Retired Professional Engineers' Club

President:John Coneybeare. Chairman:Michael Rowe
Treasurer:John Coneybeare, Events Secretary:Michael Rowe
Minutes Secretary:Pauline Rowe
Webmaster:Ray Westcott
Committee Members:John Clark, Julian Todman


This Newsletter consists entirely of reviews of talks and events over the previous 12 months or so. Please refer to the
"ARTICLES - INDEX" for a full list of past talks

RPEC Webmaster/Editor Ray Westcott

Extraordinary General Meeting
11th January 2017

Main Meeting points

It was decided that the club should be put into hibernation. This means that there will not be regular planned meetings and it will no longer be necessary to collect annual subscriptions. Members were asked to ensure that their standing order is cancelled by their bank before 1 April 2017.

It was also decided that the existing committee would continue in office to carry out the following tasks:

  • Maintain the club's two web sites (Retired Professional Engineers Club and Engineers Walk) for a nominal period of 10 years. There is an annual cost, presently £ 49.92, for ownership of the sites.
  • Use remaining funds to promote engineering to children.
  • They may also arrange casual events from time to time.

    If members retain an interest in these activities they are asked to ensure that the webmaster is notified of change of home address and/or e-mail address.

    Members may be also interested in joining the South Western Electricity Historical Society (SWEHS). SWEHS have a wider range of interests than their name implies. Full details on joining may be found on their website.

    The Committee are very sad that the club has come to this low point, but we hope that we shall see many of the members again from time to time. Who knows? Somebody younger and fitter may come along to revive the club in the future.

    Mike Rowe - Chairman
    Ray Westcott - Web Master
    Julian Todman - committee member
    John Clark - committee member
    John Coneybeare - Treasurer and President

    Autumn Luncheon
    9th November 2016

    On a fine Autumn morning in November, 17 members met at the Filton Golf Club to enjoy a lunch of fine food in good company. Unfortunately, numbers were down on last year. The Chairman welcomed everyone and said that this was a very sad day as this would be the final lunch as a Club, for it would be wound up at the January E.G.M. No one had come forward to join the committee and numbers at monthly meetings had continued to fall - a persistent set of affairs over the last few years. The Chairman then said Grace and read a passage from Ecclesiastes 3: 1 - 8 'A time for everything'. Then followed a very good lunch, especially the lamb shank. The restaurant staff were thanked for both the quality of the food and the quality of their service. Members requested that, after the closure of the Club, they would still like to meet informally twice a year to keep in contact with old friends.

    Pauline Rowe

    Controlling a "flying brick" (agility through instabilty)
    A talk by Julian Lee-Jones, 12th October 2016

    Julian's taik replaced the planned one by Ian Donaldson who sadly died recently and we are grateful that he offered to step in at the last minute,

    Julian began by paying tribute to Ian Donalson who had a wide range of interests, wss a collector, innovator and geologist among many otherss. Only last summer he was to be found at Ashton Court in slightly unofficial search for Goethite, an iron bearing hydroxide mineral.

    The talk was about how aircraft controls has evolved since the early days - "Aircraft designers have to remember, airline passengers want safety not excitement wheras fighter pilots crave excitement but need manoevrabilty " !!

    Passenger planes are designed to be aerodynamically stable and must not exert high G forces on the passengers, whereas a Fighter plane need not be aerodynamically stable as it relies upon power, agility and ability to withstand much higher G forces to survive.

    The Cody Flyer, the first British Army aeroplane, was controlled by wires attached from the stick and pedals to moving control surfaces. Other early aircraft were controlled by physically bending the shape of the control surfaces. The wires were evetually replaced by rods. One of the last aircraft with control rods, with motor assistance,was the Vulcan.

    Faster and bigger aircaft meant that the pilot did not have the strenght to manually move the control surfaces. Nowadays all civel aircraft have "fly-by-wire" control systems, wothout any direct mechanical connection between the pilot and the control surfaces. The forces exerted by the pilot are amplified by the powered flying controls (PFC's). The Eurofighter Typhoon is considered to be the most manoevrrable aircraft today. Here are some comparisons with the Airbus A380 passenger jet:

    A380 passenger jet

    Typhoon fighter

    A380 Typhoon
    Empty weight lbs 608,400 lbs and a maximum take off weight of 573t, 1,260,000 lb 24600 lb
    Powerplant Four engines producing 336,000 pounds of thrust Two engines: 26,000 lbf. With After burner 40,000 lbf.
    Cruising speed Mach 0.85 (about 900 km/h or 560 mph; 490 kn at cruising altitude Low level; 200Kts to Mach 1 in 30 sec. Maximum 'supercruise' (without afterburners) Mach 1.5
    Agility N/A Brakes off to 35,000ft; M1.5 in less than 2.5 minutes, sustained supersonic turn rate.
    Load factor, sustainable G forces Less than +1.5g No negative g Plus 9g to minus 3 g
    Aerodynamics Advanced computer designed wings, 4 elevators, 12 slats and 6 flaps. Classified

    Some famous quotes about "flying bricks"

    McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom sometimes called 'The flying Brick or The Lead Sled,' "An example of the triumph of thrust over aerodynamics!"
    Astronauts have described piloting the shuttle on re-entry as, "Like trying to fly a brick with wings.It's very difficult to operate."
    Compare this with our Eurofighter Typhoon about which General John P. Jumper USAF Chief of Staff said after flying it; "I have flown all the air force jets. No other was as good"

    The Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics YFᆪ was a singleseat, twin-engined prototype fighter aircraft designed for the United States Air Force. It suffered major instability problems during the development phase and was virtually uncontrollable. These were solved and it entered production as the Lockheed Martin Fᆪ Raptor.

    Julian was involved in defining new international standards for control systems. The fly-by-wire control sytems initially incorporated lots of heavy wires connecting each part of the system individually. This type was difficult to shield from high intensity radiation. This was replaced by a datbus system e.g the ARINC 651 architecture to reduce the number of wores, weight and susceptibilty to interference. Single function 'Black boxes' replaced by suites of function modules in a rack, within an avionics compartment.

    The ARINC 629 databus system was used on the Boeing 777 and was a good concept where up to 128 units can share the same bus. Bus Couplers (Clamp-on transformer coupling) were used. The concept, which was good,was to have a fully distributed system by having simple twisted wire bus cable that would wend its way around the aircraft and electrical connections would be made by clip on transformer type couplers. Because of electrical interference it had to be extensively modified and the advantages were much reduced.

    The Dreamliner 787 uses the AFDX Ethernet system, similar to the A380. This system was initially developed to communicate with the Engine Control system.

    Julian spoke about the challenges involved with designing the avionics systems in the difficult aircraft environment e.g. providing enough cooling at the dame time as enough shielding and the problems associated with changing temperatures during flight.
    Ray Westcott

    Summer Luncheon at the Commodore Hotel, Sand Bay, Weston-super-Mare
    8th June 2016

    After a damp morning the sun came out in time for the Summer Luncheon, held once again at the Commodore Hotel, Sand Bay on Wednesday 8th June 2016. Unfortunately numbers were down to 23 but, as always, the food and company were very good. The Chairman welcomed everyone and, for the benefit of members who had not been able to attend the AGM, he reminded them that this would probably be the last Summer Luncheon of the RPEC. The Committee had reluctantly decided that, due to health problems of all its members and with no one coming forward to help, the club would cease next year in May. You should be very clear that no Committee member will continue in post after the end of this Season and, therefore, the May 2017 meeting will not be called as an AGM but rather as an Extraordinary General Meeting to wind up the Club.

    After lunch, members were entertained for an hour by Tony Griffith, a magician with a background in education , having been a Head of a Primary School. Unfortunately, some people had to leave before he started. Tony had been recommended to the committee and proved to be very entertaining involving some of the audience in his "tricks". It was close-up magic and we still could not see how he did it.

    Pauline Rowe

    A talk by Mike Oakley, Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC)
    11th May 2016

    Mike gave us a very interesting talk with many surprising facts about the service.

    The air ambulance service started in the UK in Cornwall in 1987 and since has spread throughout the UK. The GWAA started in our area in 2008 with the helicopter being based at the Filton airfield (note it will move base in 2016 because of the airfield re-development). As of today there are 20 such charities with 30 helicopters.

    What is really surprising is that the service is purely a charity and does not receive any government or lottery money. It costs £ 2.3 million per annum to keep the helicopter flying. It costs £ 50 to lift the helicopter off the ground and an average of £ 2000 for each mission.

    The GWAAC operates in 6 counties: Bristol, Gloucester, S. Glos N. Som, Wiltshire and Somerset. They can cover a 30 mile radius with a response time of 15 minutes which covers as far as Cheltenham, Weston-Super-Mare, Newport, Swindon etc.

    Each Airbus/Eurocopter twin-engined EC135 helicopter can carry up to 5 patients (with a squeeze) and forms part of the Critical Care Emergency Service which uses 2 cars and the helicopter. The helicopter can be ready to fly in 2 minutes. The team comprises 6 Critical Care Paramedics. Working together with a critical car doctor in pairs or sometimes alone, they attend an incident in that "golden hour" when intervention can most affect survival. They have received specialist training to acquire skills that are not commonly used in routine pre-hospital care. These include the provision of powerful analgesia and some surgical procedures.

    In February alone, they attended to 142 patients in these categories:
  • Cardiac arrest 40
  • Trauma 37
  • RTC 31
  • Medical 25
  • Sports injuries 5

    In 2015 the critical service attended a total of 1655 missions involving 1,023 using a critical care car and 632 using the helicopter.

    Donations can be made at GWAAC
    Ray Westcott

    A talk by Wayne Boakes Power Generation Manager of Wessex Water, Thomas Phelps, Food Waste Treatment Plant Supervisor and Joshua Cooke, Gas to Grid Graduate Engineer
    13th April 2016

    RPEC received a very interesting and detailed talk. I will attempt to capture some of the salient facts.

    GENeco is an offshoot of Wessex Water was set up in 2009 to process 43,000 tons per annum of waste from sewage and sludge and generate 42GWh/annum of renewable energy from the methane gas produced and wind power. In addition other organic waste (including household waste) is collected and processed to produce methane for energy generation and to put gas back into the grid.

    The amount of energy produced allows Bristol sewage treatment works - the largest in the south west - to be carbon neutral and self-sufficient from an energy perspective, which helps to drive down operating costs.

    It was emphasized that there was zero waste to landfill.

    The food waste treatment facility, opened in 2012, processes 40,000 tons per annum of waste from homes, supermarkets and businesses across the South West and produces 10GWh per annum of renewable energy, using methane fuelled CHPs to produce heat and electricity for the Sewage Treatment Works. Methane is either used in CHPs (combined heat and power generators) to produce heat and electricity for the Sewage Treatment Works or it goes to a G2G (gas to grid) plant. Biogas is produced by a process called anaerobic digestion and since more biogas is produced than is needed on site, the surplus is injected into the UK gas grid after suitable treatment. Grid gas input varies from about 800 to 2,500 scm per h.

    A 'waterwash' process was chosen for gas cleanup called the Malmberg Process. The whole briefly involves: pasteurisation, anaerobic digestion (approx. 38.7 Centigrade for 3 weeks) to produce methane and centrifuge de-watering. The solids remaining are used for fertiliser or in the case of plastic residues, sent to others for processing to produce more energy.

    The Malmberg process for the gas involves increasing the temperature and pressure and passing into the bottom of a column so that it meets water trickling from the top of the column. CO2 and H2S is absorbed by the water while the methane rises to the top.

    Quality requirements for gas to grid are very stringent and the process includes cleanup of hydrogen sulphide, volatile organic compounds (VOC) CO2 content and siloxane. The calorific value is also increased by injecting propane to achieve a target 38.8 MJ per scm.

    Note: the micro-organisms which produce the methane (methanogens) are called Archaea.

    Ray Westcott

    Next generation electrical power networks - Integrating renewables
    A talk by Steven Gough of Western Power Distribution Innovation
    9th March 2016

    Stephen gave us a very detailed and well presented talk on this subject. Some of the points covered are as follows:

    WPD background: 7.8m customers, 220,000km overhead lines, 185,000 substations, LV to 132KV line ownership

    Connection of renewables has grown much faster than expected from 2011 to the present. The UK has more solar power connected than the EU in 2014 with 5.71 GW at the end of 2015 and 687,000 solar installations.

    There are 50,000 connection enquiries per year and 6000 requests for generation. There is currently 8GW waiting to connect.

    The mix of renewables has changed significantly over the years and in 2010/2011 the majority of power was from onshore wind while in 2014/15 the majority was photo-voltaic (PV). In spite of the enormous increase in power generated from renewables, we are at only 20% of the EU target.

    Some of the issues that are being tackled, include:
  • More bi-directional flow, making it increasingly difficult to manage production
  • Exporting grid supply points (GSP) Reverse power protection issues
  • Summer peaks affect ratings
  • Outage windows shifted (more work done in winter months)
  • Voltage rise
  • Power quality affected by inverters producing imperfect sine waves, producing unwanted harmonics.
  • Masked true demand

    The south west is having difficulty in accepting more renewable power without major work in reinforcing the network. The parts needing upgrading in the SW include Fraddon GSP, routes F, H, J and K routes.

  • Future network challenges:
  • System stability
  • Managing energy not power
  • Energy storage
  • Change in demand peaks
  • Using "big data" (smart meters etc)
  • Elinination of outages
  • Change in fault levels
  • Blackstart capability
  • International intervention
  • Demand side response
  • Energy efficiency
  • Ageing asset base
  • Fuel poverty
  • Commercial agreements

    Ray Westcott

    An Introduction to the Bristol Port Company - an illustrated talk, Katherine Lovell, of the Bristol Port Company

    10th February 2016

    The subject of our 10th February 2016 meeting was the Bristol Port of Avonmouth & Portbury. In her illustrated talk, Katherine Lovell described the history of the port of Bristol , its current operations and possible future projects.

    The key points are reported below:

    The Bristol area has been a major shipping centre since Roman times, when Abona (now known as "Seamills Harbour") situated at the confluence of the river's Avon and Trym, served the settlements in the surrounding area.

    By Medieval times the centre for imports and exports had moved up river to the confluence of the river's Avon and Frome ( the area now known as "The Centre" in Bristol). The extreme tidal characteristics of the Avon at Bristol meant that ships in harbour sat on the river bottom at low water, often causing considerable hull damage as a result of the stresses thus imposed. Bristol-built ships were thus constructed to withstand such conditions, using the finest materials and most advanced techniques and quickly became famous for their sturdy craftsmanship giving rise to the accolade "Shipshape and Bristol fashion".

    This situation remained until 1803 when the "Floating Harbour" was constructed by diverting the course of the River Avon along a new channel, the New Cut, and impounding of the water to make a harbour unaffected by the tides. The new harbour became the heart of a commercial centre for the exports of wool and the import of tobacco, rum, cocoa and sugar. Notwithstanding, the tidal issues with the channel between the Severn Estuary and the Floating Harbour, combined with the increases in vessel size and increasing river traffic during the C19 lead to many groundings on the way up Avon and the decision to build the Avonmouth Docks. These were constructed during the 1870s being completed in 1877. In 1884 the Bristol Corporation (City Council) took the docks over.

    By the 1970s changes in shipping practices; (containerisation and increasing ship size) were making the city docks non-viable and deep water dock facilities were added in 1977 with the opening of the Royal Portbury Dock by Her Majesty the Queen. The City Docks were thus rendered very largely obsolete and were closed to commercial traffic.

    Ongoing changes in cargo handling procedures and the lack of investment lead to a slow run down of the remaining Bristol Dock complex and in 1991 the Bristol City Council set up a long term lease ( 150 years ) authorising The Bristol Port Company to run Avonmouth and Royal Portbury Docks as a wholly privately operated and funded venture.

    Since 1991 the Bristol Port Company have invested £ 450 million of private venture money into the development of the two docks and as a result the annual cargo handled has increased from 4M to 13M tons and turnover has increased from £ 22M to £ 80 M. The Docks now directly employ 600 staff but there are 7,500 jobs on the site when sub-contractors staff are included. It is estimated that its operations, wholly or partly, support a further 19,000 jobs around the UK.

    The Port of Bristol is well situated having big ship capability close to a major population centre and with excellent modern transport links ( road , rail and sea) . There is a concentration of nationally known businesses and their retail distribution centres in the area Owing to the good transport The Port of Bristol has easy access to 67% of the UK population, a higher percentage than that for Liverpool ( 51%) and Southampton ( 55%).

    Some of the diversity of the cargoes handled and some key statistics are indicated below:

  • Import and Export of Motor Vehicles - 600,000 units per year
  • Coal Import - 2 million tonnes per annum (reducing as coal generate electricity is phased out)
  • Agricultural Bulks ( Animal Feed, Fertiliser etc ) - 1.2 million tonnes per year
  • Other Bulks ( Stone, Sand , Salt, Wood Pellets) - 1million tonnes per year
  • Containers - 150 thousand per year
  • Aluminium from South Africa
  • Plywood from China
  • Warehousing - including Bonded Wine Warehouse operations at Royal Portbury Dock
  • Aviation Fuel 1.4 million tonnes for Q8 Aviation
  • Petrol and Diesel
  • Cruise ship stopovers - 16 calls and 10,000 passengers per year

    Recent investments have included :

  • Warehousing - £ 7.6m
  • Mobile Plant - £ 700k
  • Car compounds - £ 1.3m
  • Grain Silos - £ 2m
    Environmental Development of Site
  • 237 acres of wildlife corridors
  • 42,000 trees and shrubs planted
  • 8 new ponds
  • 'Vole City'
  • Bird Boxes
  • Owl Boxes
    Green Energy Generation
  • 3 Wind Turbines have been installed generating 75% of the Ports electricity requirements.
  • There is consent for a further 3 but may not be taken up owing to the changes in feed-in tariff

    There are plans for future development including:

  • A Deep Sea Container Terminal - £ 6000m
  • Hinkley Point supply chain traffic
  • Enhanced facilities for the Automotive Sector

    Note - There is development land available for the further expansion of the Port's operations.

    Bristol Port
    Port view

    Bristol Port
    Automotive Terminal

    Julian Todman

    The Lunar Society and the beginnings of the industrial revolution - a talk by Peter Ford of Bath University

    13th January 2016

    The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham, At first called the Lunar Circle, "Lunar Society" became the formal name by 1775. The name arose because the society would meet during the full moon, as the extra light made the journey home easier and safer in the absence of street lighting. The members cheerfully referred to themselves as "lunarticks", a pun on lunatics. Venues included Erasmus Darwin's home in Lichfield, Matthew Boulton's home, Soho House, Bowbridge House in Derbyshire, and Great Barr Hall.

    Soho HouseSoho House

    The Lunar Society evolved through various degrees of organisation over a period of up to fifty years, but was only ever an informal group. No constitution, minutes, publications or membership lists survive from any period, and evidence of its existence and activities is found only in the correspondence and notes of those associated with it. Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel Galton, Jr., James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, Jonathan Stokes, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering are verifiably identified as being log time members of the Society.

    Peter Ford's talk was about some of the leading members of the Society and their achievements.

    James Watt was born in 1736 in Greenock in Scotland. He came from an affluent family who made their money in the dockyards as ship owners and contractors. He had an interest in engineering and mathematic and at first he trained as an instrument maker then set up his own business. He made a name for himself by repairing and maintaining instruments at Glasgow University and made friends with some influential people.

    James WattJames Watt Steam EngineSteam Engine

    Watt did not invent the steam engine but carried out some clever improvements to the Newcomen engine and gained an understanding of latent heat. His main modifications consisted of designing a separate condenser apart from the main cylinder, thus saving heat by not having to cool the cylinder walls. This almost doubled the efficiency. Watt met Mathew Boulton and together they developed ways of manufacturing large cylinders and accurately fitting pistons. The Boulton-Watt partnership lasted nearly 25 years. Their images appear on a £ 50 note which is the only design incorporating a dual portrait.

    Mathew BoultonMathew Boulton 50 Pound Note

    At first the engines were only used for pumping in a reciprocating motion but eventually the piston motion was converted to a rotary motion by use of a sun and planet device (the crank was not used because it was already patented). The steam engines thus came into use for driving other machinery in Birmingham for grinding, weaving etc.

    Boulton and Watt needed someone to commission their engines in Cornwall and interviewed William Murdock for the job. Boulton was said to be impressed by Murdoch's hat which was made of wood!
    William MurdochWilliam Murdoch

    Josiah Wedgewood was another prominent member and built his pottery factory along the lines of Mathew Boultonís factory. Benjamin Franklin was introduced to the Society in 1758 and later worked with Boulton on experiments with electricity and sound.

    Joseph Priestley was another prominent member but the Society was beginning to decline when the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 caused political strains between members, but it was the Priestley Riots of 1791 in Birmingham that saw a decisive falling off of the society's activities. In 1813 it had all but ceased to function.

    In the late 20th century the Society was reformed and today, the Lunar Society is an informal academic association open to both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as professional academics, from the University of Birmingham.

    Acknowledgements - Wikipedia (for introduction and some pictures), Peter Ford (remaining pictures)

    Ray Westcott

    Autumn luncheon, Filton Golf Club

    11th November 2015

    This year, Julian had found us a new venue for the Autumn Luncheon at the Filton Golf Club. As it was Armistice Day the Chairman asked members who were able to stand for a minute in remembrance of those Engineers of all disciplines who had lost their lives as a result of war or insurrection. Some of those losses were very recent.

    Following Grace, we sat down to a very good meal. This year we were treated to Crackers, so more like an early Christmas Lunch. The quality of the food was good as was the quantity : we shall return!

    After lunch the Chairman thanked Julian for having organised the meal and expressed our appreciation to the staff. He also thanked John Coneybeare, our President and Treasurer, Ray Westcott, our Webmaster, who has also taken on some of the Secretarial duties and John Clark who has contributed to finding speakers for this season.

    Michael Clinch, our Founder, resigned from the committee this year after many years of faithful service. He was not able to be with us due to family commitments. The Chairman had written to him thanking him for his hard work and generosity over the past 20 years.

    The January meeting will be Peter Ford speaking about "The Lunar Society and the Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Then, in February, there would be a presentation about the workings of the Port of Bristol. At the Summer Luncheon in June, we are in for a real treat as a Magician has been engaged to entertain us after lunch. More of that later!

    Autumn lunch
    Autumn lunch
    Autumn lunch

    Pauline Rowe

    Steam Drainage of the Somerset Levels, a talk by Ian Miles

    14th October 2015

    Ian Miles is the President of the Westonzoyland Engine Trust, a volunteer group which looks after the earliest steam pumping station on the Levels. He is a retired civil engineering technician, turned mechanical engineer, with a great interests in Industrial Archaeology and restoring steam engines. He was born in Burnham-on-sea, and knows the problems of the Moors and Levels well.

    The Weston Zoyland Steam Museum is built around one of the 19th Century steam pumps which at one time drained the Levels. It has a number of steam powered machines as well as a narrow gauge railway. It is open once a month on a Sunday when the steam pump can be seen working. The pump is also run regularly during the day. More details of the Weston Zoyland Steam Museum can be found at:- Steam Museum

    In his talk Ian outlined the geography of the Levels before embarking on a history from medieval times onward, with an emphasis on the measures taken to drain and develop the area. A synopsis of his talk is given below.

    The Somerset Levels is an area of low lying land bounded by the Bristol Channel, the Mendips, and the Blackdown and Quantock hills. The area is drained to the sea by the Rivers Brue, Axe,Yeo and Parrett. Sea doors (Clysts) on the rivers and coastal sea walls prevent incursion from the sea by the tides. None the less tidal penetration causes the silting of the rivers - over 2 meters of silting per year is typical.

    See Wikipedia, Somerset Levels for more details about the Levels.

    Between the 10th to 16th Centuries much of the Levels were in monastic hands. In the spirit of rivalry, perhaps, different monasteries founded under the patronage of different Bishoprics took their own drainage measures often shifting the drainage problem to a neighbouring monastic holding.

    Some land reclamation radiating from the existing higher land was undertaken. Walls were built on the lower ground surrounding a knoll of higher land and allowed to flood. The silt deposited over a number of years provided an extension to the knoll. Such areas were known as "Wards"

    In the 13th Century the River Brew was diverted primarily to provide Glastonbury access to the sea - drainage was a secondary objective.

    Following the dissolution of the Monasteries (mid 16th Century) the land past to the ownership of appointed Lords and some land improvement was undertaken with the introduction of wind powered pumping of some small areas. However, the commoners put up considerable opposition to such improvements thus leading to the stalling of improvements and the sale of the land.

    It was not until the late 17th and 18th Century enclosure acts that substantial improvements to the levels got underway again. However such improvements lead to greater runoff at higher levels giving problems at lower levels where drainage had not been improved. Over time drainage at lower levels was also improved and included new cuts, diversions, straightening of channels and eventually the introduction of Steam Pumps.

    The early pumps based on low power beam engines were inadequate to the task and channel improvements were looked on as a better solution. Many of the new channels (Rhines) had raised banks which became drove roads. As an example the Portishead tide mill was removed to ease drainage issues.

    In the period between 1820 and 1869 improved engine and pump designs became available and the feasibility of pumping was reconsidered and six pumps were installed. An example of an 1856 engine/pump can be seen at the Weston Zoyland Steam Museum.

    In the 1930's these steam pumps were replaced by diesel driven pumps and the Somerset River Board was strengthened to be responsible for all drainage. Under its remit the King Sedgemoor drain was upgraded and 19th Century Drainage plans were revisited and may of the proposals implemented.

    Post WW2 drainage was further improved by replacing of the 1930 diesel pumps with electric pumps and in 1981 a sea flood lead to the upgrading of the sea defences, although there must now be a question of how long, with rising sea levels, these can be sustained.

    In winter 2013/2014, as most of us will remember, there was major flooding of the Levels with road and rail connections broken for many weeks. The main causes of this flood are seen as:-

  • Lack of channel maintenance over a number of years and
  • Faster Run off from higher levels due to deforestation/modern agricultural practices, improved drainage , and building on flood plains

    During this period emergency portable pumps from Holland were setup at strategic points to relieve the situation. The new thinking is to use a similar tactic to back up standard pumps in future during times of flooding. The speaker was optimistic about the future of the Levels and that flooding in the future will be limited by implementation of the lessons learnt from the recent flooding
    Specifically as :-

  • Money has been made available.
  • The widening of the Parrett and other channels will probably be implemented
  • The flexibility given by the strategic use of portable pumps.

    Julian Todman

    The Moorhouse Solar Park, Gordano

    A Talk by John Gething 9th September 2015

    The talk focused on the development of Low Carbon Gordano as one of a growing number of community energy cooperatives. It was an interesting mix of the history, technical and economic factors and entrepreneurial boldness of this group. The speaker explained how the Moorhouse Solar Park scheme came about and the successful community share issue which raised £ 2.2M in 12 weeks. Details of the scheme's construction and commissioning was given along with performance data and financial returns to investors and to the community.

    The project is up and running but the recent withdrawal of Government subsidies means that they cannot see any way of making further projects viable.

    The talk ended with a look ahead to possible future projects and the general economic and political environment for renewables. 31 August 2015
    Moorhouse Gordano

    Generation: 1,096,921 kWh, CO2 saved: 575.4 tonnes
    Moorhouse Daily Chart

    John Clark 2015

    The Charles Hill Shipyard

    A Talk by Peter Gosson 12th August 2015

    Peter Gosson is an ex-mariner, having served as a Chief Engineer on sand dredgers and oil tankers. He has a long association with Clevedon

    Charles Hill Ship Yard, Bristol was established in 1845 from the company Hilhouse. They specialised mainly in merchant and commercial ships but also undertook the build of warships and government vessels, especially during the first and second World Wars. In 1829 they established the Bristol City Line, a transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. In 1881 the company built its first iron ship, then moved into steel sailing vessels. The company went out of business in 1977 and the dockyard is now owned by Abels Shipbuilders.

    During the 1st World war, the yard was extended and mainly war Merchant ships were built, but the width of the slipway was a big restriction on the vessel size.

    In 1925 there were financial troubles and company was quite ruthless in obtaining orders and on one occasion cut the wages of the shipwrights by 25 percent in order to win the order.

    In 1936, the company was more than £ 100,000 in debt.

    The yard workforce numbered about 300 but this was doubled during the war years.

    Many types of ship were built by Charles Hill and Peter gave us an insight of a few of these.

    During the 1st World War, many types of war-standard merchant ships were built and the yard was extended. During the 2nd World War 8 Corvettes were built together (at £ 90k) with Frigates, landing craft, barges, tugs and even two concrete vessels. The latter were not particularly successful and eventually sank or were sunk.

    Post war there was a steel shortage which affected the profitability of the yard.

    Peter went on to describe some of the notable vessels and interesting facts:

    The ships were launched across the dock and obviously the length of the restraining chains was very important but they got this wrong on one occasion when a ship was launched which promptly hit the Mardyke dock wall, demolishing this and the railway line behind. It was said that the water level in the dock rose by up to a foot when boats were launched. The Albion Dockyard Band accompanied the launches.

    Construction methods in the early days used riveting. The plates were positioned and temporarily bolted, then drilled and riveted. This eventually gave way to welded construction.

    The Bristol Queen paddle steamer was built and launched without her paddles to be installed later.

    Some other notable vessels included a Corvette for the French, modified River Class modified for bay and loch use (became weather ships after the war). Sabrina Class barges, Fire fighting tug, Tasman Bay vessel which went to New Zealand and is now preserved there, also bucket dredgers.

    The Bristol Authority placed many orders with the company.

    An unusual order from Osborne & Wallis was for two very powerful ocean-going tugs which each had two 12-cylinder engines, one behind the other.

    The biggest ship built was the 'Anglo' for Anglo Equadorian. She was 3640 tons.

    The Severn Ferry Severn Princess was built, now sadly rusting away at Chepstow, possibly too far gone to restore.

    The last ship to be built was the Miranda Guinness which was the world's first purpose built beer tanker (below).
    Miranda Guinness

    Miranda Guinness

    The last contract undertaken was for two lock gates.

    The company was wound up in 1977 and because of a dispute with the council it was ordered that all records were to be destroyed by fire and the museum or Council would not be able to have any historical data. When the company was wound up in 1977, because of long disputes with the council it was ordered that all records were to be destroyed by fire and the museum or Council would not be able to have any historical data.


    Grace's Guide to British Industrila History
    British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss


  • Charles Hill and Sons grew out of the interests of the Hillhouse family who were a family of Bristol shipowners.
  • 1772 They set up their first yard in a dry dock and yard at Hotwells in Bristol.
  • 1800s During the early nineteenth century the Hillhouse's built twenty wooden warships before establishing their first company, the Bristol Steam Navigation Co in 1836 they then built a number of sailing ships.
  • 1840 Charles Hill worked at the yard and the company was renamed as Hillhouse and Hill 1845 It was renamed Charles Hill and Sons
  • 1879 Charles Hill and Sons established the Bristol City Line which was a transatlantic service between Bristol and New York.
  • 1881 The first iron ship was built in 1881 at the Albion yard followed by a number of steel sailing ships.
  • The early 1900s were typified by the construction of coasters, steel hulled ships, along with tugs and barges. WWI The yard made coasters, standard 'D' type colliers, and six standard 'H' type colliers.
  • 1920s The yard continued making large ships for Spanish, Scottish and Welsh companies along with large steamships and coastal tankers and dry cargo coasters for Shell Mex and B. P. Ltd
  • 1920 Private company.
  • 1930s The yard rode out the Depression thanks to the continual demand for motor barges, 'Flower' class corvettes and frigates (which were the key output during World War II as well). WWII As well as the above, the Ministry of War Transport also ordered six 'Bird' class barges. Bombing during the War caused minor damage to the four berths and dry docks.
  • 1950s The post war period saw a return to pleasure paddle steamers, lightships, Bristol dredgers and hoppers along with several tugs and a steam salvage tug.
  • 1960s The 60s began with the construction of a large tanker followed by coasters, ferries and other large ships.
  • 1961 Shipbuilders, ship repairers, dry dock proprietors and general engineers.
  • 1977 The yard closed when it ran out of money and was unable to secure any Government funding. The site of the shipyard is now a marina.


    Grace's Guide to British Industrila History
    British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss


    Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion by John C G Hill

    Ray Westcott 18th August 2015

    My time in the Met. Office & RAF

    A Talk by Jill Piper 8th July 2015

    Jill never wanted an ordinary job! In 1952 she attended the Met. Office Training School at Stanmore where she learnt all about weather observations, charts symbols and many other aspects of meteorolgy at the time when all weather forcasting was manual (no computers in those days!).

    She was then posted to RAF Odiham where she was part of a team, based on the ground floor of the control tower, providing a weather forcasting service to the RAF. This involved taking observations throughout the day, every hour, of clouds and cloud base, humidity, pressure, windspeed and preparing charts for the pilots. The results were transmitted by teleprinter to Uxbridge. Estimating the cloud base was often carried out by using a hydrogen balloon which had a known rate of ascent (500 foot per minute) and hence by using a stopwatch, the height of the cloud base could be estimated. At night, this was achieved by using a spotlight directed vertically upwards thus knowing the distance from the observation point and the angle of the reflected beam at the base of the cloud, the cloudbase could be calculated.

    Two squadrons were based at RAF Odiham - 54 and 247 flying Meteors. Jill had her first flight in a Meteor 7 (below)
    and much to her surprise, her aircraft was a target for mock attacks by the squadron.

    During the 1953 coronation, RAF Odiham was involved with the Queen's Review of the Airforce. The flypast involved 600 aircraft led by Wing Commander Crowley-Milling. He was a famous battle of Britain wartime pilot who at one time was No 2 to Douglas Bader.

    The Farnborough airshow aircraft were mustered at RAF Odiham in those days and Jill managed to get a ride in the De Haviland 110 (Sea Vixen), shown below.

    Sea Vixen
    Many famous people visited Odiham, including King Faisal of Iraq and Prince Philip who often flew from there.

    54 Squadron eventually got Hawker Hunter aircraft and formed the Black Knight aerobatic team, the forrunner of the Red Arrows. 46 Night fighting Squadron moved to Odiham with Gloster Javelins (below) and Jill had to stay late at night, locked into the control tower on her own.
    Gloester Javelin
    The Education Officer was keen on amateur dramatics and Jill took part in a production of "Rebecca" which was very successful. RAF Tangmere requested they also put on the play for them. Because Jill was working late she could not see how travelling to Tangmere would fit into her schedule. She was told not to worry since they would fly her there in a Vampire T11! Jill also played tenneis for the squadron and met Frank Whittle's son.

    In 1958 the station closed and Jill got a job at AWE Aldermaston as a Scientific Assistant

    Jill concluded by saying that she was giving all the proceeds of her talks to her charity POD which provides entertainment in all children's hospitals in the UK - a very worhty charity.

    Ray Westcott

    RPEC Summer Luncheon

    10th June 2015

    Wednesday June 10th was a warm sunny day, just right for the summer luncheon at the Commodore Hotel, Kewstoke and, although numbers were slightly down, a very good meal was enjoyed by all. The Chairman welcomed members and thanked all those who served and continued to serve, especially Julian who, although stepping down as Secretary, was continuing as a committee member and organising the lunches. No replacement has been found so the Secretary's job had to be shared out between the remaining committee. The Chairman thanked Ray for producing the programme of 2015/2016 meetings. This was complete until the end of the year and it was hoped to complete the remainder over the summer. We would welcome members to write a short review of meetings for the website as this, at present, is also undertaken by the committee.

    Pauline Rowe

    Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) for the extraction of gas and oil

    A Talk by Ken Wilkinson 8th April 2015

    Ken Wilkinson is a graduate of Manchester University in Aeronautical Engineering. His hobby is active, even extreme sports. His early career was in the oil industry working first for Schlumberger and then Halliburton Oil. Later he became a Physics teacher. Ken's experience leads him to believe that there is a lot of misinformation around concerning Hydraulic Fracturing (commonly called fracking) for the creation of gas and oil wells and he tried to allay fears of some of the common concerns.

    Leakage from vertical wells

    The drill hole is lined with a steel tube. To protect the tube from rusting, liquid cement is forced down the tube under pressure and rises in the cavity on the outside of the tube. This operation may be repeated several times as the well is extended downwards. In the highest layers where leakage might contaminate soils, water aquifers, or ocean, two or more concentric steel or cement barriers may be installed. To check the integrity of these measures, various kinds of instrumentation are lowered into the well, including radioactive neutron generators. The statistics of the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) show that there are well over 2000 wells in Britain (mostly in the North Sea, some of them quite old) and none of them are leaking.

    Horizontal gas/oil collection bores

    To maximise the area from which gas/oil can be extracted it is normal, to drill away from the well bottom in various directions for several kilometres. This minimises the number of vertical wells to be drilled and the number of well head installations. Temporary plugs are introduced to define the area to be fractured next, starting at the remote end. Fracturing fluid is introduced to the defined area at high but controlled pressure to make the fractures. The fluid will contain sand or other material to prop fractures open, and may contain chemicals to assist the process. For example dilute hydrochloric acid may be used to widen the fractures.

    By introducing microphones into the bore it is possible to make a 3 dimensional model of the direction and length of the fractures. The risk of extended fractures extending upwards into aquifers can be avoided. Although considerable quantities of fracturing fluid are required, this is only a tiny fraction of the rock being fractured. Extraction of the fluid is most unlikely to result in subsidence.

    Disposal of fracturing fluid

    The extracted fluid it may be reconditioned for reuse but eventually it has to be made safe and disposed of. The DECC has set down stringent regulations for these operations, so there are unlikely to be reoccurrences of the occasional unfortunate incidents that there have been in the United States.

    Typical well RPEC is pleased to acknowledge the use of Mike Norton's excellent drawing taken from Wikipedia.

    John Coneybeare 9th April 2015

    The Large Hadron Collider

    A Talk by Dr Helen Heath of Bristol University 11th February 2015

    At the RPEC meeting on the 11th Feb 2015 Dr Helen Heath treated us to a broad overview of the Large Hadron Collider including what it is, the engineering challenges posed by the successful implementation of such a large long term multi-national project and some of the basic underlying physics involved.

    Dr Helen Heath studied Physics at Oxford before moving to Bristol to study for a PhD in Particle Physics. She worked on an experiment called NA62 searching for charged particles. Following her PhD she spent two years working for York University in Toronto, Canada on an experiment in Hamburg, Germany which studied the structure of the proton. She returned to Bristol nearly 25 years ago and has worked on a number of projects but mainly the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment which is one of the two general purpose detectors at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. This was one of the two experiments which found the evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson.

    The LHC is constructed in an underground circular tunnel below the French/Swiss border and the business part of the accelerator consists of two circular beam tubes 27Km in length around which protons or other ions are accelerated to speeds approaching that of light. The tubes are pumped down to a very hard vacuum to allow the ions to pass around without unintended collisions whilst they are accelerated and guided by super conducting electromagnets. The Vacuum involved is emptier than deep space and the temperature involved, at 1.9 Kelvin, colder than deep space. There are 1232 electro magnets each 15m long rated at 8.33 Tesla. Each beam tube is seeded from proton generators originally used in earlier CERN experiments and the two proton beams are set up to contra rotate.

    At four points around the 27km loop are placed the detectors for particular experiments; these are known as ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb. Two of the detectors are general purpose particle detectors, CMS and ATLAS and the other two are aimed at making more specialised measurements. The beam formed in each circular tube comprises of proton bunches which can be phased such that the collision point of the bunches takes place within a chosen detector. The beams circulate at 11,254 times per second, produce 100 million collisions per second and produce temperatures, at the point of collision, 1billion times hotter than that the centre of the sun.

    As a result of the high energy proton collisions a plethora of fundamental subatomic particles result These are captured within the detector producing to give information as to the energy and characteristics of the particles generated. The resulting signals are analysed with in a worldwide computing network spread around the academic centres of the world.

    As Dr. Helen Heath had spent much time working on the CMS detector she moved on to describe the engineering challenges involved with this part of the LHC project. The CMS was constructed above ground to form two large sub-assemblies. Each sub-assembly was craned down very slowly in to the detector hall through an access shaft with very little clearance. The two sub-assemblies were finally integrated in the detector hall. For a successful integration the two sub-assemblies were required to meet fine tolerances. The design must retain mechanical integrity over a very high temperature/pressure range, being built and installed at ambient temperature at atmospheric pressure and operating at temperatures approaching absolute zero in a high vacuum.

    Following more than twenty years of preparation and construction, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) started colliding protons in November 2009. The data taken during 2010 and 2011 retraced the history of particle physics and the developments in our understanding of matter at its most fundamental level. The data collected in 2012 took us into new territory with the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

    The LHC was taken down following the discovery of the Higgs Boson for upgrades to the magnets so as to safely allow the use of greater power without the risk of failures. The follow-on programme will be looking to plug outstanding gaps in our knowledge. Finding Dark Matter and Super Symmetric Particles is high on the list of issues to be resolved. Potentially the findings could cause a major rethink of our theories of the makeup of the universe.

    For further information about the LHC visit the CERN Web site. LHC

    Julian Todman

    Autumn Luncheon 12th November 2014

    Held in the Masonic Hall, Nailsea

    Wednesday June 11th was another lovely sunny day, just right for the summer luncheon at the Commodore Hotel, Kewstoke. Although numbers were down, a very good meal was enjoyed by all. The Chairman gave a warm welcome especially to those that we had not seen for a while and thanked Julian for organising the luncheon once again. His thanks also went to all those who had worked so hard for the Club. As a committee we now had to seriously take action to attract more members and discuss the way forward for the Club. There was a full programme of meetings until Christmas and the committee were considering dedicating the January meeting to a discussion by Members on suggestions from their committee on the way forward for the R.P.E.C. John Coneybeare was then thanked for his sterling work on "Engineer's Walk" and invited to tell us about the two latest plaques, one for Charles Richardson and the other for Sir George White, which were ready to be fixed to the IMax building. Pauline Rowe.

    Pauline Rowe

    Re-inventing the wheel

    A talk by David Constantine MBE, 8th October 2014

    As a young man, David studied farming and worked for a period in Australia on a large farm 10 miles down a dirt track road. During a short holiday in 1982 he was swimming with friends in a water hole on Fraser Island. The third time he dived into the water he picked a spot that was too shallow and broke his neck. After months in hospital in Australia and later in the United Kingdom, David had to come to terms with being a quadriplegic and that he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He is able to move his arms but cannot close his hands to grip things.

    David was issued with the standard NHS wheelchair of the time - a brand recognised as the best of its kind although the design was already 50 years old. He soon realised that the seat was uncomfortable with no adjustment in the length of the seat or back to suit the size of the rider. He also realised that a farming career was no longer practicable and gained a place at Oxford Brookes University to study computing. His degree enabled him to win a prestigious job as a software engineer at IBM.

    To widen his experience he spent 3 weeks with the product design team. These were the people who put on/off switches on the back of machines where he couldn't reach them and made the keys of the keyboard too stiff for him to press. David's heart wasn't really in writing software so he decided on another career change and gained a place at the Royal College of Art to study for a Masters degree in product design.

    Each year the College set their students a design project. It was Lord Snowdon who suggested a competition to design a wheelchair for use in poor countries. This should be made of cheap materials available locally and robust enough for use over rough ground. A fellow student Simon Gue suggested that with David's experience of living in a wheelchair they should team up for the competition and they won.

    The pair were joined by another colleague Richard Frost and used the prize money from the competition to travel to the Indian sub continent. In Bangladesh they came across a small workshop that was making simple wheelchairs and they were invited to improve the design and increase production. The only driving wheels cheaply available were 28 inch diameter rickshaw wheels made in China which were rather larger than ideal and certainly too large for children to operate. Wood and second hand metal tubing were often used. They took care to make wheelchairs that met the requirements and size of the recipients. In 1991 the team founded the charity Motivation to raise money in the United Kingdom and produce practical cheap wheelchairs in Bangladesh.

    Following the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Poland was left with no source at all of affordable wheelchairs and the team were invited to go there. They were able to repeat their success in Bangladesh by setting up a small functional manufactory for bespoke wheelchairs. Their fame spread and they were invited to many other countries to repeat these successes. In ten years they produced some 18,000 wheelchairs in 14 countries in a wide range of materials for a wide range of conditions and requirements.

    It was time to produce a rationalised range of wheelchairs suitable for mass production. These come in various sizes with, good posture support, good foot support and pressure relieving cushions as appropriate.

  • Rough Terrain - A single small front castor on a lengthened front strut

  • Active folding - Twin front castors

  • Standard folding - For short term use with twin front castors

  • Tricycle - Larger front pneumatic wheel for longer journeys. Hand powered

  • Clip On Tricycle - As above with a clip on castor for rough terrain

  • Sports - A range of more expensive sport specific designs

  • Emergency - A knockdown design for easy assembly in disaster areas.
  • Another great achievement of Motivation is to have worked with the World Health Organisation to produce a set of guidelines for wheelchairs which is available to all manufacturers. This was an inspiring talk and it can truly be said that Motivation has met its aims of keeping disabled people alive, mobile, confident and integrated into society.

    Motivation1 Motivation2

    John Coneybeare