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April 23, 2015
IEE Institutional Involvement in WW1 - Council Minutes Extracts - April 1915

Council meeting of 15 April 1915

“The following replies were reported as having been received in answer to the Council’s circular (see Minute No.407, 25 March 1915) to ascertain how many members, residing in the London area, would be willing to join the proposed Engineers’ Volunteer Training Corps:-

Class                           Affirmative         Doubtful             Negative              Total

Members                     19                      29                      21                         69

Associate Members   39                     26                      33                         98

Associates                     6                        9                        4                         19

Graduates                      1                        3                        7                         11

Students                         3                        1                      11                         15

TOTAL                           68                      68                      76                      212

It was agreed that this information be placed at the disposal of the Central Association Volunteer Corps so that enrolment forms may be issued by them, and that the views of the Local Section Committees in Great Britain be obtained before any action is taken in regard to members residing outside the London area.”

“The President reported that he had received a letter from the Institution of Civil Engineers asking him and another member to be nominated by the Council, to associate themselves with the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and Sir John Wolfe Barry KCB, FRS, in making some representation to the Local Government Board, and subsequently if necessary, to the Treasury, with reference to the subject of the discrimination to be used in the restriction of expenditure upon engineering works for the public service at the present time (see Minute No.397, 11 March 1915) and to its bearing upon engineering and other activities in regard to the conclusion of the war.

It was agreed that Mr C P Sparks be appointed to serve with the President in this capacity.”

“The President brought before Council certain suggestions made to him by Mr Lawford Grant, Local Honorary Secretary for Canada, in regard to taking steps for the formation of a Local Centre of the Institution in Canada.

It was agreed that a draft letter, to be approved at the next meeting, be sent to Mr Grant explaining that, in the opinion of the Council, the present time is inopportune for adopting the proposal, but that it will be further considered after the termination of the war.”

“Letters (10 February and 30 March 1915) were read from Mr A V Mason inquiring whether anything can be done in regard to issuing badges to Central Station Engineers who have been prevented from joining His Majesty’s Forces on account of their services being required for the working of electricity stations.

It was agreed to inform him that the Council cannot undertake to issue badges as proposed, but that it is understood that certain supply companies have already done so on their own initiative.”

Council meeting of 29 April 1915

“The President reported that he had received letters from the President of the Institution of Gas Engineers pointing out the difficulties which are being experienced in connection with coal as regards:-

(a) depleted stocks;

(b) difficulty in obtaining fresh supplies;

(c) abnormal prices;

and suggesting a National Conference or representatives of gas and electricity undertakings to discuss the question of making concerted representations to the government on the matter, and asking the Council to grant the use of the lecture theatre for this purpose n Thursday 6th May at 3pm.

It was unanimously resolved:

(1) to agree to the suggested Conference and to grant the use of the lecture theatre as requested.

(2) that each electricity undertaking in the United Kingdom be invited by circular to send a delegate to the Conference, the Institution of Gas Engineers sending a similar circular to the gas undertakings.

(3) that Mr J S Highfield and Mr C P Sparks be appointed to attend a joint meeting at the Institution of Gas Engineers on Friday 30th April, to make the preliminary arrangements.”

“The President reported that at the request of the Engineering Adviser of the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps, enrolment forms had been sent on its behalf to those who had expressed willingness to join the proposed Engineer Volunteer Training Corps.”

“A letter (29 March 1915) was read from the Honorary Secretary of the Engineer’s Unit of the National Guard, asking the Council to appoint a representative of the Institution to serve on the Committee which is being formed to manage the affairs of that Unit.

It was agreed that in view of the negotiations now in progress no useful purpose can be served by appointing a representative as desired.”

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 23 April 2015 01:31 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

WWI Experiences of Philip Vassar Hunter, IEE President 1933 and Honorary Fellow 1951

P V Hunter was the IEE’s President in 1933 was also made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1951. The IEE recorded a film of him in 1951 and the film script reveals his experiences working in the Navy’s Anti-Submarine Division in WWI. His story, extracted from that script, is as follows;

“During the latter part of the 1914-1918 war, I was loaned to the Naval Staff as Chief Engineer of the Experiments and Research Section of the Anti-Submarine Division, engaged on developing new methods and devices for anti-submarine warfare. Captain W W Fisher RN was Head of the Division and Professor W H Bragg was Chief Scientific Officer. We three formed a Committee under the Chairmanship of Captain Fisher, which controlled all new work in the development of anti-submarine warfare. I was soon satisfied that the only method likely to give positive results was the supersonic echo. This was being developed by a young Canadian physicist named Dr Boyle who had been a pupil of Rutherford at Montreal. His scheme was to utilise the pieso-electric effect of quartz to produce supersonic reflections from the hull of a submarine. This all seems quite commonplace now but in 1917 it was, even by skilled technicians and physicists, regarded as visionary and impracticable. However, Boyle stuck to his guns and I shall never forget the day when he took me on board his little pinnace [note: a pinnace is a ship’s light boat propelled by oars or sails] in Harwich Harbour and, by means of lash-up equipment, obtained echoes from the submarines and destroyers lying at anchor there.”

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 23 April 2015 01:21 PM     World War I     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)  

April 9, 2015
8th, 9th and 10th IEE Members to Fall in World War 1

Three IEE members fell in quick succession in the first few days of April 1915. Major Henry Herbert Stanley Marsh died 2nd April 1915, Lance-Sergeant Edgar Hoyle died 5th April 1915 and Trumpeter Norman Victor Foote died 7 April 1915.

Major H H S Marsh, a Canadian, commanded the 4th Field Company, 2nd London Division Engineers. His company was detailed on 1 April 1915 to dig some new trenches about 200 yards from the enemy’s line near Givenchy. While he was superintending the work he was hit in the abdomen and left hand by the fragments of a German shell which exploded nearby. He was conveyed to the Military Hospital at Béthune, where he succumbed to his injuries the following day.

Lance-Sergeant E Hoyle joined the Honourable Artillery Company shortly after the outbreak of war and was posted to its 1st Infantry Division. In January 1915 his Battalion was transferred to the 7th Infantry Brigade (3rd Division) and in March 1915 Edgar was promoted to Lance-Sergeant. On 5th April his unit was ordered to take over some trenches near Voormezeele to the west of St. Eloi. Having arrived at the point of the line to be held by his Company, he superintended the movement of his men into the bays assigned to his Platoon and had just begun speaking to his brother (Leonard Arthur Hoyle, AMIEE) who was serving in the Battalion with him at the time, when the enemy opened fire. Edgar was hit in the chest by a rifle bullet and died a few minutes later.

Trumpeter N V Foote, an Australian, as soon as the Government of the Commonwealth made known its intention to raise a Force for active service in Europe, re-enlisted in the First Contingent raised in Australia for the purpose, and was posted to his former regiment, now one of the units of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade. He sailed in the Star of England for Egypt 25 September 1914. On 30 January 1915, on his Regiment moving from Meadi, he accompanied his Squadron and went into camp with it at Zietun. Later his Squadron was stationed at Heliopolis. Whilst there he became ill with pneumonia, and was at once admitted into the Station Military Hospital, where 10 days later on 7 April 1915, he succumbed to his illness.

Photographs of Major Marsh, Lance-Sergeant Hoyle, and Trumpeter Foote and their obituaries were published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.








Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 09 April 2015 03:40 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

April 8, 2015
New content from Knovel

The IET library subscribes to nearly 300 full text book titles from Knovel. This content is updated yearly to refresh the selection and add new content into the subscription.


Here, I will give a brief outline of four titles:

The most used resource last year was:
Electrical Engineer's Reference Book (16th Edition)
Laughton, M.A.; Warne, D.F.

Electrical Engineer's Reference Book (16th Edition)













This text covers the following subject sections: General principles; materials and processes; control, power electronics and drives; environment; power generation; transmission and distribution; power systems; sectors of electricity use.

We also have a new edition of the popular:
Machinery's Handbook (29th Edition)
Oberg, Erik; Jones, Franklin D.; Horton, Holbrook L.; Ryffel, Henry H
Machinery's Handbook (29th Edit







Our new additions include:
Wind Power - The Industry Grows Up
Busby, Rebecca L.

Wind Power - The Industry Grows Up







A balanced and comprehensive view of the wind power industry

Simple Solutions to Energy Calculations (5th Edition)
Vaillencourt, Richard
Simple Solutions to Energy Calculations (5th Edition)

Building managers identify what to look for and how to evaluate before making a decision about which guarantee is better for their building and which ESCO can best deliver energy savings.

To see a video of a Basic search tutorial

To access the service:

Sign into the IET website and go to:


Edited: 10 April 2015 at 08:54 AM by Mike Dunne


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 08 April 2015 03:33 PM     Library     Comments (0)  

March 27, 2015
IEE Institutional Involvement in WW1 - Council Minutes Extracts - March 1915

Council meeting of 11 March 1915 

“The President brought before the Council the question of the Treasury restriction on loans to municipal authorities during the war. After discussion, it was agreed that the matter is one in regard to which the Council cannot usefully take any action.”

“In regard to the proposals recently before the Council (see Minute No.354 and No.360, 28 January 1915) relating to certain volunteer organisations, the president stated that he had received a letter from General Sir O’Moore Creagh, VC, inviting the Council’s co-operation in the formation of an Engineers’ Volunteer Corps affiliated to the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps.

It was agreed that the President should meet the Committee of this body with a view to obtaining a concrete proposal for submission to the Council, and that he be authorised to send a circular to the members on this matter, should he think it desirable to do so.”

Council meeting of 25 March 1915

“The deaths of one Associate Member and one Student, who had lost their lives on active service, and the resignations of two Associates were reported.

It was resolved that letters of condolence expressing the sympathy of the Council be sent to the families of all members who are killed or die on active service.”

“Mr H C Gunton attended at 4.45pm and explained to the Council the conditions under which it was desired to form an Engineer Volunteers Training Corps, affiliated to the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps (see Minute No.398, 11 March 1915). It was resolved that a circular be sent to members residing in the London area to ascertain how many would be likely to join the proposed Corps, if formed, and how many are already members of Volunteer Corps, and that the terms of the circular and reply form for this purpose be drawn up by the President and Mr Duddell.”

“A letter (15 March 1915) was read from Mr A Bergtheil suggesting to the Council that the discussion of certain commercial problems connected with the electrical industry should be introduced by the Institution, in order to assist electrical engineers and manufacturers to deal more successfully with commercial problems involving the capture of Germany’s trade.

It was agreed that Mr Bergtheil be informed of the action taken by the Council in appointing a German Trade Committee, and of the substance of the report presented by the Committee after consultation with representatives of the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association (see Minute No.337, 14 January 1915).”

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 27 March 2015 03:49 PM     World War I     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)  

7th IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Sapper W W Pullen

Sapper William Walter Pullen of the Divisional Engineers, Royal Naval Division, died 12 March 1915, the seventh member of the IEE to die in World War 1. He was the 1st Assistant Engineer in the Electricity Department of Leatherhead Corporation when the war was declared in summer 1914 and he relinquished his position shortly thereafter to serve in H M Forces.

Having enlisted in the newly raised Divisional Engineers, Royal Naval Division, in September 1914, Sapper Pullen’s unit was allotted to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in early 1915 which set sail for the Dardanelles on 28th February 1915. Sapper Pullen embarked on board HMT Somali but whilst on the voyage he fell victim to ‘spotted fever’ and was landed at Malta. He passed away in the Royal Naval Hospital, Malta, on March 12 1915, just a few days after being put ashore.

A photograph of Sapper Pullen, and his obituary were published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.


Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 16 March 2015 12:47 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

March 10, 2015
Sixth IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Second-Lieutenant J L Moffet

Second-Lieutenant John Leeson Moffet of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, attached to the 2nd Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers, died 10 March 1915, the sixth member of the IEE to die in World War 1. He was an Assistant Engineer with the Chloride Electrical Storage Company in Manchester when the war was declared in August 1914 and he relinquished his position shortly thereafter to join the Army.

Second-Lieutenant Moffet died during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (March 10-13 1915) when on March 10th, whilst leading his Platoon, he came under machine-gun fire and was killed instantaneously.

A photograph of Second-Lieutenant Moffet, and his obituary were published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.





Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 10 March 2015 03:00 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

February 20, 2015
IEE Institutional Involvement in WW1, Council Minutes Extracts - February 1915

Council meeting of 11 February 1915

“The following Report of the Examinations Committee was adopted in regard to a suggestion (see Minute No.351, 28 January 1915) that territorial Officers of the R.E. and R.G.A. and Officers holding temporary commissions in these two Corps should be exempted from the Associate Membership Examination:-

‘Under the existing Examination Regulations, Commissioned Officers of the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and Royal Navy (Lieutenants (T) and Engineering Branch) who have passed through the full prescribed course at the recognised Military and Naval Schools are by reason of their training at these Schools exempted from the Associate Membership Examination. The Committee recommend that no change be made in this rule and that the suggested future exemptions be not granted’.”

“On the recommendation of the Science Abstracts Committee it was agreed that application be made to the Committee on Trading with the Enemy for a licence to import certain German and Austrian technical publication abstracts from which were, until the war, regularly published in Science Abstracts, and to ask the Physical Society to concur in the application.”

“A letter (2 February 1915) was read from some members of the Institution at present serving in the Divisional Engineers Unit of the Royal Naval Division, with reference to their subscriptions.

It was resolved that a letter be written informing them of the decision of the Council on this question (see Minute No.234 (b), 4 September 1914).”

“A letter (9 February 1915) was read from Mr A R Tankard, of the Chemical and Bacteriological Laboratories, Hull, suggesting that the Council pass a resolution bringing to the notice of the Prime Minister, the War Office, and the Foreign Secretary, the serious consequences to the British Empire and its Allies of the action of the Government in allowing ship cargoes of cotton to proceed unmolested even when the admitted destination is Germany.

It was agreed that the matter was not one which could properly be dealt with by the Council, and that Mr Tankard be informed accordingly.”

Council meeting of 25 February 1915

“A letter (13 February 1915) was read from the Secretary of the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders, stating that a meeting of that Institution would be held on the 26th February 1915 when a report on the events which have led up to the classification of Engineer Officers as part of the Military Branch of His Majesty’s Navy would be presented by Mr D B Morrison; and requesting the Institution to nominate a representative to express an opinion on the effect which the raising of the status of these officers has, or will have on:-

(a) Naval efficiency.

(b) The status of the engineering profession generally.

The President reported that owing to the short time available he had replied that the Institution would not be able to appoint a delegate, and his action was approved.”


“The following reports of the Finance Committee were received and adopted [only point (a) shown]

(a) The Wounded Allies Relief Committee have been unable to accept the Council’s offer in regard to the first floor rooms (see Minute No.338(a), 14 January 1915).

“It was resolved to circulate among the members of Council copies of a letter (21 February 1915) from Lieutenant H L Bazalgette RE asking for non-technical magazines or illustrated papers for the use of a searchlight detachment stationed near Plymouth under his charge.”

“Mr Duddell reported that, as the result of an appeal made by him to past and present members of Council, he had been able to send the following articles to the men of the Engineer Units of the Royal Naval Division:-

1st instalment

177 pairs of socks

147 pairs of mittens

52 scarves

17 belts

8 helmets

2nd instalment

100 scarves

100 pairs of mittens

27 pairs of socks

12 cardigans

12 jerseys

13 helmets

11 packets of chocolate

8 shirts

4 belts

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 20 February 2015 04:42 PM     World War I     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 17, 2015
Fifth IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Lance-Corporal J A Donald

Lance-Corporal Josiah Alfred Donald of the Divisional Engineers, Royal Naval Division died 14 February 1915, the fifth member of the IEE to die in World War 1. In August 1914, Josiah relinquished his position with Blackpool Corporation in order to serve in HM Forces and enlisted in the then newly raised Divisional Engineers, Royal Naval Division in September 2014. Following military training Josiah served as a Despatch Rider in No.38 Signal Section at Upper Walmer, Kent and was appointed Lance-Corporal 2 February 1915. Only a few days later, he was given sick leave and sent home to Blackpool where he died suddenly of heart failure on 14 February.

A photograph of Lance-Corporal Donald, and his obituary were published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 17 February 2015 04:56 PM     World War I     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 30, 2015
IEE Institutional Involvement in WW1 - Council Minutes Extracts - January 1915

Council meeting of 14 January 1915

“Arising out of a letter (31 December 1914) from Captain Harrison, Adjutant to the Divisional Engineers, R.N.D., asking for the assistance of the Institution in raising an additional Field Company for these Units, the Chairman reported that the President had authorised the letter to be published in the Journal and had arranged for a paragraph relating to the matter to be sent to the Technical Press.

An amended Report (Ref. 167/3) of the German Trade Committee, copies of which had been circulated, was received and adopted (see Minute No.309, 26 November 1914). It was resolved that the Committee be continued to consider and report to the Council on any questions which may arise in regard to securing for British manufacturers trade hitherto done by Germany and Austria-Hungary.”

“Reports and recommendations of the Finance Committee on various matters were received, and it was resolved as indicated below under headings (a), (b), (c), and (d) [Note: only points a and b have been extracted]:

(a) Wounded Allies’ Committee

With reference to letters (14 and 15 December 1914 and 9 January 1915) from Mr S M Fane, of HM Office of Works, writing in his private capacity, it was resolved that an offer be made by the Council to let the whole of the office accommodation on the first floor to the Wounded Allies Committee at a rental of £15 a week, the Institution paying rates and taxes and providing heating and lighting. (In regards to the fact that some of the rooms in question are at present occupied by a Department of the Admiralty free of rent, it is understood that the Office of Works will find accommodation elsewhere for this Department in the event of the rooms being let to the Wounded Allies Committee).

(b) Enlistment of Members of the Staff

No members of the Staff, except S V Henning, having availed themselves of the arrangements sanctioned by the Council (see Minute No.233, 4 September 1914), it was resolved that the offer be withdrawn, and that further enlistments be subject to the approval of the Finance Committee, who will also deal with the question of salary in each case on its merits, and keep the employees’ position open until his return.”

“It was agreed that a copy of the list of Members of the Institution on Military Service about to be published in the Journal should be sent to each member whose name appears in the list.”

Council meeting of 28 January 1915 

“It was agreed to refer to the Examinations Committee for consideration and report a recommendation of the Membership Committee that during the present war, Territorial Officers of the R.E. and R.A., and also Officers holding temporary commissions in these two corps, be exempted from the Associate Membership Examination.”

“A letter (19 January 1915) was read from the Mayor of the City of Westminster, requesting the Institution to nominate a representative to serve on a Grand Committee which is being formed to consider the details of a scheme for the formation of a City of Westminster Volunteer Guard. It was agreed that Mr W M Mordey be nominated for this purpose.”

“Arising out of a letter (6 January 1915) from the War Office, thanking the President for his recent nominations for commissions in the Royal Garrison Artillery (see Minute No.297, 12 November 1914), it was agreed that the President should discuss with Major-General Ruck, Major Dumaresq, and Mr A P Trotter, the question of approaching the authorities with a view to the President of the Institution being empowered to make nominations for commissions in the Royal Engineers.”

“The President mentioned to the Council certain representations which had been made to him in regard to the suggestions recently before the Council (see Minute No.293, 12 November 1914) that subscriptions be invited from members of the Institution to present:-

(a) A motor transport searchlight to the London Electrical Engineers (T) R.E.

(b) A range-finder to the Divisional Engineers of the Royal Naval Division.

After discussion it was agreed to re-affirm the previous decision of the Council.”

“A letter (26 January 1915) was read from Mr W N Twelvetrees asking whether the Council would support a movement for the formation of an Engineers’ Company or Battalion as a technical branch of the ‘City of London National Guard Volunteer Corps’. It was agreed that before any action be taken the Council of the Central Association of Volunteer Corps be consulted and also, through Mr Mordey, the Committee of the City of Westminster Volunteer Guard.”

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 30 January 2015 01:31 PM     World War I     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)  

January 6, 2015
Oral History and Papers Related to the H W Sullivan Instrument Company

The IET Archives recently received a donation of cassette tapes and notes relating to an oral history project carried out in the late 1990s. These items have now been catalogued as NAEST 221 and the audio cassette tracks have been digitised.

The oral history project recorded interviews with several people who were intimately involved with H W Sullivan, the noted British instrumentation company, which began life in 1897 and was taken over by Cambridge Instruments in 1967. Cambridge Instruments was itself taken over by George Kent and then Thorn. In 1972 Thorn, which ultimately became Thorn EMI, moved the manufacturing of Sullivan products from Orpington, Kent, to its Dover, Kent, site where Thorn was already manufacturing instrumentation under the AVO brand. The Sullivan brand was maintained for a period and was still being used in the early 1980s. H W Sullivan was known for its precision test equipment and measuring instruments such as Wheatstone bridges and galvanometers. An H W Sullivan product is illustrated below, taken from a telephone cable testing equipment catalogue circa 1955.



The product below is one of the last products with the Sullivan brand name and comes from the late 1970s.



The donation was particularly welcome because the IET Archives already has an extensive collection of instrumentation material. Collection NAEST 145 comprises the trade literature and technical manuals of AVO International Ltd including its predecessor companies such as, Thorn EMI Instruments Ltd (renamed Megger Instruments Ltd in 1987), Evershed and Vignoles, and of course H W Sullivan. The HW Sullivan element alone of NAEST 145, mainly technical literature and manuals of the 2nd half of the 20th century, fills 9 archive boxes. 

Brief Chronology for H W Sullivan

1856 Herbert Watson Sullivan born in Malta.

1870 H W Sullivan apprenticeship with Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co Ltd.

1873 H W Sullivan joined Eastern Telegraph Co, Gibraltar.

1878 H W Sullivan became an Associate Member of Society of Telegraph Engineers (STE).

1879 H W Sullivan joined Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co Ltd.

1892 H W Sullivan became a Member of the IEE (formerly STE).

1893 H W Sullivan granted galvanometer patent.

1895 Donald Arthur Stevens born.

1897 Company H W Sullivan formed; offices at 19 Gt Winchester St; works at Old Broad St.

1914 Works address changes to 104-6 Middlesex St.

1921 Donald Stevens BSc (Civ. Eng.) at KCL, goes to Africa.

1922 The company HW Sullivan Ltd formed with DA Stevens, Lt Commander Walter George Bishop & James Hayne Stevens.

1925 Herbert Sullivan dies and Donald Stevens takes charge.

1927 Company factory moves from Middlesex St (Petticoat Lane) to Leo St, Peckham.

1963 Company factory moves to Murray Road, Orpington.

1964 Donald Stevens retires, with his sons Brian and David Stevens taking over.

1966 Donald Stevens dies.

1967 Company taken over by Cambridge Instruments.

1968 Company taken over by George Kent, with Bill Goldfinch as General Manager.



1970 Company taken over by Thorn.

1972 Thorn moves manufacturing of Sullivan products to Archcliffe Road, Dover site with AVO.



1980s Possibly the last use of the Sullivan name in advertising.

The H W Sullivan Interviews

The interviews were typically around 90 minutes long and took place with the following five individuals (summary transcripts of the interviews were made at the time of the recordings);

1. Mrs Mabel Stevens, widow of Donald Stevens. Donald Stevens ran the company from 1925 until 1964, taking over the running from Herbert Watson Sullivan.

2. Mr David Stevens, son of Donald Stevens, who jointly with his brother, Brian, took over the running of H W Sullivan from his father in 1964. Donald focuses particularly on the subject of sales.

3. Mr John Lewis who covers the topic of the H W Sullivan office and personnel and who ultimately became Personnel Director for the whole of Thorn-EMI Electronics.

4. Mr Chris Jones who covers the subject of resistance testing and gives a colourful shopfloor viewpoint.

5. Mr Bill Goldfinch who deals with the subject of the Cambridge Instruments takeover in 1967. Cambridge Instruments was taken over by the George Kent Group in 1968 to form the largest independent British manufacturer of industrial instruments. The George Kent Group was itself taken over by Thorn in 1970. Bill Goldfinch was the General Manager of George Kent Group.

In addition to providing very detailed accounts of the operations of the company, its staff, the competitive environment, and the company’s financial performance, the interviews give some fascinating insights into British industrial and social history.

Mr Jones talks of joining H W Sullivan in August 1941 at the age of 13. At that time the company was “in the hands of the bank who put in Mr Burrows as Manager”. When he was being interviewed in July 1941, he was told he could start on August 4th and when he protested that he would not be 14, the minimum age for work at that time, he was told, “if you want the [expletive] job you start on Tuesday”.

Mr Lewis tells a different story from the war period, “we weren’t used to people walking around without their coats on, they didn’t do it. Mr Stevens always came in a black coat, waistcoat, and black striped trousers. I remember during the war my mother bought me a pink shirt with a Trubenised [brand name] collar at the market, and at five past nine I was on my bike back home to change into a white shirt with stiff collar having been asked didn’t I realise you only wore coloured shirts on Saturday.”

The digitised audio files for NAEST 221 can be consulted in the IET Archive Centre. Details for visiting the Archive Centre can be found on the archive web pages here .

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 10 February 2015 at 03:54 PM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 06 January 2015 08:55 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 23, 2014
IET Archives 16mm Film Digitization Project

The IET Archives has just completed a project involving the digitisation of some of its 16mm film collection, a project which has been running throughout 2014. 34 films, none of which had previously been converted to other formats, and had therefore been unavailable to view within the IET for several decades, have now been digitised. Browse versions of these films are now available in either .mov or .mp4 formats for viewing on computers and other devices or alternatively they can be copied to a DVD format if required by enquirers. The IET Archives also holds these films in an uncompressed file format for long-term preservation purposes.

The majority of the films digitized, date from the 1930s to the 1950s, and are short 7-10 minute films of individuals who had been awarded the IEE’s Faraday Medal or who had been made IEE Honorary Members. Most of these films were made specifically for the IEE, following a particular award. The still below comes from a film made in 1934 of Sir John Ambrose Fleming, 7th recipient of the Faraday Medal, when it was awarded by the IEE in 1928. Fleming, who invented the thermionic value in 1904, was aged 85 when he took part in this film.

The film was a British Thomson-Houston (BTH) Electrical Recording. BTH was founded as a subsidiary of the General Electric Company of the US but came into British ownership when it was amalgamated with Metropolitan-Vickers in 1928 to from Associated Electrical Industries (separate BTH brand identity remained until 1960).



The image below is from another of the digitised films but is a little different in that is a General Electric Company film, made in the US in 1932. The film is of Professor Elihu Thomson who was the 6th recipient of the Faraday Medal when it was awarded by the IEE in 1927. In the film Thomson, the person shown on the left below, talks about the merger of the Thomson-Houston and Edison companies to form GE, his life, and also his inventions (Thomson took out 700-800 patents).



Elihu Thomson (1853 to 1937) although born in Manchester in 1853, moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1858. Together with Edwin J Houston he founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in the US in 1883 which was one of the precursors of the General Electric Company of the US which was formed in 1892. The GE film above was an RCA Photophone recording and the interview was carried out by Thomson’s friend, Edwin W Rice Jr, Honorary Chairman of GE at that time, on the lawn of Mr Rice’s home in Schenectady, NY.

The frame above shows a steam train passing by in the background, the sound of which can clearly be heard on the film. This is quite appropriate given that Thomson talks on the film about the development of the railways amongst other things.

Film from the 1920s – BTH’s Work on Sound on Film

The 16mm digitisation project also included two early 20th century films that were donated to the IET in 2013 from a former BTH employee. One film (without sound) from the 1930s is of the production by BTH of its well-known Mazda branded light bulb and shows the complete process of manufacturing, packaging and distribution at its factory. A still from that film is shown below.



The second film (again without sound) is another BTH film, this time from the 1920s, and shows the company’s work on developing films with sound (the technology for synchronizing electrically recorded audio to a picture image on a commercial basis was developed by several competing companies in the US and UK in the late 1920s).



Coincidentally the IET Archives has several collections containing BTH material, in particularly a collection referenced as NAEST 74. NAEST 74 is a very large group of photographs and glass plate negatives of early BTH sites, equipment and manufacturing processes and installations, primarily covering its Rugby factory. It covers 28 albums and 13,000 glass plate from the period 1898 to 1939. The company products included induction motors, alternators, switchgear, turbo-generators and turbines, as well as a large number of rotary converters and motor converters, primarily for chemical plants. In the period before the First World War, BTH manufactured most of the equipment for railway electrification in Britain and equipped more than fifty tramway systems. In addition the company carried out a great deal of work for the new London Underground lines.

In the New Year the IET Archive online catalogue will be amended for those 16mm films that have been digitised to make it clear that digitised versions of the films are available. Anyone interested in a copy of the digitised films should contact the IET Archive Centre via phone on 020 7344 8407 or via e-mail using

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 23 December 2014 01:33 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 22, 2014
Fourth IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Major A Gardiner

Major Alec Gardiner of the Royal Engineers, died 20 December 1914, the fourth member of the IEE to die in World War 1. In October 1914 Major Gardiner was appointed Field Engineer with the Lahore Division of the Indian Corps. The Indian Corps which was in the neighbourhood of Arras in the middle of December 1914 received orders to attack all along the front on 18th December and the fighting continued on the 18th and 19th December. The Germans succeeded on December 20th 1914, in breaking through the line held by the Indian troops and on the same evening Major Gardiner was reported missing. It was 6 months later that the fact that he had fallen in action was definitively established when his grave was disturbed by an enemy shell, exposing his body to view, and he was recognised by the remaining identifications marks.

A photograph of Major Gardiner, and his obituary, including the full details surrounding his death were published in the IEE World War I Honour Roll and these details have been reproduced below.





Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 22 December 2014 02:36 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

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