The first local centre of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in the North-East was the Newcastle Local Section which was formed in 1899. The Teesside Branch was spun out of this Section in 1912 and became the Teesside Sub-Centre in 1919 whilst the Newcastle Local Section itself changed its name to the North-Eastern Centre in 1919.
A Recent Discovery of Early Minutes Belonging to the Newcastle Local Section
In 2014, a donation was made to the IET Archives of the minute book of the Newcastle Section (archive reference IET/CEN/15/1/94). The donor had no idea how the minute book came to be in his attic but we were nevertheless very grateful to receive this wonderful volume. The minute book covers the period 1913 to 1921 and includes not only the minutes of the Newcastle Local Section Committee and its successor the North-Eastern Centre Committee but also includes minutes of the Teesside Branch Committee.
Other than a list of the members of the 1913-1914 Dinner Committee pasted to the inside cover, the first entries are for the Annual General Meeting of the Section held in Armstrong College on Monday 26 May 1913 and the 12th Committee Meeting of the Section for the 1912-13 session held again at Armstrong College, Monday 22 September 1913. These first entries are shown below.
The minute book gives a particularly valuable insight into the regional activities of the IEE. Until the discovery of this volume the IET Archives only held the minutes of the North-Eastern Centre dating from after 1920.
Formal regional groupings of IEE members around the UK were called Centres for most of the 20th century. Centres organised most of their own affairs, and whilst they would usually send copies of their minutes to the IEE at Savoy Place in London they were under no obligation to send their original records to the IEE’s archives. The original IEE Centre minutes that exist today in the IET Archives are those that particular centres chose of their own volition to send to London and several gaps remain in the series of Centre minutes.
Are minutes really that interesting?
The IEE Centre minute books from the early 20th century are quite unlike a modern set of minutes where there is typically only a brief record of a meeting and where much of the detail is in the supporting reports. The early minute books were written in great detail, were very wide ranging and contain much social history as well as personal opinions.
As might be expected the Newcastle Local Section minute book contains details of lectures, visits, and dinners that formed key elements of the Section programme. For example the first lecture mentioned, which was given at the 1913 AGM, was on the subject of ‘notes on gas engines’ given by Albert P Pyne (many years later Albert became the Chairman of the Section). The September 1913 Committee minutes noted a recent visit to see the SS Tynemouth at the Walker Shipyard belonging to the famous shipbuilders Messrs Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson. Swan Hunter was well-known in the early 20th century for its building of RMS Carpathia in 1903 and RMS Mauretania in 1913. The SS Tynemouth of Newcastle was stranded off the coast of Northumberland in May 1913 and was probably in the Swan Hunter shipyard for repairs. The 1913 Board of Trade wreck report on the Tynemouth can be found here – SS Tynemouth wreck report.
The minutes also discuss cooperation with the IEE in London and subjects of particular interest to the Section/Centre. There is also an example of the Centre adopting a different attitude to the IEE Council. In March 1919 the Centre Committee wrote to other Centres about an IEE Council decision to support a Board of Trade report on electric power supply with which the North-Eastern Centre ‘regretfully’ could not concur.
There is a significant amount of coverage in the minutes of the relationship of the Section/Centre with other technical and engineering organisations in the region such as the Junior Institution of Engineers and given the period covered there is a large amount of material relating to WWI.
The extract from the minutes shown below comes from a meeting held Monday 30 July 1917 in the boardroom of another famous North-Eastern engineering company, Merz & McLellan. The minutes shown discuss the proposed formation of an Electric Light & Signal Company and the committee proposed seeking the immediate cooperation of the Chamber of Commerce Electrical Section to organise a mass meeting of the electrical industry to bring this about.
Prominent and Noted Engineers Involved with the North-Eastern Centre
Many well-known engineers were Committee members and they have signed the pages of the minutes or have added entries by hand. These individuals include;
C Vernier (Section Chairman 1913).
Philip Vassar Hunter (Section Chairman 1914-1916 and President of the IEE 1933).
Henry William Clothier (Section Chairman 1916-1917).
Albert Henry Weaver Marshall (Section Chairman 1917-1918).
Albert P Pyne (Centre Chairman 1918-1919).
William Cross (Centre Chairman 1919-1920).
James Robert Beard (Centre Chairman 1920-1921 and President of the IEE 1940).
The eminence of the individuals can be illustrated by Philip Vassar Hunter (photograph below).
Philip Vassar Hunter was made the Head of the Electrical Department of Merz & McLellan in 1909, was loaned to the Naval Staff as Chief Engineer of the Experiments and Research Section of the Anti-Submarine Division for WWI, and after the war became Joint Manager and Chief Engineer of Callender’s Cable and Construction Company. When British Insulated Callender’s Cable Co (BICC) was formed in 1945 he became a Director and Engineer-in-Chief and later he became Deputy Chairman of the company.
P V Hunter as well as being the IEE’s President in 1933 was also made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1951 and the IEE recorded a film of him in 1951 as it did of many other Honorary Fellows and Faraday medallists. The IET Archives holds film files including the scripts for many of these films including that of P V Hunter in which he talks about his experiences and work in WWI and WWII and the power distribution work carried out by Merz in the early 20th century.
History of Technology TPN Event in Newcastle – June 2015
There has always been a strong relationship between engineering and the North East of England and on the weekend of 6-7 June 2015 at the Newcastle Discovery Museum there will be a conference on the history of power generation, distribution, utilisation and other engineering specialisms. This conference is being organised by the History of Technology TPN and there will be an opportunity to visit the Discovery Museum’s ‘Arcs and Sparks’ collection. There will also be an optional visit on Sunday 7th June to Cragside House, a National Trust property which was the first private residence to employ hydroelectric power.