century are quite unlike a modern set of minutes where there is typically only a brief record of a meeting and where much of the detail is in the supporting reports. The early minute books were written in great detail, were very wide ranging and contain much social history as well as personal opinions.

As might be expected the Newcastle Local Section minute book contains details of lectures, visits, and dinners that formed key elements of the Section programme. For example the first lecture mentioned, which was given at the 1913 AGM, was on the subject of ‘notes on gas engines’ given by Albert P Pyne (many years later Albert became the Chairman of the Section). The September 1913 Committee minutes noted a recent visit to see the SS Tynemouth at the Walker Shipyard belonging to the famous shipbuilders Messrs Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson. Swan Hunter was well-known in the early 20th century for its building of RMS Carpathia in 1903 and RMS Mauretania in 1913. The SS Tynemouth of Newcastle was stranded off the coast of Northumberland in May 1913 and was probably in the Swan Hunter shipyard for repairs. The 1913 Board of Trade wreck report on the Tynemouth can be found here - SS Tynemouth wreck report. 

The minutes also discuss cooperation with the IEE in London and subjects of particular interest to the Section/Centre. There is also an example of the Centre adopting a different attitude to the IEE Council. In March 1919 the Centre Committee wrote to other Centres about an IEE Council decision to support a Board of Trade report on electric power supply with which the North-Eastern Centre ‘regretfully’ could not concur.

There is a significant amount of coverage in the minutes of the relationship of the Section/Centre with other technical and engineering organisations in the region such as the Junior Institution of Engineers and given the period covered there is a large amount of material relating to WWI.

The extract from the minutes shown below comes from a meeting held Monday 30 July 1917 in the boardroom of another famous North-Eastern engineering company, Merz & McLellan. The minutes shown discuss the proposed formation of an Electric Light & Signal Company and the committee proposed seeking the immediate cooperation of the Chamber of Commerce Electrical Section to organise a mass meeting of the electrical industry to bring this about.



Prominent and Noted Engineers Involved with the North-Eastern Centre

Many well-known engineers were Committee members and they have signed the pages of the minutes or have added entries by hand. These individuals include;

C Vernier (Section Chairman 1913).

Philip Vassar Hunter (Section Chairman 1914-1916 and President of the IEE 1933).

Henry William Clothier (Section Chairman 1916-1917).

Albert Henry Weaver Marshall (Section Chairman 1917-1918).

Albert P Pyne (Centre Chairman 1918-1919).

William Cross (Centre Chairman 1919-1920).

James Robert Beard (Centre Chairman 1920-1921 and President of the IEE 1940).

The eminence of the individuals can be illustrated by Philip Vassar Hunter (photograph below).



Philip Vassar Hunter was made the Head of the Electrical Department of Merz & McLellan in 1909, was loaned to the Naval Staff as Chief Engineer of the Experiments and Research Section of the Anti-Submarine Division for WWI, and after the war became Joint Manager and Chief Engineer of Callender’s Cable and Construction Company. When British Insulated Callender’s Cable Co (BICC) was formed in 1945 he became a Director and Engineer-in-Chief and later he became Deputy Chairman of the company.

P V Hunter as well as being the IEE’s President in 1933 was also made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1951 and the IEE recorded a film of him in 1951 as it did of many other Honorary Fellows and Faraday medallists. The IET Archives holds film files including the scripts for many of these films including that of P V Hunter in which he talks about his experiences and work in WWI and WWII and the power distribution work carried out by Merz in the early 20th century.

History of Technology TPN Event in Newcastle – June 2015

There has always been a strong relationship between engineering and the North East of England and on the weekend of 6-7 June 2015 at the Newcastle Discovery Museum there will be a conference on the history of power generation, distribution, utilisation and other engineering specialisms. This conference is being organised by the History of Technology TPN and there will be an opportunity to visit the Discovery Museum’s ‘Arcs and Sparks’ collection. There will also be an optional visit on Sunday 7th June to Cragside House, a National Trust property which was the first private residence to employ hydroelectric power.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 10 April 2015 03:09 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

March 16, 2015
Transatlantic Cables, Mermaids and Messages in Bottles

The IET Archives has several important collections of papers, photographs and other material related to transatlantic telegraph cables. In particular collections related to the 1st and 2nd transatlantic cable expeditions of 1858 and 1865/66 respectively are frequently consulted by researchers. 

More information about these expeditions, including images, can be found on the IET Archives web pages here The First Transatlantic Telegraph 1858 and also here The Transatlantic Telegraph Cables 1865-1866. The IET Archives also holds segments of various transatlantic cables. The image below shows a section of what was to become the 2nd transatlantic cable.



The cable has been set in a brass ring and mounted on a wooden block probably intended as a presentation gift. The words inscribed on the brass ring are ‘ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH CABLE 1864’. The date might be a little perplexing as the 2nd transatlantic telegraph cable expedition didn’t commence until 1865. However, the cable for this 2nd expedition was already being manufactured by the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co. Ltd (Telcon) in 1864 and the cable was being stowed, and continually tested, on board the ship Great Eastern where the water tanks protected and preserved the gutta percha insulation (see ‘The Cable: The Wire That Changed the World’, by Gillian Cookson, 2003, p.140).

The manufacture of the cable was eventually completed in May 1865 and an invitation was sent out by Telcon to witness the completion of the cable’s manufacture on 29 May 1865 (invitation shown below in included in the ‘1865 Telegraph Album’, reference SC MSS 254).



Mermaids and the Early Transatlantic Cables

The state of progress with the transatlantic telegraph cable project featured regularly in the pages of the press of the day, and cartoonists often took the opportunity to poke fun often employing images of Neptune and mermaids. The illustration below is one such cartoon, published in Punch, 5 August 1865, and it accompanied a 5 verse poem titled, ‘Neptune to the Mermaids’ which celebrated the cable but implored the mermaids to leave it alone!



The caption for the cartoon titled, ‘a word to the mermaids’, has Neptune saying, “Ahoy there! Get off of that ‘ere cable can’t yer – that’s the way t’other one was wrecked!!!”

Later Transatlantic Cables

Another transatlantic cable collection in the IET Archives is that of Cecil Herbert Finnis (1885-1951), an electrical and mechanical engineer involved with Siemens Brothers’ cable laying vessel the CSS Faraday. (collection SC MSS 77). This includes Cecil’s handwritten diary from a cable repairing expedition carried out by the CSS Faraday in 1903. The cable to be repaired was that belonging to the Direct United States Cable Company (DUSCC) which had been laid in 1875.

The extensive diary entries include depth soundings and weather conditions from every one of the 73 days spent at sea beginning May 19th 1903. The diary begins, “started from Charlton [on the Thames river], opposite the works at about 6 pm. Father and some of the gents accompanies us to Gravesend & left at 8pm with the cry, ‘Simla’ after a lunch at 7 pm.”

The CSS Faraday was built in 1874 at Newcastle upon Tyne and was purpose-built for Siemens Brothers as William Siemens had found chartering vessels for cable-laying totally unsuitable. Over 50 years SS Faraday laid over 50,000 metres of cable before being sold for scrap in 1924. More information about the CSS Faraday can be found on the website titled History of the Atlantic Cable. Siemens’ own website also has a history of Siemens involvement with the transatlantic cable the DUSC and the CSS Faraday and can be found here Siemens and the CSS Faraday.

The image below is one of several photographs taken by Finnis on that expedition using a Kodak box camera and shows individuals on the deck of the CSS Faraday.



Message in a bottle

One of the more unusual items in the Finnis collection is a handwritten note that Finnis originally put into a bottle and dropped into the sea on Thursday 23 July 1903, the day on which the final splice of the DUSC took place. In that letter shown below, Finnis offered to pay a reward and expenses to any finder of the message in a bottle who returned it to Finnis at his home in Chiswick.



The letter was found over 5 months later by Joseph Andrew on Praa Sands beach near Marazion in Cornwall, UK on 12th January 1904 and it was returned by Mr Andrew to Cecil Finnis in order to obtain the reward (letter shown below).



To view and consult any of the items mentioned above please contact the IET Archive Centre.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 March 2015 03:48 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

February 19, 2015
28 February 2015 - 80th Anniversary of the Birth of British Radar

On the 26th February 1935 a test took place known as ‘The Daventry Experiment’ which is considered to be the precursor of radar in Britain. The test involved the Daventry transmitter of the BBC’s Empire Service and an RAF Heyford bomber which had been assigned to this test by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

The full story of The Daventry Experiment, written by Brian Austin appears in the February/March 2015 issue (issue no. 153) of the vintage radio enthusiast magazine ‘Radio Bygones’. I am grateful to Brian for allowing me to extract elements from his story.

The plan was for the bomber pilot, Flight Lieutenant R S Blucke to fly to Daventry where, on arrival, Blucke would fire a Verey light to indicate his presence. He would then follow a particular course that would take him along the transmitted beam from the BBC transmitter at an altitude of 6,000 feet. After executing an about turn over some designated marker he would fly back to Daventry while losing altitude to around 1,000 feet. After firing another Verey light he would then return home.

On the ground, near to the village of Weedon, Sir Robert Watson-Watt and A P Rowe from the Air Ministry had joined Arnold Wilkins, a Scientific Officer at the Radio Research Station (RRS) a vastly experienced radio engineer, together with the driver of a converted Morris ex-ambulance that was used as the RRS’s ‘travelling laboratory’. The previous night in preparation for the test, Wilkins and the driver had erected two parallel antennas in a co-operative farmer’s field.

When Blucke’s aircraft appeared on the morning of the 26th February it was initially well to the east of the agreed flight path and no indication of its presence appeared on the cathode ray tube (CRT) screen. However, on its next pass, now closer to the observers, there were definite variations on the CRT screen – described by Wilkins as a ‘rhythmic beating’. This happened again on the following run and Wilkins and Watson-Watt estimated that they were able to observe the Heyford over a distance of about 8 miles.

There was much more to be done before Watson-Watt’s eventual radar system, came into existence but it all began with this Daventry experiment.

Sir Robert Watson-Watt and Radar

Sir Robert Watson-Watt (1892 – 1973), known as the father of British radar, was celebrated in an IEE History of Technology lecture in February 1993 to mark the centenary of Watson-Watt’s birth. Sir Robert, who had been a member of the IEE, had also been at one time the Chairman of the IEE’s Radio Section. An abstract from that lecture, written by the lecturer, Professor R Hanbury Brown, is set out below;

“Radar was ‘invented’ by Watson-Watt in response to an enquiry about a death-ray. His great achievement was not simply to invent a new gadget; it was to apply this invention to an urgent and historically important problem, the air defence of Great Britain. The original work on RDF, as radar was called, started secretly in 1935 at Orfordness. In 1936 it was moved to a nearby mansion, Bawdsey Manor, where for three years Watson-Watt was the Superintendent and the lecturer was a junior member of the staff. The principal objective to this early work was to develop a chain of radar stations to detect and locate enemy aircraft so that Fighter Command could intercept them. The first, almost disastrous, attempt to demonstrate this use of radar in 1936 is described. In due course a chain of radar stations (CH) was built all-round the coast and proved to be a vital factor in the defence against daytime raids of the Battle of Britain. For defence at night Watson-Watt, perhaps prompted by Sir Henry Tizard, foresaw the need for a radar to be carried in the fighter and in 1936 he started the first and only team in the world working on airborne radar. Radar-equipped night-fighters (AI), guided by ground control radars (GCI), were used effectively against the heavy night raids in 1941. In 1938 Watson-Watt left Bawdsey for the corridors of power in Whitehall. After the war he formed a small firm of scientific consultants and eventually moved to Canada.”

A video version of the lecture was made featuring Professor Brown presenting his lecture material, interspersed with many images and film clips (archive reference IET/SPE/3/2/7/1). It covered Watson-Watts' history and his involvement with the early days of radar. The video has been digitised and is available to watch via the IET Archives Centre.

Professor Brown worked with Watson-Watt at Bawdsey Manor as a junior member of the team and tells many fond stories about Watson-Watt including his humorous use of unintelligible phrases which Brown used to ‘collect’. The image from the video below shows the Professor mentioning one such phrase which is captioned. Watson-Watt used this phrase when describing his position in the UK to Chiefs-of-Staff in Washington.



IET Archive letter from Sir Robert

Whilst the IET Archives does not hold a great deal of Watson’s-Watt’s own material there is a curious letter in the IET Archives in the Owen S Puckle collection (NAEST 101) written by Watson-Watt in New York to Puckle – see image below.



In the letter Sir Robert thanks Puckle for an earlier letter of congratulation (Puckle assisted in the development of the ‘Radio Location’ device). Whilst Sir Robert received many accolades during his lifetime and held many official positions with various institutions it is not clear to what the earlier congratulatory letter refers as most of Sir Robert’s awards came earlier in his life than 1952. Watson Watt did re-marry for the second time in 1952. He married Jean Wilkinson, a Canadian, the widow of historian Professor George M Smith, so perhaps Puckle was referring to Sir Robert’s forthcoming marriage?

For those interested in the history of radar the IET Archives also holds many relevant collections including Sean Swords’ collection of papers on radar (NAEST 144). Sean Swords wrote the ‘Technical History of the Beginnings of RADAR’ in 1986 and this collection comprises correspondence and material used in the production of that book. For example there is a copy of the 1935 letter to H T Tizard from A P Rowe regarding the secret memorandum prepared by Watson-Watt on the possible use of electromagnetic radiation for air defence.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 19 February 2015 05:17 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

February 11, 2015
Artistic and Literary Connections in the IET Archives - Diana Lodge

Within a recent donation to the IET Archives covering several different collections, there was a single audio cassette tape, unrelated to the other items and annotated ‘Diana, Colin and Tom Lodge 1995’. The tape recording was donated by the researcher who in 1995 interviewed Diana, Colin and Tom Lodge at Diana’s home of ‘Trillgate’ in Slad, Gloucestershire and this was a tape of that interview. A copy of a painting of ‘Trillgate’, painted by Diana and used as a card illustration, is shown below.



The reason for conducting the interview was that the researcher was interested in the eminent British physicist and writer Sir Oliver Lodge FRS (1851-1940) who was involved, amongst other things, with important developments in wireless telegraphy. Diana Lodge, the interviewee, was the 2nd wife of Sir Oliver’s eldest son also called Oliver Lodge. Diana had many memories of Sir Oliver Lodge from her earlier life and it is some of these memories that are recorded on the cassette tape.

In addition to his important scientific contributions Sir Oliver Lodge is also known for his studies in psychical research and spiritualism and he wrote many books on the subject. For those interested in finding out more about Sir Oliver, the 1974 biography called, ‘Sir Oliver Lodge’, by W P Jolly, can be found in the IET Library. The IET Archives also has a number of letters written by Sir Oliver Lodge to W H Preece (see collection NAEST 21). For example in the letter below dated 4 March 1898 Sir Oliver writes to Preece about his magnetic telegraphy scheme about which he says, ‘naturally I should like the Government to take it up, as I believe that it is the most powerful and by far the simplest plan possible’. This letter is shown below.



Given the importance of Sir Oliver Lodge it would be easy to overlook the interviewee, Diana Lodge, but Diana also had a fascinating, but very different life.

Diana Lodge

Diana Lodge (1906-1998), the Welsh painter, was born Diana Violet Irene Mabel Uppington, and became the second wife of Oliver W F Lodge in 1932. Oliver William Foster Lodge was a poet, author and painter unlike his 5 brothers who all qualified as engineers. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group and associated with artists such as Eric Gill and David Jones.

Oliver W F Lodge met Diana Uppington, 10 years after the death of his first wife in childbirth, when she answered his advertisement for a model. Diana had previously modelled for other artists and had appeared on stage as a Tiller Girl. Following Oliver’s death in 1955, Diana changed her name by deed poll to Diana Kohr following her involvement with the Austrian economist Leopold Kohr, who had met Oliver and Diana in the USA during WWII. She changed her surname back to Lodge in 1966 following her separation from Kohr. Continuing the literary connections Diana was also a neighbour and friend of the writer Laurie Lee. A television documentary for HTV called ‘Inner Journeys’ by Jonathan Stedall was aired in 1993 and covered personal stories of ten individuals including Diana.

Given Diana’s background it is perhaps fitting that the first story she tells during her interview is about visiting her father-in-law in the period before WWII (after Sir Oliver’s wife Mary had passed away). At that time Diana recalled that two of Sir Oliver’s daughters, Lorna (1892-1987) and Norah (1894-1990) took it in turns to stay with Sir Oliver and look after him. Diana stayed with Lorna and they, together with another daughter Violet, visited Sir Oliver at his home, Normanton House, and pretended to be a Russian dancing troupe. Diana remembered Sir Oliver putting an arm around her shoulders and saying, ‘this one can dance’! Diana also recalled that every night before bed at Normanton House they would dance, typically a waltz.

The interview, around 55 minutes long, only contains a limited number of stories and comments about Sir Oliver, typically tributes about his character. The interview, which was also conducted with Diana’s sons Colin (1944-2006) and Tom (1936-2012), contains many more reminiscences about Sir Oliver’s other children including Brodie (1880-1967) and Alec (1881-1938) who set up the Lodge Plug Company and also Raymond who died in WWI at Ypres. It was a poignant moment during the interview when Diana read out 2 poems written by her late husband Oliver W F Lodge, one in memory of Oliver’s brother Raymond, and one in memory of his father Sir Oliver.

Tom Lodge, another interviewee was no less interesting. He moved to Calgary, Canada, when he was 18 and became a cowboy, a used-car salesman, a fisherman and a gold-miner before becoming an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. On his return to the UK he was involved with the launch of Radio Caroline and became one of its presenters (Tom’s obituary can be found in The Independent, 2 April 2012).

The audio cassette has been digitised and catalogued (reference SC MSS 236) and it can be consulted in the IET Archive Centre.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 11 February 2015 05:22 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

January 27, 2015
The Schrödinger's Cat Conundrum - What Really is in the Box?

Stretching the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment analogy – the IET Archives recently received a small box that supposedly contained a ‘permanent detector’ a component that was used in connection with crystal radio sets of the 1920s. A permanent detector made by the company Radio Instruments (RI), made by the company between 1922 and 1930, was what was advertised on the box – but was that really the item that could be found in the box?

Well there was something in the box and it looked a little like the illustration on the outside of the box, but it was definitely a different object. Upon very careful examination, in a certain light, at a certain angle, the faint lettering ‘Brownie Permatector’ could be found.

This item was nothing to do with the eponymous dessert square, developed in the US at the end of the 19th century, but instead a permanent detector made by a rival firm to RI called the J W B Wireless Company (Brownie was a brand name). Both companies manufactured permanent detectors for crystal radio sets in the 1920s. The Brownie permanent detector found in the box, which the company introduced in 1926, is shown below.



The crystal radio receiver, or crystal set, contained a .cat’s-whisker detector, an electronic component consisting of a thin wire that gently touches a crystal of semiconducting mineral. The Brownie permanent crystal detector shown above comprises a nickel-plated housing with a crystal and whisker inside the housing. The whisker could be fixed permanently at a sensitive point on the crystal hence the term ‘permanent detector’.

Given the above, we now have evidence of one reality in answer to the Schrödinger cat conundrum. What is inside the box – it is a cat’s whisker!

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 27 January 2015 04:56 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

January 22, 2015
Electrical Technical Papers of the 1950s and Radio Objects from the 1920s/1930s

The IET Archives recently received a donation of electrical technical papers, dating primarily from the period 1949 to 1955. These papers were amassed by Edward J Back when he was working as a Technical Assistant in the 1950s for the Consulting Engineering Department of the Company Johnson & Phillips. Edward Back was a Graduate member of the IEE before becoming an Associate Member in 1953. This collection has been catalogued with the reference SC MSS 262.

Whilst many of the papers and articles were from journals that can be found in the IET Library such as ‘Distribution of Electricity’, ‘Electrical Times’, ‘The Electrical Journal’ and ‘Electrical Review’, these readily available articles were interspersed with letters and memoranda typically written by S Austen Stigant the Technical Adviser at Johnson & Phillips. The papers are organised by subjects including cables, electro-technology, rotating machinery, transients, and transmission.

The subject matter is understandable given that Johnson & Phillips was a cable making and wire rope machinery company founded in 1875 which by the 1950s had become a specialist in the area of transmission transformation and control of electricity. It manufactured electric cable, cable accessories, switch gear, transformers, capacitors and overhead line materials. It was acquired by the Delta Metal Company in 1964.

The collection is a useful addition to the IET Archives technical collections, particularly because the collection includes brochures and publications of other companies involved in the manufacturing of electrical equipment such as the English Electric Company, British Insulated Callender’s Cables (BICC), and Ferguson Pailin. The illustrations below are from a BICC publication from the early 1950s for its power capacitors which show a layered section diagram of its automatic power factor correction equipment for capacitors.

All layers of diagram showing;



Overlay 1 removed;



Radio Objects from the 1920s/1930s

As is quite often the case with collections of papers formed by individuals, some small objects, related to the individual are donated along with the papers. In this case Edward Back was likely to have been a radio enthusiast because the collection included a radio microphone dating from the period 1935-1940, inductors used in radios (coils of wire wrapped on a Bakelite core), and a permanent detector used in crystal radio sets from the 1920s.

The Telsen Electric Co (1935) Ltd ‘Ace’ spring-suspended microphone (type 68) is shown below;




Telson Electric Limited was a British firm that made a spring-suspended microphone (Ace brand) from 1930 to 1939. The company, founded by A Macnamara, based in Birmingham was active from 1924 to the 1940s, and manufactured wireless broadcast receivers, components, microphones and construction kits. It was founded by A Macnamara and had a cabinet making department which made the furniture into which the wireless receivers were built. It purchased Bakelite cases from Edwin Elliot of Birmingham; produced components for the building of a home wireless receiver, and produced blueprint layouts for home construction. The company went into receivership in 1935 but was then bought out of receivership. After this the company traded as The Telsen Electric Company (1935) Limited.

Telsen microphones were used for both home recording and public address. The Science Museum has a Telson microphone in its collection but that is a different model, likely to be a model 58, rather than the microphone above which is a model 68. Here is a link to the model in the Science Museum collection. Telsen Ace microphone at Science Museum.


SC MSS 262 can be consulted in the IET Archive Centre. Details for visiting the Archive Centre can be found on the archive web pages here - Archive Centre details.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 22 January 2015 03:11 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

January 16, 2015
The Education and Training of Engineers Born Between 1915 and 1925

The subject of the training and education of engineers has been a topic very dear to the hearts of the members of the IET and its predecessor organisations for decades going back to the 19th century. These subjects appear time and again in the minutes of these organisations such as within the IEE’s Council minutes. Material on education and training can also be found extensively throughout the other, non-organisational collections, found within the IET Archives such as the papers of Sir Arthur Fleming (NAEST 70) who established a trade apprentice school at what became Metropolitan-Vickers.

Training and availability of engineers has been an issue that many governments have sought to address and concerns have resulted in many significant reports such as ‘Engineering Our Future’, known alternatively as the Finniston report, published in 1980, and shown below.



The subject remains very topical and when EngineeringUK’s report, ‘Engineering UK 2015: the state of engineering’, was published earlier this week, it received widespread media attention

Given this background the IET Archives has been fortunate to receive a recent donation of questionnaires and related correspondence which was the output of a project undertaken in 1994 and 1995 to look at the education and training of engineers born between 1915 and 1925.

The 1994/1995 Survey of Engineers

Dr Colin Hempstead, an academic at the University of Teesside, carried out a survey in 1994, targeting engineers who had been born between 1915 and 1925. Dr Hempstead sought participants via 'IEE News' in 1994 and via other channels such as the 'Newcomen Bulletin'. He asked engineers born between 1915 and 1925 to complete a survey questionnaire about their education and training. The questionnaire was very detailed and asked questions under the categories of; personal details; education; qualifications; training, funding of education and sociological information such as mother’s and father’s occupation, reasons for leaving school and reason for becoming interested in engineering.

Many of the respondents provided additional personal histories and biographical information to supplement the completed questionnaires. Whilst the survey was not exclusively aimed at the Institution of Electrical Engineers and its members, the majority of completed questionnaires came from IEE members from who circa 150 replies were received.

This detailed information on the educational and training background of engineers in the first half of the 20th Century is likely to be a very useful and valuable resource for researchers in the future but they will have to wait for several more decades before these records are made available for open consultation.

As this collection contains detailed personal information on individuals who provided this information relatively recently in 1994/1995 the files will remain closed to researchers in the short to medium term in line with the IET Archives’ closure policy in respect of collections containing personal or sensitive information. Using extracts of information from the collection, where individuals cannot be identified from the information provided, would be possible in the intervening period.

This new deposit has been catalogued as SC MSS 261, although the catalogue entries do not mention the name of individual respondents to preserve anonymity until the closure period has expired.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 January 2015 02:46 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

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