Stuffed in attic trunks and the minds of aging scientists @ BRISTOL, BAWA
Feb 15 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

Michael  Grace’s Presidential Address. Stuffed in attic trunks and the minds of aging scientists? Reflections on Technical History and the History of Technology

It is widely accepted that the world as we know it today can only be understood by reference to technology and its history.  However, it is the impacts and consequences of technologies, rather than their inherent technical development, that provides that understanding. As technologies have become more science-based and complex, it is increasingly difficult for those without specialist knowledge to fully understand and appreciate how these technologies work, how they arose and how they were developed. Whilst the benefits of studying the history of technology as a factor in understanding social, economic and political history is more or less self-evident, the benefits of studying the fundamental underlying technical history is less so.  For example, to what extent do historians need to understand the technical development of aviation in order to understand and appreciate the social impacts of air travel in the second half of the twentieth century? The lecture will consider the value of studying detailed technical history and the ‘amateur and recreational’ status sometimes accorded to such study, together with other related topics, in the context of the Newcomen Society.

Building and deploying Blue Danube: Britain’s first atomic weapon @ BRISTOL, BAWA
Mar 15 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

A lecture by Jonathan Aylen, Building and deploying Blue Danube; Britain’s first atomic weapon (Joint meeting with the Bristol branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society).

Jonathan Aylen of the University of Manchester pieces together the remarkable technical development of “Blue Danube” – Britain’s first atom bomb.  Its technology relied on pragmatic solutions to solve new technical problems. Some of the biggest difficulties arose not from the fissile nuclear components, but from everyday practical concerns such as fuze design, the trigger mechanism, shaping conventional high explosives and getting the free-fall bomb to actually leave the bomb bay of the aircraft. At one stage Britain’s nuclear posture was threatened by a shortage of clockwork components!  The Government turned to a maker of tank engines in Leeds for key components. Vital parts of the bomb depended on a firm making hot water bottles in Barnsley. When first deployed, the atom bomb was a craft built prototype which was continually modified in service in a search for greater reliability.    Britain’s first atomic bomb was a truly awesome weapon, but developed after it had been pressed into service as a front-line deterrent on Britain’s V-bomber force.  Britain’s post-war nuclear deterrent was the product of a “suck it and see” evolution. There are clear lessons for modern innovation.  Technology seems simple – you spend on R&D and new products appear.  But, in practice, innovation is a messy, gritty and chance process improvised using resources to hand.  Mis-steps often involve the simple parts of a new design. In practice innovation is often a process of problem solving. New designs emerge by a process of trial-and-error. Jonathan Aylen is senior lecturer at Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at Manchester Business School, Vice-Pesident of the Newcomen Society and author of earlier papers in the Newcomen journal on the construction of the Shotton steelworks strip mill and on the development of the Ferranti Argus computer used by both ICI and the Bloodhound 2 guided missile.  Jonathan’s paper will also show how the atomic bomb reached the West Country!


Canal Lifts @ BRISTOL, BAWA
Apr 19 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

A lecture by Denis Dodd

The Dickinson Memorial Lecture: Measuring greatness: engineering biography- scholarship, hagiography or a marketing tool? @ LONDON: The Dana Studio, Wellcome Wolfson Building,
May 9 @ 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm

The Dickinson Memorial Lecture will be given by Mike Chrimes. the title of his lecture is Measuring greatness: engineering biography- scholarship, hagiography or a marketing tool?

Mike Chrimes is a long-standing member of the Newcomen Society, serving on its Council and acting as Reviews Editor for many years. He is currently involved in the inter-societal organising committee for the Early Main Line Railway Conference, 2018. He became interested in the history of engineering through his work in the Library of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a concern over the paucity and meagerness of the literature of the subject. He has written and lectured extensively on the history of civil engineering, including contributions to The Civil Engineers (2011), and The Contractors (2014) with Hugh Ferguson. Hugh and Mike are now working on The Consultants. From 1996 Mike was involved with ICE’s Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers Project, which resulted in 3 volumes covering the periods 1500-1830 (2002); 1830-1890  (2008) and 1890-1920 (2014). Other books include Civil engineering 1839-1889 (1991); The Civil engineering of canals and railways (1997); Historic concrete (with Sutherland and Humm) (2002) and Robert Stephenson– (with Michael Bailey) (2003). Mike has written numerous papers and served on English Heritage’s Industrial Archaeology Panel. In 2007 Mike’s historical contribution was recognised with the American Society of Civil Engineers History and Heritage Award. He has had a long career, at the ICE,  providing information on civil engineering. A belief in the capability of the internet and digital communications to deliver better, and better value, knowledge transfer for all members was fundamental to this. His service for ICE was recognised by the award of the Garth Watson medal in 1996, and again in 2014, and the Spirit of Telford Award in 2007 and was awarded an MBE in January 2011 for services to engineering.



Frank Hornby and mechanical toys; Britain, Germany and the USA, 1880-1950 @ BRISTOL, BAWA
May 17 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

A lecture by Deborah Jaffé. The entrepreneurial Frank Hornby was the inventor of Meccano, The Hornby Railway and Dinky Cars. This lecture looks at the origins of his designs, the manufacturing processes involved,  the images of modernity within the toys and how Hornby achieved his aims to enable  children to learn mechanic; all within the context of the toy industries in Germany, Britain and the USA. Deborah is a cultural historian, the editor of Newcomen Links and author of The History of Toys (Sutton 2006).

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