Issue 10                                                                                                                                      
September 2016
The sea: it covers 71% of the earth's surface and its pull is so strong, some say, it can turn the minds of engineering history enthusiasts...

Whether that's true or not, as summer draws to a lingering close we dedicate this issue of engineering-timelines newsletter to our seas and oceans: in particular, to engineers' long history of building better ways to cross the water and find safe harbour abroad and at home.
Examining all things nautical from historic harbours to vessels of the future
Pillars of the Georgian Boathouse and Sail Loft in Nelson's Dockyard, billed as "the only working Georgian dockyard in the world". The original two storey building was damaged by an earthquake in 1845 and lost its roof in a hurricane in 1871.

photo : copyright

Nelson's Dockyard, set in Antigua's spectacular English harbour, was listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site earlier this year - click here to see the full list.

Although it is named after Admiral Nelson, who lived there from 1784-87, construction began forty years before his arrival. The dockyard was designed by nameless British Navy engineers and built using slave labour, as noted by UNESCO. Almost 100 years later, Antigua was the first Caribbean Island to enact the emancipation of slaves following the Abolition of Slavery bill in London in 1833.

The anonymity of those naval engineers in Antigua illustrates the significance of their contemporary, John Smeaton, describing himself as a "civil" engineer (see engineering-timelines for a short biography). Smeaton, credited as one of the founders of the profession, designed more harbours than any other category of scheme, yet only nine of these designs were ever built - highlighting the difficulty of funding such major works outside a military or naval context.

One surviving example is Ramsgate Harbour (see engineering-timelines), designed by William Etheridge but modified and improved by Smeaton from 1774.  The owner of Michael's Bookshop in Ramsgate has kindly used his blog, thanetonline, to provide Smeaton's complete report on the Harbour, including plans: take a look here .

No doubt Smeaton would have been delighted to share some of the challenges at ICE's Coasts, Marine Structures & Breakwaters conference  in Liverpool next year (5th September 2017).  The call for papers is out - he can't go, but you can.
Ramsgate's 18th Century harbour, designed by William Etheridge and modified by John Smeaton. Not quite so many yachts as in Antigua but that's probably just the weather - it's still looks a nice place to dock for the weekend.

photo : copyright Simplon Postcards
Speaking of Great British harbours... a major heritage project - titled, "Being Brunel" - is underway in Bristol. The plan is to develop the surroundings of Brunel's pioneering steamship, SS Great Britain, now permanently docked in Bristol's Floating Harbour. The harbour was originally designed by Smeaton's pupil, William Jessop, in 1804 and later extended by Brunel. engineering-timelines gives a short history of the docks and there is a dedicated website about the floating harbour if you're curious for more detail.

Volunteers are always needed at the SS Great Britain, now a lively museum and visitor attraction, and opportunities will increase still further when the project is complete in 2018.  Click here to find out more if you're interested in the many ways you could help out.

Among the features of the existing facility is the Brunel Institute, including an archive that provides the rare service of access to its holdings on demand. So, if a burning historical question overwhelms you while you're on board, your researches can begin at once.
James Henry Pullen's extraordinarily detailed models of ships - including Brunel's Great Eastern, pictured here - are held by the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability in Teddington, Middlesex.

photo : copyright

While the SS Great Britain survives, Brunel's fantastically ambitious SS Great Eastern (sometimes described as the project that killed him) was broken up in 1889.  However, it may still be viewed on a small scale thanks to the work of James Henry Pullen, known in his time as "the Genius of Earlswood Asylum".  Almost certainly autistic, Pullen's beautiful models of real and fantasy vessels are worth a visit to the Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability. The Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots, where Pullen lived in Redhill, Surrey, has been converted into apartments.
Sailing barge parade - Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th September
Red-sailed Thames barges such as the Cabby, pictured here, will be part of the Totally Thames festival in London this weekend. Breaking news is that you won't see the 88-year-old Cabby herself due to limits on numbers, but the parade promises to be quite a spectacle.

photo : copyright @sailingbargecabby
Presumably every boating enthusiast within reach of the capital is already fully immersed in the Totally Thames festival, which runs from 1-30 September.  It's by no means all about marine engineering history or indeed, about boats, but there are plenty of spectacular shipping events included. 

This weekend is a particular highlight, with a Thames Sailing Barge Parade presented for the first time. Boats sail on Saturday and form an impromptu museum at West India Dock for the weekend - but please verify the details and find out more via the Parade's own website.
"What took you so long?"  The RNLI's new Shannon class lifeboat uses a water-jet propulsion system for manoeuvrability, particularly in shallow water, and is designed for high-speed beach launch and landing.

photo : copyright Nathan Williams for RNLI
Bringing us bang up to date with one area of nautical design, September's ingenia magazine from the Royal Academy of Engineering features the RNLI's Shannon class lifeboat, pictured above.

The current fleet has been built by Berthon, and the company's website features photographs of the build. In addition, there are many films of launch and landing to be found on YouTube. Try this short one: the technology is amazing and despite some poor film quality they're all great viewing, particularly from the comfort of your warm, dry armchair...
No-one to rescue: Rolls-Royce's unmanned cargo ships could soon be roaming the oceans of the world, directed by this man from his central control room.

rendering : copyright
For the future: the race appears to be well and truly on in the development of unmanned seacraft, already widely used by China in its national waters.  In June this year, Rolls Royce unveiled its plans to take the technology further with the development of an unmanned cargo ship.

Meanwhile, if you were strolling beside the Thames on a Monday earlier in September, you might have been surprised by the Royal Navy's drone speedboat on a test voyage. Travelling at up to 60mph, the prototype cuts a very different dash - and serves a very different purpose - to Cabby with her red-brown sails.
WWI soldiers' memoirs abound from all the European nations involved in the conflict, but sailors' are relatively hard to find.  This 1977 publication won't tell you much about naval history or warship engineering but as a boy-sailor's WWI experiences, it's a rare and vivid record.

photo : engineering-timelines
Although May 31st/ June 1st has been and gone, we are still in the centenary year of the Battle of Jutland - the decisive demonstration of British Naval power in the North Sea. engineering-timelines needs no further excuse to direct our readers to, a terrific resource for discovering extant shipping from the era.

The HMS Tiger, featured above, is alas not among them - but you can visit the place of her origin. John Brown's shipyard in Clydebank is, like so many of the UK's great nautical sites, a heritage centre and museum.

Which brings us to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where, on 19th July this year, with great and deserved fanfare, the restored wreck of the Mary Rose was fully opened to the public. If Fun Facts are your thing, you might like to skip the detailed info by going straight to Current Archaeology's "Ten Things You Might Not Know About The Mary Rose". 

Or to get serious, click here to visit the extensive Mary Rose website, which has enough details to keep you going until you're ready to run away to sea yourself.
The Mary Rose with all her bones revealed... Now on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and awesome in all senses of the word.

photo : copyright current