Category Archives: The Engineer

Women in Engineering

A generation of men fighting for their country, left a large gap in the British workforce and economy. Over a million British women stepped up to the challenge and took the chance to support their country by signing up for work in munitions factories, TNT manufacturing, or a civil service post.

Hunslet Engine Co , Stuart Turner and Co  and William Beardmore and Co were a few out of hundreds of companies  listed on Grace’s Guide, that took on women workers during the Great War, to relieve manufacturing and production demands.

Below is a gallery of photographs showing ‘Girl Workers in a William Beardmore and Co Munitions Factory’  from The Engineer journal September 3rd 1915. Read more in the editorial titled “The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops” – September 03rd 1915, p 228.

"...Sir William Beardmore has looked far ahead and has treated the subject in a broad and statesmanlike manner. He has, in conjunction with his able staff, provided not only for the splendid output which the women workers are producing, but also for the creature comforts of his women workers, grasping the fact that enthusiasm, happiness and health are essential as a combination. These three together, made possible by the generous attitude of the firm, have largely helped toward the excellent results, of which Messrs. Beardmore may well be proud"

"The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops" - September 03rd 1915, Editorial Article, p 228. 

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The sudden change in the woman’s role from a gentle domestic post in the home to occupations in the  loud, dirty and often dangerous factories and workplaces, stirred a mixture of worry and sense of caution with some , but with others, high spirits and positivity with a focus on winning the war. The founding of The Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 is just one example of an outcome founded from the effects of war and perhaps started to demonstrate the relaxing attitudes towards women’s capabilities in a male dominant industry.

“…It needs but the proper organisation to make the employment of women in engineering workshops during the stress of war demands a complete success, and it means the solution of the problem that faces us. In ordinary times such a change would not be contemplated, but these are not ordinary times, and, to put it bluntly, in order to end the war speedily women must be employed.”

“The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops” - August 20th 1915, Editorial Article, p 181.

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“The Employment of Women on Munitions of War”, p 123

…it must be admitted on every side that taking it all round the dilution of skilled labour by women workers has been an unqualified success. The women have proved themselves wonderfully apt pupils, and though there are naturally variations in their mental as well as their physical capacities, yet the outputs which have been attained have been, on the average astonishingly good – much better, in fact, than even the staunchest supporters if the employment of women had ventured to predict.

“Women in Workshops”, p 133.

…”The dilution of labour in a very real sense is winning the war, and the more fully this fact is appreciated the greater will be our output and the sooner the end will come. Even now there are many employers who look askance at women workers. They cannot break away from old feelings and old traditions. They think women must be a nuisance in the shop and that their output will be low and the number of “wasters” high. That view must be broken down…”

Abstracts from Editorials in The Engineer Journal February 11th 1916.

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“The manner in which women have adopted themselves to the needs of the nation will never be forgotten. In the lighter shell shops, and even in those turning out quite heavy projectiles, they have worked, and are continuing to do so, as if it were their natural occupation.”

“Women Workers” – January 5th, 1917, Editorial Article, p 4.

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175 Years of The Cunard Line

The famed Cunard Shipping Line marked its 175th anniversary this weekend as three of its largest liners performed a synchronized dance in celebration along the River Mersey.

The dramatic display was the first of its kind. Never before have three great ocean liners sailed as a fleet in such a way, and the event marked the first time the three ships: The Queen Victoria 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, had ever met in Liverpool.

The Cunard Line was founded in Liverpool in 1838.  The company headquarters were built in the city during the First World War and were used by Cunard until 1967.  The Cunard Building,  now known as one of the Three Graces (along with the Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building), stands on the World-Heritage-listed Pier Head, marking the special bond between the city and its shipping history with Cunard.

Read More: History of the Cunard Line on Grace’s Guide.
See the list of Cunard Ships on Grace’s Guide here.

On July 4th, the Queen Mary 2 sails from Liverpool bound for Halifax, Boston and New York, to mark the maiden voyage of the RMS Britannia, which began on the same day in 1840. It will be the first time a Cunard ship has departed from Liverpool for America since January 1968.

Research Tips

Top Tips for The Researcher on Grace’s Guide

To ensure you make the most of all the information archived on the site and don’t miss any hidden gems, we’ve put together a few top tips in a detailed guide.

Read our top tips for searching the site.

With over one hundred thousand online pages and even more images and PDF’s, Grace’s Guide is a leading source for free-to-use historical information on Britain’s industrial past.

We’re the first and perhaps only site to hold a complete digital archive of the rare original volumes of The Engineer, spanning 100 years from the 1860’s. Every page of The Engineer is in an easy to read PDF format, both searchable on Grace’s Guide and the top search engines.

Eventually and with funding, we hope to do the same for ‘Engineering’ to collect even more rare accounts, editorials and engravings for you to freely use and view at your convenience.

Enjoy exploring the site!

Remembering The First World War

Armistice Day 11/11/2014

This day we pay our respects to the millions of people that lost their lives during the First World War.

“At five o’clock in the morning of November 11th the terms of an armistice were signed; at eleven o’clock of the same morning The Great War ended, for the armistice is peace in all but name. The country gave itself up to rejoicings which continued through the week. The four years’ war was over; the four years’ world – that new world that had lived for war – was at an end; a new era had begun…” 

From the Editorial ‘Peace’ in The Engineer Journal 1918/12/08, p 477.
Remembering The First World WarImage sourced from The Illustrated London News of 26th July 1919.

The First World War was different from any other war in previous human history. Starting as a conflict between a few countries in Europe, the repercussions were eventually felt on a worldwide scale and 28 nations from every continent were in conflict like never before. Armoured vehicles had been developed to cope with and enhance trench warfare. U-boats took to battle in the oceans and military aircraft were adapted to support ground operations and strategic bombing.

The Engineer holds many news articles and editorials about The First World War for engineering researchers and historians alike. We have recently sifted through the four years and three months between 1914 and 1918 and indexed the events, military reports and case studies for each journal.

The Engineer 1914-1918

See the Journals of 1914 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1915 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1916 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1917 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)
See the Journals of 1918 – (Jan-Jun) (Jul-Dec)

See also our blog on Women in Engineering – and how women played a new role to help with the war efforts.

The Atlantic Telegraph: The Ideas Behind Its Early Developments

Atlantic Telegraph CableThe Transatlantic Telegraph Cable was a breakthrough for world communication. A simple 5mm copper wire core coated in a well-calculated protective casing supported the first intercontinental communications revolution and allowed Morse code messages to cross the great Atlantic Ocean in seconds.

During the 1840’s and 50’s, a series of important engineering and scientific experiments were being undertaken to solve the challenge of achieving a global communication network and ‘link new worlds to old’. Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail’s famous ‘Morse Code’ was already widely used in electric telegraphy across many countries including Great Britain and America. But to link the two nations together a connection had to be made across the Atlantic Ocean; and a cable had to be designed to withstand corrosion, water pressure and accidental damage.

Michael Faraday was one of the first to recognise the beneficial properties of gutta-percha as an electrical insulator when Dr. William Montgomerie first brought the plant back to England from South-East Asia. This curious tropical tree hosted a resin with the perfect properties to protect underwater cables and would transform underwater cable engineering forever.

Charles Vincent Walker was thought to have linked the first gutta-percha cable from a ship to a land based railway station in 1849. The Brett Brothers soon followed this inspirational step forward and established the Submarine Telegraph Co and a submarine telegraph cable link across the English Channel to connect Dover and Calais.

Continued success that followed this, in many other attempts and within many other countries, inspired Cyrus Field to step forward. He collaborated with Samuel Morse, and the Brett Brothers completing telegraph lines between Cape Ray and Cape Brenton in 1855 and between Newfoundland and St John’s the following year.  Afterwards, he turned his ambitions to a connection between Newfoundland and Ireland – a project that would require 2,500 miles of cable and an army of investors. He formed the Atlantic Telegraph Co on the 6th November 1856 in London realising the UK was to be a logical source of funding for the challenge. John Pender a cotton merchant and one of these investors became the director of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

The People Behind The Manufacturing

The years to come would see many problems arise with the delicate cable engineering attempts, and after each technical failure, the materials used in its construction were openly debated. Great discussions were held amongst institutions and engineering societies about the preferences of india-rubber over gutta-percha, several of which we have accounts of in The Engineer:

"In 1850 we began to insulate the conductors of submarine cables with india-rubber.  Gutta-percha entirely superseded the use of india-rubber. The man would have been voted a lunatic who dared to recommend india-rubber in preference to gutta-percha; and yet within the last two or three months experiments have been going on which it is said show conclusively that india-rubber is far superior to gutta-percha for coating submarine conductors...." - From 'Submarine Telegraphy' An Anonymous Letter to The Editor of Engineer Journal 1859/03/18, p 184
"Mr Ransome stated that he had frequently found that gutta-percha became so rotten in the course of two or three years that it could be crumbled away between the fingers. It could however be restored to its original condition by immersing it in hot water." - From an ordinary meeting of The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society of Engineer Journal 1859/04/08, p 247.

James Horsfall was to become a significant pioneer in the manufacture of a wire that had twice the tensile strength of any previously known. His methods were highly praised and he was to receive the entire wire order for the Atlantic Telegraph Cable:

“The cable is capable of bearing a strain of 8 tons without breaking yet it coils into the tanks as easily as silken rope. The wires are composed of homogeneous iron of unusually uniform quality – with credit to Mr James Horsfall – he found it absolutely necessary to manufacture his own iron, roll it, draw it and anneal it to achieve such uniform. The wires were then covered with five strands of Manilla hemp saturated with a compound of pitch, oil, tar and a little india-rubber, resulting cable being very pliable and yet not “springy” like the qualities known of submarine cables.” From 'The Atlantic Cable' Editorial of Engineer Journal 1865/06/02, p 346.

Read about the companies involved:

A Signal Breakthrough

William Thompson and Mr Cromwell Fleetwood Varley developed a variety of testing instruments to improve the cable signalling techniques. Thompson ensured that after many failures during months of cable-laying attempts and weak signals, it was eventually laid properly, with a signal stronger than ever before. His new mirror galvanometer, patented in 1858, was extremely sensitive and hence able to respond to very small signals.

Perhaps the most famous of all messages sent hereafter were those between Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan of America and Queen Victoria in her first sentence remarked: “The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work, in which the Queen has taken the greatest interest”.

The development and dedication of the transatlantic telegraph cable was indeed of enormous international importance and a major breakthrough in telecommunications. Although there were many problems encountered and many failed cable-laying expeditions, the idea of global communications first dreamed of decades ago finally became achievable.



The Story of The SS Great Eastern

It was Brunel’s biggest ship – and the biggest ship in the world at that time – built by John Scott Russell and Co at the Napier Yard in Millwall, London - at 680ft long, 58ft deep and with a beam of 82ft 6 inches. She was more than twice the size of SS Great Western with innovative designs for a wrought iron double hull construction and an extraordinary compilation of standard elements for a ship of its size.

The Launch of The Great Eastern
A Difficult Launch

Against all advice, Brunel had designed the ship to launch sideways, and it became clear there were to be problems when after sliding a few feet, the ship became stuck with the sheer weight of 12,000 tons of iron mass on the iron launch rails. Five men were critically injured and killed in this first attempt to launch when the multiplying winch spun out of control. Three months later after much pushing and pulling the 12,000 ton ‘Leviathan’ reached the shoreline and caught the high tide. The painstaking launch cost altogether a sum of around  £120,000 that not only saw the Great Eastern Shipping Company crash, but a publicly humiliated  Brunel almost out of pocket.

The Engineer of 5th February 1858 recorded the feelings towards the launch at the time: 

“a step which thousands of persons have been anxiously looking for during the last four months – namely the launch which was contemplated as long ago as last October. After all that has been said on the subject of the launch, - after all that fear that many persons entertained, notwithstanding its absurdity that the vessel would never be got into the water – after all the pushing and pulling to which she has been subjected and after all the money that has been spent about her, there she lies at last snug enough at her moorings,….

Mr Brunel and Mr John Scott Russell at The Launch.

The ship however held fast an unlucky reputation and only four days after leaving her moorings at Deptford for her first trip, an overheated boiler caused a terrible explosion that launched the forward funnel like a rocket, killing five boiler men and critically injuring many others.

“I was lying in the extreme angle of the bows, looking aft and discussing the safety and prospects of the ship, when suddenly, with the mingled roar and crash of a battery of artillery and a line of musketry, up shot the forward funnel of the ship in two pieces, 30 ft in the air, amid a shower of splinter s and pipes and a volume of steam and smoke…” 

From a correspondent of The Engineer published in Sept 16. 1859 Journal.

Brunel had been present for the trial of the ship’s engines but after some time of failing health eventually collapsed from a stroke days after this maiden voyage from London. Sadly only 10 days later he died at the age of 53 on the 15th September 1859; his greatest engineering achievement and crowning efforts left to John Scott Russell for completion.

From Passenger Liner to Cable Layer

Once finally completed, the gigantic vessel struggled to find enough passengers to fulfil her capability of carrying up to 4000 to Australia or the Americas. So in 1864 after the first five years prior to the launch, The Telegraph Construction Company obtained the ship to lay the first ever transatlantic cable between Europe and America. This was in itself another miraculous chapter for the great ship, and over 26,000 nautical miles were covered. The transatlantic cable was completed in Autumn 1866.

The Great Eastern

After a successful cable-laying career, the Great Eastern resigned itself as a passenger liner once more, but again with little success. She became a showboat and floating palace, celebrated for her splendor and great interior.

Eventually however, on this day – 28th October 1885 at 14.30 – she was sold at auction to Mr De Mattos of  Lewis’s.


“It will be remembered that she was purchased last spring by Mr De Mattos and that Messrs. Lewis of Liverpool made arrangements with him for employing the huge vessel as a show ship”.. 

From 'The Great Eastern Steamship' Editorial in The Engineer Oct 15th 1886.

The last chapter of perhaps one of the greatest Victorian ship stories ended, when the SS Great Eastern was eventually broken up for scrap at Rock Ferry on the River Mersey in 1889-1890. Due to her vast size and intricacy, she took eighteen months to break up.

Great Eastern Auction Brochure
A digital copy of The Great Eastern Brochure containing six pages detailing inventories in every room can be viewed on Grace’s Guide here. This original was owned by the Duke of Norfolk and believed to have been lost in a fire at his home (although unsubstantiated).



Early Brewer’s Exhibitions on Grace’s Guide

S. Briggs and Co Picture a great hall lined with stands of bottling machinery, cooling contraptions, and brewers lorries, glass enamelled steel tanks and ornate water heaters. This was a common sight in the earlier Brewer’s Exhibitions of Great Britain held at the end of October each year.

The origins of great beer competitions and exhibitions date back to the late 1800’s when brewers, maltsters, wine merchants and distillers came together and showed off their best beer, latest innovations and finest apparatus.

An exhibition strictly of a trade character organised in 1879 in the Agricultural Hall, Islington was to become an annual event for many years to come,  attracting competitors including S. Briggs and Co,  Linde British Refrigeration Co and Leyland Motors.

We have a few of the earlier exhibitions covering the unfolding contraptions of the early competitors on the site, some particularly detailed, in the following Engineer journals:

1879 Brewer’s Exhibition  (p 259)
1893 Brewer’s Exhibition  (p 411)
1898 Brewer’s Exhibition (p 451)
1909 Brewer’s Exhibition (p 421)

Soda Water Machinery


Completion of The Engineer (1856-1960)

After a national search, several journal courier trips and plenty of nail-biting moments, we’ve successfully managed to piece together the last remaining pages of The Engineer, to finally make our online archive complete!

Although we have 103 of the 210 volumes held here in the SMC Library, we couldn’t have done it without the generous help of three organisations: Bristol Reference Library, The Engineer (Centaur Communications) and The Institute of Mechanical Engineers , both of London, whose combined efforts into lending us journals to archive, we’re so thankful for.

View the complete bound volumes here.

The next step for The Engineer project completion is now to finish indexing the journals. Enriching the site with crucial links back to relevant pages of the journals, indexing is an invaluable process for those wanting to research deeper into engineering subjects.

Found at the footer of each page, there may be a link to an Engineer journal. By clicking through one of these links, you will be presented with a list of information found within the journal, including the subject you’re pursuing, as well as a full list of other subjects within that month/year. Here you can find out which page number you need to refer to for your subject before opening the searchable PDF file located at the top of the page for further reading.
For example, John Fowler has a link from his page to the journal of 1873/07/11:

The EngineerClick-through to this page and you’ll find a list of main subjects. For, John Fowler in this example, he is referenced to the 1873 Royal Agricultural Show.

Note the page number you’ll need when you’ve found your subject and open the PDF at the top of the page to find and read more information:

The Engineer 1873We’re constantly indexing the site, so make sure to keep checking back!

The Engineer progress

As we’ve come to the end of The Engineer after over 2 years of thoroughly photographing, editing and uploading thousands of pages covering 150 years, indexing them has become a main priority for us. This involves routing through each page and noting its main subjects, taking care to link to any page within the website as we go. You’ll notice our referencing at the bottom of most featured pages under the ‘See Also’ heading where we’ve linked information back to its referenced page.

When taking time to go through the journals, you come to realise, not only are they like gold to historians researching the past century’s engineering and industrial past, but they are also works of art when complemented by such beautiful engravings, all of course successfully archived on the site.

Presently we’ve been working on the early 1860’s covering topics from boiler explosions to the launching of great naval ships. But during the year of 1862 the London Exhibition was the event that took the limelight of the earlier part of the decade, and is covered extensively in the weekly journals.

Held from May 1st to November 1st beside the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society, over 28, 000 exhibitors from 36 countries were involved, securing its succession in becoming one of the biggest exhibitions that had ever been organised.

It was the successor to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the time when Britain was the leader of the industrial revolution, and with sheer magnificence of its contributors, it arguably was just as spectacular.

The Engineer and Missing Volumes

We have completed the copying of the 200 plus volumes of ‘The Engineer’ dating from 1856 to 1960. That is not quite the end though as have to add indexes to the volumes so that the content links across to other material in Grace’s Guide and that is labour intensive.

The original volumes have been sourced from a private collection and with the assistance of Bristol Reference Library. We have around fifteen volumes missing from the sequence either completely or because the volumes we have are incomplete. Thanks to the current publisher of ‘The Engineer’ we have now found ten of those and these will be photographed and added to the site over the next few weeks. Then all we need to do is just need those last five volumes to have the complete run.