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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)  

December 17, 2014
Peter J Baxandall Condenser Microphone Papers

A file of papers recently deposited with the IET archives contained over 40 years’ worth of primarily technical notes, thoughts and ideas on the subject of the condenser microphone written by the audio and electronic engineer Peter J Baxandall. The notes cover the period from the early 1950s to the early 1990s. The condenser microphone, also known as a capacitor microphone or electrostatic microphone, was invented at Bell Laboratories in 1916 by E C Wente. Two images of a condenser microphone from amongst the Baxandall papers, probably of experimental models taken circa 1965, are shown below.




Baxandall (1921-1995), wrote a chapter on electrostatic loudspeakers for both the 1st edition (1988) and the 2nd edition (1994) of the Loudspeaker and Headphone Handbook, that is sometimes referred to as the seminal work on the subject. He also contributed chapters on 'power amplifiers, control units and preamplifiers' which appeared in the 1st and 2nd editions (1994 and 1999 respectively) of the Audio Engineer's Reference Book, edited by Michael Talbot-Smith. However, he had already gained significant attention in the early 1950s for his bass and treble circuit or tone-control circuit about which he published details in Wireless World, October 1952, and which was used in hi-fi audio systems.

Biographical Details for Peter J Baxandall

Peter Baxandall, born in 1921, was educated at Kings College School in Wimbledon before going on to study electrical engineering at Cardiff Technical College, Wales. He graduated with a BSc (Eng) in 1942.

Following graduation Peter spent two years as a radio instructor for the Fleet Air Arm before joining the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE), based at Malvern, where he began work in the Circuit Research Division. He worked for the RSRE until his early retirement in 1971. After that Peter continued to work as an electroacoustical consultant.

Projects on which Peter worked as a consultant included; audio-frequency transformers, radio-frequency carrier microphones, powered loudspeakers, dipole and electrostatic loudspeakers, loudspeakers with motional feedback, bandbass loudspeakers, oscillators, high-speed tape-duplicating equipment, and high-precision microphone calibration methods.

Peter was closely associated with the Audio Engineering Society. He became a Fellow of the AES in 1980 and was awarded its Silver Medal in 1993 which is given in recognition of outstanding development or achievement in the field of audio engineering. Peter died in 1995 and an 'in memoriam' tribute to him was published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, vol.44 no.9, September 1996.

Collection Contents

For anyone with a technical interest in microphones there are dozens of Baxandall’s handwritten notes detailing his experiments, ideas for solving problems, and thoughts and comments on published technical literature. The note titles, written in the first half of 1965 are shown below as an illustration of the types of material to be found.

'Data from advert by International in Journal of the AES', dated January 1965.

'Circuits of transistorized rf condenser microphones', based on article in the January 1965 issue of the Journal of the AES by H J Griese.

'Thoughts re tension and diaphragm in cardioid condenser microphone', dated April 1965.

'Thoughts on what should be done about rf microphone system', dated 19 May 1965.

'Design of miniature pressure capsule', dated 9 June 1965.

'Own thoughts on cardioid capsule theory', dated 19 June 1965.

Peter’s technical notes are interspersed with correspondence with microphone manufacturers, orders for materials for his experimental equipment, and discussions with others who had an interest in the field. It is interesting that there are several notes on the subject of Reg Williamson’s condenser microphone capsule because ultimately this file of material passed to Reg Williamson upon Peter’s death – there is a letter with the deposit dated 1996 (the year after Peter’s death) in which Reg recalls the visit to Peter’s house when he picked up this file of material on condenser microphones. Reg also recalls leaving ‘a vast amount of paperwork’ which he expected to be dumped.

The Peter J Baxandall papers have now been catalogued (reference SC MSS 260) and are available to view in the IET Archives. The contents of the collection can be viewed in the IET Archives online catalogue.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 10 February 2015 at 03:50 PM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 17 December 2014 05:03 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 15, 2014
Discover your engineering past at the IET Archives
Engineering history is rich and varied, full of innovation and pioneering achievements. The IET boasts some of the world's most famous electrical engineers, responsible for the creation of the telegraph, telephone and the revolution of the distribution of electrical power. At the IET Archives we are fortunate to have personal papers of individual engineers and corporate records that chart these developments. If you are interested in a particular aspect of engineering or tracing your family tree the collections within our archive can be an invaluable source.

Image of Oliver Heaviside and his family.

This blog has been written to promote the launch of our new family history leaflet. It supplements what you can find in the leaflet and on our website under the family history section.

Our heritage
The IET was founded in 1871 as the Society of Telegraph Engineers but through an amalgamation with the Institution of Incorporated Engineers in 2006 our predecessor institutions date back to 1854. The Society of Telegraph Engineers began as a learned society for those involved in the electric telegraph industry but to keep up with technological developments of the time it changed its name to the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1889. Since then the IEE amalgamated with the Institution of Radio Engineers (IERE) in 1988 and the Institution of Production Engineers (IMfgE/IProdE) in 1991.

It's a family affair
If you are researching your family history or the life of an individual we may be able to help you with some details concerning their profession. Although the term 'electrical engineer' in the nineteenth century did not denote affiliation with a professional organisation if you see the post nominal MIEE (Member), AMIEE (Associate Member), or FIEE (Fellow) then they were members of the IEE.

Our membership application forms from 1871-1901 can help fill in the gaps about an individual's employment, education and social circles. The printed lists of members from 1871-1997 can trace geographical movement as well as mobility through the membership categories. It is now possible to browse a list of members from 1871-1930 online, view the full record and download an image of the original thanks to a partnership with

Part of this project was to digitise over 170,000 electrical engineer records. Records were selected and scanned on site at Savoy Place, London, using the most current scanning technology to produce high quality images. These are now fully searchable by name, date of birth, location and date of application. For more information on how to access these records please visit our family history section of our website

Other records to help further your study
If the person you are researching was not a member of our Institution we can still help by looking through the Electrical Trades Directory (known as the Blue Books) published from 1883. Within these pages are information on electrical firms, advertisements and an alphabetical classified section on individuals. We also have some other institutional records from the IERE, IProdE and IIE.

Occasionally an obituary or biography may have been written about certain members and published in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (JIEE) or in the Blue Books directory.

In addition to paper records we also have some photographs, portraits and films of notable engineers. These include past Presidents, Faraday Medallists and Honorary Fellows.

Our military records can help to learn more about an engineer's role during the two world wars. Some contain biographical information such as the First World War Roll of Honour, which holds details on the member, where they were stationed, military action and how they died.

We also hold a number of interesting collections relating to women in engineering and science, education and the importance of domestic electricity.

Francis Hughes Webb, Secretary of the Socieity of Telegraph Engineers, seated with a child.

Contact us for some advice

If you would like to know more about our records please visit our family history pages on our website or see our new family history leaflet.

This leaflet was produced to highlight the varied collections we hold that may help with family history research. We want to reach new audiences to open up our collections and to assist those who are embarking on their family history with an engineering aspect. The images chosen illustrate the range of material we have to offer.

If you have any enquiries regarding your research please contact us for a chat, we are always happy to help.

Edited: 15 December 2014 at 11:00 AM by Asha Gage


    Posted By: Asha Gage @ 15 December 2014 10:26 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 10, 2014
World War I Council Minutes of the IEE - December 1914

The following IEE Council minutes are extracts from the minutes of December 1914. Not all the minutes have been reproduced below, only those that directly relate to the war and its effects on the Institution.

Council meeting of 10 December 1914

“Letters of condolence expressing the sympathy of the Council were ordered to be sent to the families of the late Captain G L Sclater RN, Member, Captain of HMS Bulwark and Mr W Grigor Taylor, Member, who had acted as Local Honorary Secretary of the Institution for the Straits Settlements from 1902 to 1904.

A letter (25 November 1914) was read from Dr J A Fleming recommending the suspension of the David Hughes Scholarship awarded to Mr James Mould (who recently obtained a Commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery) until he is released from his military duties. It was resolved to adopt this recommendation.

The President mentioned the question of compiling a list of the names of members of the Institution who are serving with the Army or the Navy, and it was agreed to issue a circular asking for such names with a view to their publication in the Journal”.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 10 December 2014 03:01 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

Christmas 2014 Library arrangements

Off-site books
The last day for requesting off-site items for receipt this year is 15 December 2014.
Email requests received after Monday morning 15th December 2014 will not be requested from our offsite storage until Monday 5th January 2015.

Library closure:
The Library will be closed all day on 18 December 2014.

Christmas closure
The Library will be closed from 11.30am on 24th December 2014 and will re-open on Monday 5th January 2015, 9.00am.


    Posted By: Mike Dunne @ 10 December 2014 02:22 PM     Service changes     Comments (0)  

December 8, 2014
James H H Merriman Papers - President of IEE 1974-75

The IET Archives recently received a donation of papers belonging to James Henry Herbert Merriman who was the IEE President in 1974-75. The photograph above is the IEE’s formal black & white photograph of James taken at the start of his Presidential term. Perhaps surprisingly the IET Archives has very few collections of former IET/IEE Presidents who held that position after the Second World War so this collection was very warmly received.

Biographical Details for James H H Merriman

James Merriman was born in Pembroke, 1915. He was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon, and King's College, University of London. He obtained his BSc (Hons) in 1935 and did postgraduate research at King's College London obtaining his MSc in 1936.

James entered the GPO Engineering Department, Radio Research Branch, Dollis Hill, in 1936 and was associated with the development of long distance radio communication systems. From 1940 to 1948 James was Officer-in-charge at Castleton radio research station. From 1948 to 1953 he worked as Engineer-in-Chief, GPO London HQ on HF, VHF and microwave system development and planning.

In 1954 James went to Imperial Defence College and in 1955 he became Head of GPO Engineering Department O&M unit. From 1956 to 1959 he was Deputy Director Organisation and Methods Division, HM Treasury. He then became Assistant Engineer-in-Chief GPO with oversight of all transmissions including space systems in 1963, becoming Deputy Chief Engineer in 1965, Senior Director of Engineering in 1967, then Senior Director, Development.  Eventually James became Board Member for Technology 1969-1976. Other positions James held included Chairman National Computing Centre 1977-1983 and he was a member of the NEDC Electronics Committee from 1977-1983.

James who received an OBE in 1961 and his CB in 1969 was Faraday Lecturer 1969-1970, was made a Fellow of King's College in 1972, received an Honorary DSc from Strathclyde in 1974, became President of the IEE in 1974-75 and was made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1981.

When James completed his term in office as IEE President, as was customary at that time, he received a certificate of thanks from the IEE Council which was signed by a Council member, and the new incoming President. James’ certificate is shown below.



Collection Contents

The deposited collection comprises primarily James’ published papers and articles, annotated typescript versions of lectures and a small number of photographs.

There are some nice black & white photographs from the 1969-1970 Faraday lecture. This was given by James on the subject of ‘people, communications and engineering’. The lectures were given around the country and took place over many weeks. The two photographs below show James on stage at one of the lectures and then the two GPO vans that were required to transport all the equipment need to support the lectures.




The James HH Merriman papers have now been catalogued (reference SC MSS 259) and are available to view in the IET Archives. The contents of the collection can be viewed in the IET Archives online catalogue.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 08 December 2014 01:23 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 5, 2014
Restoration of Portraits Hanging in the Lecture Theatre at Savoy Place

The eye-catching wood-panelled lecture theatre at the IET’s Savoy Place in London has been enjoyed for many decades by IET staff who worked there, attendees at events hosted at Savoy Place and general visitors to the building. However, many of those who have passed through the doors of the lecture theatre may not have been aware of the history of the eight portraits that have hung on the walls, or the people represented in those portraits.

The two images below show the lecture theatre at two different points in its history. The first image is from the 1930s shortly after the portraits were hung for the first time – note that the portraits are framed and hung on top of the wooden panelling. The second image is much more recent and dates from after the major refurbishment of the lecture theatre which took place in 1959-60 (when the paintings were mounted in recesses behind the panelling and also lit) and after the 1990s installation of the ceiling design by artist Tony Raymond.




Who Are the People Shown in the Portraits?

The eight portraits that were hanging in the lecture theatre in early 2014 were of the following well-known people; Sir Joseph Wilson Swan; Lord Kelvin; Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti; Michael Faraday; Alexander Graham Bell; Andre Marie Ampere; John Hopkinson; and Alessandro Volta. Images of two of the paintings following their recent restoration are shown below. They are firstly Michael Faraday, painted by George Harcourt in 1926 and secondly Alessandro Volta painted by Giuseppe Palanti in 1928.




How Did These Particular Portraits Find Their Way Into Savoy Place?

The IEE Council minutes of 1925 show the beginning of the discussion about oil paintings for the lecture theatre. It is probably no surprise that there was much debate about who should be represented in the portraits, who should be commissioned to paint the portraits, and which images of the chosen subjects should be used as the basis for the new portraits.

The first two paintings agreed upon were Faraday and Kelvin both to be painted by Mr G Harcourt ARA for a fee of 400 guineas for each painting. What is perhaps surprising is that the IEE only commissioned and paid for one of the portraits, that of Kelvin. The portrait of Faraday was commissioned by Mr Evershed and then immediately presented to the Institution as a gift. This was the pattern set for the subsequent paintings. Each was commissioned and paid for by a noted member of the IEE and then donated to the IEE. This situation meant that the commissioner of each painting had a significant influence over the subject matter and painter of each portrait. The portraits of Faraday and Kelvin were completed and hung in 1926.

In 1927 a short-list of 6 names for the remaining paintings was noted in the IEE Council minutes. That list included Volta, Ampere, Hopkinson, Bell and Swan all of whose portraits were painted over the next few years. However, the name of Gilbert dropped off the list to be replaced by de Ferranti. Mr Paul donated the Volta painting, Sir Charles Parsons donated the Swan painting, Sir Tom Callender donated the Hopkinson painting, Mr Garcke donated the Ampere painting, Sir Hugo Hirst donated the painting of Bell, and Mr Marryat donated the painting of de SZ de Ferranti.

A 9th and a 10th painting, one of Charles Wheatstone and one of James Clerk Maxwell, were also commissioned as part of this process. However, despite the paintings being produced, they do not appear on the walls of the lecture theatre in the 21st century although the portraits do still exist and are in the IET’s portrait collection.

The Recent Restoration

As part of the process of redevelopment of Savoy Place, the lecture theatre paintings were taken down in early 2014, which involved carefully removing some of the panelling to extract the individual paintings. This opportunity was used to send the 8 lecture theatre paintings to a fine art restorer to clean and restore any damage to the paintings which had been in situ for many decades. This process was completed a few months ago and the paintings are now crated and in storage awaiting their return to Savoy Place in 2015.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 05 December 2014 08:56 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

December 2, 2014
Bernard Martin Crowther (1910 - 2005) - Editor of Science Abstracts for Almost Two Decades

Earlier in 2014 the IET Archives received a donation of papers belonging to Bernard Martin Crowther. Bernard Crowther was intimately involved with the history of the IET, particularly the IET’s Inspec database, where he was the Chief Editor from 1945 to 1964 of what was then known as Science Abstracts.

The history of Science Abstracts and Inspec is recorded in detail on the IET Archives web pages here Bernard Crowther is mentioned in passing on those pages in the section covering Inspec staff memoirs where the recollections are recorded of two Assistant Editors who worked for Bernard, the well-known author Sir Arthur C Clarke, and Gerald Beck.

Bernard’s papers which include extensive records of instructions and notes for abstractors, commentaries on the role of abstracting, and details of the changing face of the office in the mid-20th century, such as the introduction of typewriter composition, are therefore a very welcome addition to the archive collections.

Bernard Crowther’s Life Outside of Science Abstracts

Bernard M Crowther was educated at Oundle School, near Peterborough 1924-1929, then at Clare College, Cambridge, 1929-1932, where he studied in the physics faculty, and was taught by the eminent physicist Ernest Rutherford. He worked at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory from 1932 to 1935 and was awarded a PhD in 1936 for his work on 'the separation of isotopes'.

Prior to joining the IEE in October 1945 as Editor of Science Abstracts, from 1936 to 1945 Bernard was a researcher at EMI in Hayes, Middlesex. This was an important period in the development of high-definition television in which EMI was a major player and Bernard worked as a junior colleague with the noted electronics engineer Alan Blumlein.

Between 1943 and 1947 Bernard wrote scripts for a 10-minute BBC World Service programme which included reviews of new issues of Nature and Discovery. This interest in ‘reviewing’ then extended further with an invitation from The Economist in 1947 to write physical science book reviews for the journal. This began an 11-year relationship between Bernard and The Economist and many of his book reviews, written between 1947 and 1958, are included in his papers.

Office Life in the 1950’s and 1960’s

Whilst it might be expected that Bernard’s papers would contain extensive details about abstracting and the world of abstracting, it might be less expected that they would contain a detailed record of office life in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. He kept a work diary and also a memoranda copy book covering the period 1955 to 1963 in which minute details are kept of working arrangements in the office and in which the memoranda to his staff are recorded. The formal nature of the office is perhaps exemplified by the following two memoranda:

Memorandum to a Mr Anderton dated 13 September 1960, “Please supply Mr Lever of Science Abstracts with one Comet stapler to replace one evidently removed from his desk illicitly during his holiday. B M Crowther.”

Memorandum dated 27 April 1960, “congratulations – since 4th March you have kept up a pretty steady average of 16 pages per day – actually, allowing for Easter, you are just 32 pages short of the exact average, counting sheets actually sent off. Please keep this up….  BMC.”

The Launch of Tetra Pak in 1951

Another surprising ‘find’ amongst Bernard’s papers was a folder of publicity material from Tetra Pak on the launch of its innovative product in 1951 which had been sent to Science Abstracts. Tetra Pak, a subsidiary of the Swedish firm Akerlund and Rausing, was formed in 1951 just prior to the public launch of its ‘revolutionary new one-way package for milk, cream, auto-oil, fruit juices and ice cream’. Two of these marketing images showing the new product and the novel way of storing multiple packages are shown below.




Life After Science Abstracts

Bernard gave up his executive responsibilities with Science Abstracts in 1964 although he continued to have an association with it for a few more years, first as an Advisory Editor and then as a consultant. His interest in science, technology and physics did not diminish and within his papers is a set of correspondence from 1981 between Bernard and the Head of Documentary Features at the BBC, Will Wyatt. Bernard had heard that a documentary was planned covering the launch of the BBC’s first high-definition television broadcasting service from Alexandra Palace in 1936. He was concerned about potential inaccuracies in the coverage of the efforts of the EMI research team and wanted to speak to the producer to ensure the accuracy of the documentary. Bernard stated, “I was a member of the research team at EMI at the time of the inauguration of the service, and knew all the principal participants at the EMI end quite intimately”. Bernard also wrote a manuscript list of names of the principal participants which he stapled to the set of correspondence.

The Bernard M Crowther papers have now been catalogued (reference SC MSS 258) and are available to view in the IET Archives. The contents of the collection can be viewed in the IET Archives online catalogue.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology

Edited: 03 December 2014 at 08:13 AM by Jonathan Cable


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 02 December 2014 12:38 PM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 28, 2014
IET Archives - Rare Books Back From Storage

When the new IET Archive Centre was opened earlier in 2014 at Savoy Hill House there was an initial period when the new strongroom remained empty to allow the environmental conditions to stabilise. Following that period the core archive collections were brought back from storage – those collections that were deemed to be especially valuable or popular. Whilst this process was completed by the summer of 2014, one large gap remained on the strongroom shelves. This was the area allocated to the IET’s collections of rare books particularly those collections known as the S P Thompson rare books library and the Ronalds library.

As the rare books, many bound in leather or vellum, and many of them dating back several centuries, are particularly sensitive to conditions, such as the relative humidity, it was decided to postpone bringing back these rare books until there was a track record of stable conditions through both the colder spring months and also the warmer summer months. Now these collections of rare books have also been returned from storage and sit on the shelves of the archive strongroom. The image below shows the rare books on the strongroom shelves that are predominantly from the Ronalds collection.



Book Boxing

Prior to the move out of Savoy Place in 2013, many of the more valuable and fragile rare books, mainly from the S P Thompson collection, were measured. These measurements were used to make ‘book boxes’, which were then fitted to provide further long-term protection to the individual books prior to being them being packed and transferred to archive quality storage (compliant with PD5454:2012). Those boxed books are shown in the image below, now situated on the shelves in the strongroom at Savoy Hill House.

More Unusual Subject Matter in the Rare Books Collection

Given that the SP Thompson collection is commonly called ‘the electrical library of Silvanus P Thompson’, there are perhaps unexpectedly, many books on matters perhaps considered less electrical. One such example is an old work on amber, illustrated below.




The volume called, ‘historiae succinorum corpora aliena involventium et naturae opera pictorum et caelatorum…’, by Nathanael Sendel (1686-1757) is dated 1742. Amongst other things this work describes the formation of amber and its properties and contains a series of plates illustrating animals and plants encased in amber. It has been said that this work laid the foundation for future paleobiological amber research.

A Map Puzzle

Within the S P Thompson rare books collection there is a wonderful ‘map of the arctic regions’, 1597, supposedly by Cornelius Wytfliet which is shown below.



The map comes with two slips of paper written by Thompson. The first slip says that the map, exhibited by S P Thompson, was a map of the artic regions from 1597 and that it was probably by Cornelius Wytfliet. The second slip says the following;

“this map shows at the North Pole a high black rock. It also shows in the artic sea to the north of Eastern Siberia two positions for the alleged Loadstone Rock or magnetic pole, one located on the hypothesis that the line of no variation passes through Cape Verde, the other on the hypothesis that it passes through the Island of Corvo in the Azores. At an outlet of Davis Strait, north of Labrador, it bears the inscription, a furious over-fall.”

However, other sources would suggest that this map, titled, ‘Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio, 1597’ is not by Wyfliet but is instead by C Loew (pseudonym for Matthias Quad), after Mercator, published in 1598 from the book "Meer oder Seehanen Buch", Colonia, 1598.


Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 28 November 2014 11:51 AM     Archives     Comments (0)  

November 27, 2014
Third IEE Member to Fall in World War 1 - Captain G L Sclater

Captain Guy Lutley Sclater of the Royal Navy, died 26 November 1914, the third member of the IEE to die in World War 1. He was in command of HMS Bulwark when she blew up and sank at Sheerness as the result of an explosion on board. Of the complement of 780 officers and various ratings, only 14 men were saved and three of these died from their injuries within a few hours.

A photograph of Guy, 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 @ 27 November 2014 01:18 PM     World War I     Comments (0)  

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