Issue number 20                                                                                                                                    
May 2018
Engineering is practical. At its root, the word means to contrive, to devise, to make happen. We can trace the history of engineering through artefacts - indeed, they are the marks on the engineering timelines maps.

Yet engineers are dreamers, too: they seek solid progress towards an imagined future. As practical people, they often dream with their hands, tinkering and testing on a small, experimental scale, with results that are playful or useful or entirely unexpected. This issue of our newsletter is dedicated to those model versions and tiny worlds - for after all, to build a better world, you've got to imagine it first.
Creations and recreations on a scale from small to miniscule
Ah! Little England! Doesn't it look absolutely idyllic in the sunshine? Engineering timelines isn't coming over all condescending - far from it! - for this really is little England. The Grade II Listed model village of Bourton-on-the-Water, pictured here, was completed in 1937 after five years' work involving a wide range of building crafts. If any our readers fancies a new career as a giant, the model - and the Old New Inn, which owns it - was listed in April as up for sale.

photo : copyright

We could try and get analytical about it, but why? All commentators agree: model villages are peculiarly good fun!  This BBC article gives a brief and well-illustrated round-up of their history, construction and maintenance, while US bookings website, BootsnAll, offers a chatty "Top 10" list for the armchair global tourist (model villages are called "miniature parks" outside the UK).

Considering how enjoyable people find them - and given the far longer history of dolls' houses (touched on by this enthusiastic article in the The Atlantic) - it seems surprising that model villages weren't created until relatively recently. Bekonscot model village, built in 1929, is the world's first scale replica of its kind. One can only speculate as to whether Britain's shrinking empire contributed to the nation's growing love affair with its miniaturized self! Of the various books published by enthusiasts, Brian Salter's lovingly detailed, self-published hardback, Model Towns & Villages, is consistently recommended by reviewers as a guide to examples past and present. If any readers of this newsletter are aware of a social history of the phenomenon, please let engineering timelines know.

In the empire of the miniature, the railway conquers all. Indeed, as told on Bekonscot's own website, the village itself was created as a setting for its owner's model railway, which his disgruntled spouse had ejected from their home. 

If you're an enthusiast yourself, by reputation you will know far more about your subject than could be referenced, let alone recounted, in an engineering timelines newsletter! If you're a casual reader looking for a place to start, however, try for its helpfully brief-but-detailed summary of the history of model railways. The site is linked to a lively heritage railway blog (enthusiasm for model railways and the full-size heritage versions being inextricable from one another), and offers other historical resources such as potted histories of some of the big players in the history of model manufacturing. These include the late, great Bassett-Lowke, manufacturer of the railway at Bekinscot - a Bassett-Lowke Society remains.

Finally, for a general overview of this giant little subject, BB4's four-part 2013 documentary series, Timeshift: The Joy of (Train) Sets, remains a gold standard for many reviewers. Luckily, all four parts are to be found on YouTube: here's the first, History of the Model Railway: Bassett-Lowke, after which you can easily find the rest for yourself.
Kensington Addison Road c. 1925, as showcased at the London Model Engineering Exhibition at Alexandra Palace this January (and returning next year in March). A full list of the exhibits, "hand-picked" by the Model Railway Club, reveals the historical range of scenarios recreated in model form. Engineering timelines hopes that all our readers are aware that 2018 is designated the Year of Engineering: the Government envoy for this initiative, MP Stephen Metcalfe of the parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee, attended the show and announced that his own interest in STEM subjects stemmed from his going to such events as a child.  If you (or your child) missed the events in London and Doncaster - or if you're just hungry for more - the National Festival of Railway modeling in Peterborough is still to come, in December.

photo : copyright engineering timelines

Just as happens all too frequently in the history of full-sized design and construction, the names of small-scale engineers are often lost to time along with those of craftspeople and builders. A notable exception is Henry Greenly, one-time employee of the Bassett-Lowke company and co-founder, with Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke, of Model Engineer Magazine - still going strong today. gives Greenly the kind of thorough and idiosyncratic pen portrait beloved of engineering timelines, and if you're in reach of Brighton Toy Museum sometime, you can also see some of his blueprints held there.

Greenly moved from the model to the miniature - defined as a scale railway designed for passenger transport - and many of his models are still in use today. They include the lost World Scenic Railway of Ramsgate (mentioned in a previous newsletter - Issue 16: Tunnels) and the extant miniature railway at Rhyl, Britain's oldest, depicted below.

H. C. S. (Herbert) Bullock is another steam railway engineer whose name looms large in miniature world. His early death in 1937 cut short a prolific career. Compared to Greenly, Bullock has attracted few publications but luckily his life and works have been documented by his son in H. C. S. Bullock: His LIfe and Locomotives.  Bullock engines still work several of the UK's many miniature railway tracks - will help you out with a comprehensive index - including Scotland's oldest, founded by railwayman Matthew Kerr and still run by his family.
Wish you were here?  If you haven't got time for a trip to Rhyl this summer, visit the Rhyl Miniature Railway website instead for a well-illustrated journey through the 105-year-old railway's (almost continuous) history of operation. (You could also visit the Francis Frith Collection to create a card and pretend to your fellow engineering history fans you've been somewhere you weren't... it's easy and it's free!)

photo : copyright

The older the technology, the older the miniature version... London is lucky to host, at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the world's largest collection of model ships, beginning with examples from ancient Egypt. Take at least a day off to visit! The relevant pages of the Royal Museums Greenwich website explain that, from 1716, scale models of new ships were required by the Navy Board, greatly increasing the number available today.

Simon Schaffer, Professor of the History of Science at Cambridge, elucidates the significance of such models in his excellently-titled article, Fish and Ships: Models in the Age of Reason. To read the whole thing, you'll probably need to get your hands on a copy of the collection in which it appears: Models: the Third Dimension of Science, edited by Soraya de Chadarevian and Nick Hopwood. It's not a mainstream book... but its subject is entirely germane to the theme of this newsletter.

Meanwhile, in the marginally less well-known conurbation of Sadorus, Illinois - about 800 miles from the Atlantic shore - you can find the confidently-named National Museum of Ship Models and Sea History.  The privately-owned collection also boasts an ancient Egyptian model and many curios among its 250 exhibits, including a 27 foot long scale model of the Queen Mary constructed entirely of more than 1,000,000 toothpicks.
Bathtime has never been so much fun! The scale model of the St Michael, pictured here, was built in 1669, several decades before the Navy Board introduced a requirement for such models to be provided for all new ships - indeed, it is the oldest in the world to be identified with a specific ship. Apparently, this discovery was the result of some determined sleuthing by curators at the National Maritime Museum, as you can read on the museum blog.

image : copyright Royal Museums Greenwich

Architectural models are perhaps the oldest miniature technologies of all the disciplines now associated with engineering. They were created all over the world, as this 2015 blog entry from New York's Metropolitan Museum describes and illustrates. Of course, many ancient models were intended for purposes quite other than design, such as the Egyptian "soul houses" held in (among other collections) the Louvre in Paris and the Manchester Museum.

But there's little doubt that the model made by Renaissance master, Filippo Brunelleschi when designing the dome of Florence Cathedral had a specific structural engineering purpose. An essay in the Architectural Review, Architects do it with models: the history of architecture in 16 models is a nice romp through the subject.
Pictured above, part of the scale model of Brunelleschi's famous dome for Florence cathedral - one of the earliest examples of such a model created specifically for engineering design purposes. Of course, Brunelleschi didn't solve the structural challenge of building the world's largest dome just by making wooden models in accordance with his calculations. His methods are still subject to analysis and debate, as in this personal blog post from structural engineer Ken Maschke. Alternatively, for a super-simple animated explanation featuring this very model, you could watch National Geographic's 3.5 minute video on YouTube.
photo :  copyright
It's 75 years since Kenneth Craik (above) published The Nature of Explanation, a work which positions him as a pioneering cognitive scientist and foundational practitioner of cybernetics - the interdisciplinary study of (among other things) systems governing animals and machines. He was only 31 when he died, on VE Day in 1945, as the result of a bicycle accident the day before. That sounds like a shocking waste of life, but what is he doing in a history of engineering newsletter?  Read on...

Photo: multiple sources, origin unknown
By the start of the 20th Century, the creation of small scale models for design purposes was firmly established. It took philosopher-turned-psychologist Kenneth Craik, working for the Royal Airforce, to pioneer the use of simulation models to improve the interaction between human and machine - specifically, fighter pilots in WWII.

The Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Simulation Group website provides a thoroughly readable online essay about Craik's work, including a heartbreaking (to historians) postscript about the unfortunate loss of the simulation cockpit.

Simulation was clearly of enduring fascination to Craik, work being indistinguishable from play for those who are really absorbed by what they do. Computer scientist Maurice Wilkes, in his 1985 autobiography, Memoirs of a Computer Pioneer, recounts how Craik "would carry about with him a tobacco tin containing several small model steam engines that he had made, the smallest being truly minute."  The quote is from a 2000 entry on the website of the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, posted when the museum acquired a number of Craik's experimental instruments; others are held in Cambridge.
Here comes that dome again... this time in the modern version.  Does it lack poetry?  For some, perhaps - but this CAD analysis of Brunelleschi's famous design was part of a Statics Engineering competition winning entry for Robert Palma and his team in 2014.
rendering : copyright Robert Palma via

The rise of Computer Aided Design (CAD) as the engineering world's fastest growing modelling technique is no longer new - in fact, it's easily venerable enough to have its own history, interwoven into the broader themes covered by the Computer History Museum in (where else?) California.

A simpler, upbeat but distinctly partial account is provided by AutoDesk, the company that currently dominates the world of CAD software - but for readers who know little or nothing about CAD to start with, it's fun to watch.

So, with the rise of CAD, is the touchable, feelable model dead? It seems not. The Engineering Club provides ongoing resources for its members to improve their drawing and get to grips with modelling materials as part of the problem-solving process. Architectural models are as popular as ever, to judge by the opinions aired on the web: engineering timelines enjoyed this warm defense of three dimensions from American blog Life of an Architect, and this richly-illustrated long-view from another American, Mark English, of The Architects' Take.

In Tokyo, the world's first architectural model museum is now open and, at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, an exhibition of the other-worldly models of starry young architect Junya Ishigami has recently been extended until 9 September. His tiny worlds are definitely worth shrinking your head to get into, if you're in the area.
It's a city made of mess, but is it really so different from Bourton-on-the-Water? Zimbabwe-born artist, Zayd Menk, was only 17 years old when he created this scale model of Manhattan out of discarded batteries, circuit boards and other techno-junk. How long before we see full-scale buildings imitating Menk's art?
photo : copyright

As mentioned (briefly) above, the UK government has designated 2018 the Year of Engineering, which means there are many lively and interesting engineering-related events and exhibitions planned across the UK this year.  They're mainly aimed at young people - and you're young, right? So visit to find what's happening near you... and if you know an even younger person you could interest, maybe take them with you.
What's this final image?? Oh, just a wondrous scenario made by designer Hiroto Ikeuchi out of a modelling kit combined with old computer parts - one of hundreds of imagined scenes created by those model-makers who inhabit the world of fantasy recycling. We just thought you might like to see it before you go.
photograph : copyright scalemodelnews

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