Dungeness B AGR Nuclear Power Station (photo credit: Fred Starr)

Dungeness B AGR Nuclear Power Station (photo credit: Fred Starr)

Welcome to the Newcomen Newsletter – Edition 5

Newcomen Online

We are currently developing an online lecture programme to give you access to Newcomen meetings while uncertainty continues about face-to-face events.  There’s also a bumper 275 page double-issue of The Journal which has gone out to all members by post. The next volume is well under way too with some of the papers already online.

Please forward this e-mail to all your friends – it works! We welcome our new members in the Netherlands, USA and Canada, as well as here in the UK.

Jonathan Aylen, President.


A section of Joseph von Baader’s new hydraulic equipment for pumping water in the Royal Gardens in Nymphenburg, 1804 (Deutsches Museum)

The Latest Newcomen Society Journal

Now posted to members direct – Volume 89 of The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology is a bumper 275 page edition with half of the contributions coming from outside the UK – a truly International issue! Read More . . .

History of Wealden Iron

Shed Talks – Newcomen Live Online

The first Newcomen Society live online “Shed Talk” for the Autumn season was given to great acclaim on Zoom by Tim Smith (see further down this newsletter for upcoming events). In this lecture Tim looked at the history of iron making on the Weald as well as work carried out by the Wealden Iron Research Group in experimental bloomery furnaces being used in an attempt to make iron – Read More


Hinkley Point A - Decommissioned Magnox Station (photo credit: Jonathan Aylen)

Nuclear Power In Britain

Fred Starr outlines the early gas-graphite trajectory of “civil” nuclear power and the subsequent dithering. Despite all the effort, the cost of nuclear power has not fallen in over fifty years!

The Banner of the Steel Workers Union by Herbert Finn - Puddling

Steelmaking Technology and a Trade Union Banner

Paintings commissioned for a Trade Union banner give a snapshot of steelmaking technology and working conditions in 1920. Jonathan Aylen interprets the paintings.

MV Rhosus - The Vessel That Carried The Beirut Ammonium Nitrate

The Ship That Limped Into Beirut

The motor vessel Rhosus limped into Beirut carrying a cargo of ammonium nitrate with fatal consequences. Peter Filcek explains what happens as ships age.

Desktop & Mobile Graphic

Time For The Web

Ever wondered why you often see four concrete circles clustered in a field? They’re not twentieth-century megaliths but a standard design of WW2 and Cold War anti-aircraft site, protecting industrial installations and the approach to cities. Close examination often shows a command post, air raid shelters, domestic buildings and perimeter defences as well as the gun emplacements themselves.

Those who attended the Watt Conference in Birmingham in August 2019 would have heard Professor Frank James’ fascinating talk on Humphry Davy’s early life in Cornwall and how his meeting with Gregory Watt changed his career. The talk was also given in May 2020 to the Café Scientifique of the Cornwall Science Community and can be viewed on YouTube via the link above.

The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) is home to the world’s largest collection of working historic computers. They offer a 3D virtual tour of the Museum at Block H, Bletchley Park, perhaps the oldest purpose-built computer centre in the world.

A website which covers the unfashionable topic of UK manufacturing. Good coverage of companies, including AESEAL in Rotherham which many Newcomen members have visited. AESEAL gave a superb presentation at the Precision Workshop in Sheffield in 2019. See the company they keep!

STICK is a coalition of Scottish Museums jointly promoting their transport and industrial heritage collections. A key feature is their annual conferences. Register now for their Art and Industry Conference on ZOOM in late October.

A compelling film of a Newcomen Engine at work at the Black Country Museum. One of a number of short videos at this site devoted to industrial archaeology themes – mostly mining and pumping.

Those who joined the Precision Workshop at Kelham Island will know the Hawley Tool Collection hosted by the Museum. The Ken Hawley Collection Trust have released a set of 28 videos of Sheffield craft skills, including the last self-employed tea pot handle maker.

Books Graphic


This month’s literary spotlight shines on Jonathan Coad‘s prizewinning book Support For The Fleet. Know of a book that may be of interest to members? Please send ideas to: editor.links@newcomen.com

Support For The Fleet - Jonathan Coad

Support For The Fleet by Jonathan Coad

An astonishing book at an awesome price. £100 buys you a comprehensive account of the architecture & engineering of the Royal Navy’s harbours & bases around the world from 1700 to 1914. 450 pages covers not only familiar places such as Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport, but all overseas bases in the Mediterranean, West Indies, North America, the South Atlantic & Australia. Not only dockyards, but Royal Victualling Yards, Naval Ordnance Yards, Naval Hospitals, Barracks & Training Establishments.

This prizewinning book is a lifetime’s work, not just in archives but with Coad actually visiting the places described, all supported by nearly 500 illustrations & maps. Newcomen members will know Jonathan Coad for his definitive study of the Portsmouth Block Mills, also published by English Heritage, as it was then known. In this book the Block Mills are just one exemplar of the growing scale of industrial facilities found in the Victorian Naval dockyards. The steam navy brought a vast expansion in the scale of dockyard facilities, culminating with the construction of Rosyth in the 20th Century. Put this sumptuous book on your Christmas present list!

Warm thanks to Deborah Jaffé , Jonathan AylenDan Hayton, Peter Filcek , Geoffrey Owen, Philip Ingram, Fred Starr, Professor Adrian Johnstone and Tim Smith.


We’re looking for material for future newsletters during the lockdown. Do you have any interesting stories or some great websites that you’d like to show other members? Please send to editor.links@newcomen.com

Newcomen Events

Image from TOPS Publicity Pamphlet

Cold War to Coal Trains: TOPS

13th Oct 6.30pm (Zoom)

Jonathan Aylen gives a talk on British Rail‘s first computer based train operating system and its origins in cold war early warning systems. TOPS (Total Operations Processing System) was a computer system implemented in 1973 to control its freight traffic. It allowed BR to keep tabs on its rolling stock across the whole rail network and was a major step towards modern management of railways in the UK – Read More

Charles Babbage - Difference Engine detail

Babbage And The Abstraction Of Mechanism

17th Nov 6.30pm (Zoom)

Professor Adrian Johnstone outlines Charles Babbage’s life & describes the functioning of the adder, which is at the heart of Babbage’s mid-period designs, as well as aspects of his “notation” that pre-date by 150 years similar concepts in Hardware Description Languages – Read More

Newcomen Links - Edition 254 June 2020 | front cover

Edition 254 (June 2020) is the current issue out in hard copy and available for members to download from the website. Please send contributions for the upcoming Autumn issue to: editor.links@newcomen.com

The Newcomen International Journal Vol 89 No's 1 & 2

The Journal and Archive

As usual, we welcome articles and papers for future editions of The Journal. Please don’t forget our own archive of past papers going back to 1920 which members can access here. Please send submissions to: editor.journal@newcomen.com

Are you a member of the Newcomen Society?

Having just celebrated its Centenary Year, the society has published over a 1000 papers in The Journal – an invaluable archive of original research material published twice a year, covering all aspects of engineering from ancient times to the present, plus available to browse and download in our FREE TO MEMBERS Archive.

Full Membership includes:

  • Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology (two issues, one volume per year)
  • Printed and/or PDF versions of LINKS, Newcomens’ newsletter (published 4 times a year)
  • Free access and download facilities to the Society’s Archive of past papers back to 1920 (The Journal)
  • Membership of local branches and subject groups
  • Access to the website’s Member Area offering access to research sources & access to other members (subject to privacy permissions)
  • Attendance at summer meetings, conferences, lectures and study days.