Monthly Archives: November 2014

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!

Sir Nigel Gresley Remembered with a Statue at King’s Cross

Sir Nigel Gresley

Most of us have heard of the famous Flying Scotsman, celebrated ‘Cock O’ the North’ and the record breaking Mallard, but how many people know of the engineer behind Britain’s most famous steam engines?

Born in Edinburgh and raised in Derbyshire, Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley quickly rose from working as an apprentice at the Crewe Works under F. W. Webb to become The London and North Eastern Railway’s first Chief Mechanical Engineer.

He paid extraordinary attention to railway service demands and awareness of locomotive design development, selecting a ‘Big Engine Policy’ for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and observing the effect of wind resistance on train performance.

The Flying Scotsman Class A3 locomotive was built in 1923 to be employed on long-distance journeys. Notably it’s now broken two world records for steam traction officially reaching 100 mph on 30th November 1934 and then setting a record for the longest non-stop run by a steam locomotive, running 422 miles on 8th August 1989 while in Australia.

The Gresley Class P2 No 2001 ‘Cock O’ the North’ was completed in 1934 at the LNER Doncaster Works and was the most powerful express steam passenger locomotive ever built for a British Railway.

The A4 Pacific-type demonstrated an aerodynamic design never built before, and in 1938 one train of this type – The Mallard set a world speed record of 126 mph.

This month, it was announced that there are plans to unveil a statue at King’s Cross Station for Sir Gresley. It will stand a proud seven feet tall in the station’s Western Concourse, near to the West Offices where Sir Nigel worked until the outbreak of war.  This memorial will be constructed in cast-bronze by sculptor Hazel Reeves, holding a copy of The Locomotive magazine and accompanied by a mallard – the symbol of his world famous speedy locomotive.

The statue will be unveiled on the 6th April 2016 – marking the 75th anniversary of his death.

References:, and in addition to the Grace’s Guide pages.

On This Day in 1910…

Eugene Ely performed the first shipboard aircraft take-off and landing.

First airplane takeoff from a warship
Image sourced from Ancient US-Navy saylor (uploaded by W.wolny) (US Navy Photo #: NH 77601) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A keen salesman, racing driver and mechanic, Eugene Ely also had natural skills as an aviator that were to fame him as one of the greatest aviation pioneers in history.

Young and ambitious, in the early months of 1910 when he worked for Mr. Wemme as an auto salesman, he taught himself to fly using the Curtiss biplane Mr. Wemme had bought.

After mastering the art of flying the aircraft in only a few months, Ely never looked back.

He flew to Minnesota to attend an exhibition, and it was here he met Glenn Curtiss and became a well-known pilot within the Curtiss Exhibition Team receiving an Aero Club of America pilot’s license, No. 17 on the 5th October 1910.

In the same month, both Ely and Curtiss had made their acquaintance with Captain Washington I. Chambers who had recently been asked by the Navy to identify how the study of aviation could benefit problems in naval warfare. Chambers realised in order to prove aeroplanes could operate at sea, successful take-offs and landings from ships had to be achieved.

Naturally, Ely jumped at this challenge.

On November 14th 1910, Ely’s Curtiss aircraft was hoisted aboard the USS Birmingham at Norfolk before a temporary wooden platform and the ship readied for the experiment at Chesapeake Bay.  It was an unsteady take-off where the aircraft literally plunged off the edge of the ship’s bow. The wheels dipped and skimmed the sea, breaking off one of the propeller blades. Ely managed to steady the aircraft, remain airborne for a further 2 miles, and land safely on the sandy beach at Willoughby Bay.

He became the first man to take-off from a ship and land safely afterwards at just 24 years old with only a few months of flying experience.

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.