"Engineers Walk"

Outdoor events are always at risk from poor weather but after weeks of rain, 31 May was the first fine day of this exceptional summer and some 50 members and our special guests assembled at the head of St Augustine's Reach.

Assembling for the walk


Our principal speaker was Miss Julia Elton of Clevedon Court, whose family were supporters of Brunel, and undertook some significant engineering projects themselves. Julia has long been a champion of engineers and engineering and is currently Chairman of the prestigious Newcomen Society. In her inauguration speech Julia referred to the importance of St Augustines Reach. Completed in 1247 it made Bristol an international port that was the commercial heart of the city for over 700 years. Special mention was made of William Jessop who made the tidal waterway into a 'floating' harbour that extended the life of the City docks into recent times. We were most grateful to Julia who had travelled to London very early in the morning on business, returned to Bristol to perform the inauguration, and immediately afterwards went back to London.

Pattersons PlaqueThe party moved on to the Imax Theatre. In front of the plaque celebrating Naval Architect and ship builder William Patterson, Miss Elton outlined Patterson's rise from humble origins to become one of the most important ship builders of all time. His most famous ships were the Great Western and the Great Britain (for Brunel) and the Demerara. We were delighted to have Mrs. Michelle Miles the great great great grand daughter of William Patterson in attendance, with members of her family. We were grateful too for the quiet and efficient way that her son James managed the public address system.

Sir Archibald Russell was Chief Engineer of the former Bristol Aeroplane Company and we were lucky that his son, Mr Julian Russell, was there to tell us about his father's career. This spanned post World War I biplanes, to the monoplane fighters and bombers of World War II, and on to his crowning achievement Concorde, the world's only supersonic airliner. Julian recalled an occasion when a young Archibald was sent up in an early monoplane and observed most alarming twisting of the wings. Perhaps it is not surprising that Sir Archibald became a master of wing design and that to this day the wings of Airbuses are designed in Bristol. Other members of Sir Archibald's family were also in attendance.

Small WorldsThe end point of the walk is the sculpture 'Small Worlds' which stands outside of Explore@Bristol and commemorates the achievements of the physicist Paul Dirac. By happy coincidence the new Chief Executive of @Bristol, M. Goery Delacote is a physicist who had succeeded Oppenheimer as Director of The Exploratorium in San Francisco. M Delacote entertained us with anecdotes about the collaboration between Oppenheimer and Dirac.

Because of the fine weather our afternoon tea was transferred to the splendid Roof Terrace of the Imax Theatre. There we enjoyed a surprise bonus talk from the sculptor Mr Simon Thomas who gave us some insight into the construction of his sculpture 'Small Worlds.' Our Chairman thanked M Delacote and Mike Rippon of @Bristol for all their support, without which Engineer's Walk could not exist and also Mike Rippon's staff who had made the arrangements that made the inauguration such a happy occasion. We hope that Engineer's Walk will encourage the public to take pride in Bristol's rich engineering heritage and to realise the continuing importance of engineers in the development of our society.

Monastic Water Engineering and Management

Talk by James Bond

At our meeting on 12 April we heard a fascinating talk on "Monastic Water Engineering and Water Management" by James Bond, a professional freelance archaeologist.

Mr Bond described how monks in medieval days obtained and used water in their monastic establishments. Water was obtained by diverting watercourses or from springs. When the source was at a distance, pipes of lead, ceramic or wood or sometimes funnels were used. An extreme example was in Lincolnshire where water was brought by gravity to Boston from Bolingbroke some 30 miles away across almost flat country. In some cases springs were used and if nearby these might be protected by a small building, examples of which remain today.

Water was used for irrigating gardens, for mill, fishponds and for personal use in lavatoria or for latrines. Examples of the latter were described, the largest being a 59 seater at Lewes.

Mr Bond showed many photographs he had taken in mainly ruined abbeys of today. Stone lined channels and conduits can be seen. Sometimes as at Gloucester Cathedral, lead had been used for internal plumbing , tanks and drainage but this had been ripped out following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Some particularly interesting examples were shown of bronze taps, remarkably like today's.

Examples of remaining artefacts shown were mainly in England with some in France and Ireland. Photographs were shown of old plans of water installations on sites at Canterbury and a n abbey in Burgundy. Particularly concerning their washing and toilet facilities it is apparent that monks often had a higher standard of living than could be found elsewhere , even in royal palaces.

It was clear that James has been studying the subject for many years and he must surely be a leading expert. Evidence of the high interest shown by members was the large number of questions.

Don Vickers

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