Institution Of Mechanical Engineers


Lucy Bonner - Archivist

Archivist Lucy Bonner introduces the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a learned society and membership organisation of 120,000 engineers in 140 countries.

IMechE covers all engineering involving movement. The archive includes institutional records, engineering company records, personal records of members, large engineering drawings and related paintings, photos, models and artefacts.

With records stretching back to The Bolton and Watts Company in 1726, Lucy picks her favourites from the archive and shows how the foundation letter sent out to potential members in 1847 still reflects the mission of IMechE in the 21st Century.

Lucy tells how the legendary rejection of George Stephenson by The Institution of Civil Engineers may (or may not) have been the impetus to start IMeche.

Lucy describes working on projects with other Institutions(including the Civil Engineers) and loans of material for exhibitions to other organisations including the V&A.

She outlines IMechE’s processes for decision making, such as whether to keep IMechE member Beatrice Shilling's material at IMech or with the Archive of Female Engineers at the Institution of Engineering and Technology.


Engineers At War:



Women and Engineering:

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

hello and welcome to the map to communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by lucy bonner archivist for the institution of mechanical engineers lucy would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about how you came to be where you are today certainly thank you um so my name is lucy and i am the archivist for the institution of mechanical engineers i've been working as an archivist for nearly a decade now and i've been at the imeki for just over a year um we are normally based in the institutions library and members hub at one birch cage walk in westminster um but at the moment we are working remotely due to cov19 restrictions so would you like to explain exactly what mechanical engineering is as a subject yeah so mechanical engineering is all about movement so it uses the application of science and technology to solve real world problems through the manipulation of moving parts so mechanical engineers work across various different industries including aeronautical automotive railways biomedical engineering energy and manufacturing so what type of material is in the collection you have then so the institution of mechanical engineers is a membership organization and learned society that represents mechanical engineers and the engineering profession we were founded in 1847 and today we've got over 120 000 members in 140 countries so we hold the records of the institution itself as well as of its merged bodies the institution of locomotive engineers and the institution of automobile engineers and the institution records are sort of typical business records that record the key decision making of the institutions such as council minutes we also hold the historical membership proposal forms that were completed by individuals who were applying to become members so in addition to the institution records we also hold deposited collections which provide a perspective on the history of mechanical engineering and engineers and that's things like the business records of engineering firms and personal papers of engineers themselves the large majority of our material at the moment is paper-based and that includes things like volumes files and many large engineering drawings and we also have a large collection of photographs some born digital and digitized records paintings and artifacts our earliest material dates from 1726 uh all the way up to almost the current day so what what do you have that 1726 that's before you were founded yes so that's a question that we get quite frequently it's uh business records of uh bolton and watts uh who are an engineering firm and we hold some of their early drawings of engines from that date i mean 1847 in terms of industrial revolution is that i mean i guess that's in the in the middle of the industrial revolution so that's all steam engines and weaving and things like that all those revolutionary ideas there yes so the there's a few different stories about how we were founded um but there was a story that involved the railway engineer george stevenson applying to the institution of civil engineers which at the time was the institution for engineers it was um the only one in existence i believe and uh his application was uh initially sort of declined asking for more information about sort of notable projects that he'd been involved in um and allegedly this sort of put a few people's noses out of joint because he was george stevenson it was quite clear what he'd achieved according to them um and so a group of railway engineers got together and thought about creating a institution for what was becoming a sort of separate almost separate branch of engineering which was as they often refer to themselves people who were sort of mechanical dealing with these mechanical engines and so on and so they sort of got together and discussed creating this new institution which is essentially what happened whether or not the um the bit about george stevenson is uh quite accurate is something that we have tried to find out one way or the other and and failed we've spoken with our colleagues at the institution of civil engineers and they have nothing in their records um that suggests that a membership application was received or that there was any sort of correspondence regarding it and so that might just have to be something that's a bit of a miss perhaps well urban legend yeah who accesses your collection is it mainly the the numbers that the members that you've got in your institution um well we are accessible to both imekey members and non-members and some of our members come and access it or other engineers come and access the material but we also have people who are researching engineering firms or a product or a concept or or an individual so we have um quite a lot of usage and access to our members our historical membership records and we also have internal inquiries from within the institution so that might be something to do with the history of an award that the institution gives out we also support the institutions engineering heritage awards um and recently we've created some online puzzles for our education program using archive images is that as a result of lockdown you're looking at doing more interactive things like that yeah i think that's um we've been looking generally at how we can use our archive material to support stem education and that's one of the ways i think that's a sort of a stem at home activity that can be achieved uh without needing to physically visit or sort of you know have a physical trip to an archive how many people work in the article so i am the only archivist um and i have three colleagues who work with me in the library and information services so they work on the library side of things so what kind of things does your role encompass everything to do with uh managing the archives um so that's from [Music] physically caring for them managing our archive stores um knowing what we have so that might be improving our existing catalog entries or cataloging on catalogs material um i also when i'm caring for things that might be packaging or repackaging creating digital surrogates and developing our digital preservation and then also i like to tell people what we have um so that might be using our social media or our blog to make people aware of our collections and we've recently started doing some webinars about our virtual archive um so yeah sort of everything archived what particular challenges do you come across one of the ones that we particularly have is how to ensure that our descriptions of archive material meet the different differing requirements of our users so those users who are engineers will benefit from quite a technical description whereas those who aren't engineers would probably benefit from a less technical description so one of the projects that i've started working on is to almost create a dual catalog entry for material so a description of material that a lay person can read and appreciate and a description of material that an engineer can read and interpret um so that's something that's quite probably sector specific for us and it's just making sure that we're making our material as accessible as possible and because if we provided just one of those descriptions we we're not quite creating something that suits all of our users um yes it's only we're only just at the very beginning of it but hopefully it will help help both people who are looking at our materials from a sort of technical viewpoint and people who are interested in it from a less sort of technical viewpoint i think art galleries have sort of started at doing things like that as well you know you've got this this little plaque you get next to it going like that there's oil on canvas blah blah blah a lot of people don't care about that they kind of want it interpreted for them so it's like you know catering to different audiences yeah and it's about different layers of interpretation as well so some people might be quite happy just knowing the title that you know this is a um a beam engine for example and somebody might want to know who was it manufactured by which year was it manufactured um where was where was it then used etc so it's it's sort of creating those different layers to cater for different users are your hopes for expanding the archive for the future of the archives do you want to add anything in particular do you want to engage a certain audience so we're hoping that we can continue developing our collections and how they're used through making sure that we are collecting material that falls within our collecting policy but also represents our members and um sort of what is happening in mechanical engineering at the moment and we also want to develop and improve the accessibility of our collections so that things like that dual cataloging um the sort of events of the past few months have made it clear that having material online can be really beneficial and so we're looking at more and different ways that we can make our material accessible how we can better contribute to things like the institutions educational output and the challenges that the institution runs um so essentially we want to make it sort of as easy as possible for people to be able to remotely identify material that will be of interest to them and then how we can make that accessible to people and going forward we're looking at sort of future collaboration with other archives we fairly recently last summer did a second world war online exhibition with our colleagues from the institution of civil engineers and the institution of engineering and technology so we'd always sort of hope that going forward there might be more opportunities for collaboration as well do you ever loan out any of your collection yeah we have a collection of artifacts which includes models and awards and we've recently loaned a model of the golden arrow car to the vna for their cars exhibition and so that was on until i think march april okay i think i think it may have been interrupted yeah um and we yeah so we we do load some of our material out as well what is in your own opinion your favorite item in the collection so i think my fav oh that's the difficult question oh well we've got we've got lots of very very beautiful engineering drawings um so we've got some by a draftsman named david joy who made some beautiful drawings of locomotives but i think my favorite is probably our foundation letter um which sounds like a very corporate thing to answer but the reason for this is it's the letter that was sent around inviting prospective members to form an institution of mechanics and engineers who were gay engaged in the manufacturies and the railways and other establishments and i think there's two things that i particularly love about it and the first is that from the offset the title of the institution was institution of mechanical engineers and the second thing that i really love about it is that they wanted to quote give an impulse to inventions that were likely to be useful to the world um so even back in sort of 1846 the year before we were formed when they were sending around this circular letter they they wanted to create things that were going to be useful to the world and that's actually quite similar to the institutions sort of aim today which is to improve the world through engineering so i kind of like that the sort of aims of the institution and of mechanical engineering itself um have been so sort of forward thinking um from the sort of very start of the institution i feel like that might have changed over the years i feel like maybe when it was founded it was sort of um making improving people's lives sort of like making them more sanitary and and being able to move people about improving their quality of life whereas now we're sort of looking ecologically speaking and maybe now after coverage maybe electric scooters and things like that to keep people socially distant but quite energy friendly yeah so things like electric vehicles and lots of involvement i think by our members and mechanical engineers in um things that can help manage covid19 so i think it's it's things that have a benefit to the world um certainly any famous names that have been part of your um your institution i know that i see you claim at brunel unfortunately but well we have brunel sun as a member um um yes so there's been quite a few sort of um i suppose you might call them big names in mechanical engineering um so jordan robert stevenson um railways wise um both roles and royce of rolls-royce most cars um frank whittle who invented um the jets engine um so there's been a few sort of notable names and then you've got mechanical engineers who who sort of uh perhaps less well known um so we've had uh beatrice schilling who helped create a fix for carbaretas in the second world war for fighter planes so she joined as a member as well that's really interesting do you get are you expanding sort of female engineering and stuff like that are there any topics that you are keen to explore yeah certainly so personal papers wise we would be looking to add personal papers of women engineers and there is the women engineering society and their archives are held in collaboration with the institution of engineering and technology so we would always have a conversation with them about what's the most appropriate place for the collection of a woman engineer um is it more appropriate for people who are interested in women engineers to visit one archive repository um or [Music] should we have them sort of in in our archives if they were a mechanical engineer so there's always that kind of conversation to have as to what's the best place for that sort of collection but yeah certainly we would always be keen to know more about the working lives of some of our women members that's great that you've got such a great working relationship with other institutions um so you mentioned the ve exhibition that was in conjunction with was it institute of civil engineering and institute of engineering technology is that right yeah yeah that's right so that was looking at it was using our all three archive collections to look at the contributions made by engineers across the disciplines and engineering to the second world war so it wasn't a a look at all engineering during the second world war but it was based on what we each held in our collections um and so there was material on there to do with electricity supply building of motorways and things to do with um sort of building of railways and bridges uh in the theater of war is that still available online yeah yeah we've got that online and it sits on our engineers at war website and previously we did a first world war project with the institution of civil engineers and the institution of engineering and technology so there's our engineers at war website and you can select whether or not you wish to learn about first world war and engineering or the second world war and there's sort of images and text from all of the collections um so sort of engineering drawings some personal letters photographs that sort of thing that sounds really interesting and thank you so much for everyone to talk to me today i really enjoyed hearing more about mechanical engineering which to be fair is something that i didn't know i knew about if that makes sense and it's quite integral to our everyday lives even nowadays oh very much so yes um yes so check out the engineers at war online is there anywhere else do you want to point people in the direction of definitely our our virtual archive and so that's got uh photographs and images of artifacts and archive material and they're sort of key bits from our collection um and our archive catalog is also available online so if you want to search everything that we hold that's the best place to visit wonderful we'll put a link up on the page so people can check that out thanks so much lucy you're welcome talking to you thank you