The IET Archives recently received a fabulous donation of the photographic albums of the London Association of Foremen Engineers (became the London Association of Engineers in 1934) which cover the period of the organisation’s existence up to 1939. The two photographic albums and an album of signatures came in a beautiful presentation box which is shown above. We are very grateful to the Chipping Norton Museum for this donation and anyone interested in the work of the Chipping Norton History Society and Museum can find its website here – http://www.chippingnortonmuseum.org.uk/.
Why was the London Association of Foremen Engineers formed?
From our searches, it appears that the minute books and records of the Association have not survived at any repository, so we are reliant upon a booklet, produced by the Association for its centenary in 1952, to tell us about its history (part of the donation), the cover of which is reproduced below.
There is a suggestion that the Association was formed in 1852 as The London Association of Foremen Engineers and Draughtsmen, but it was soon referred to as just the London Association of Foremen Engineers (LAFE). The Association was formed as it was felt that the other engineering organisations at that time did not adequately cater for foremen, and the Association eventually became a forum for them to present and discuss papers on a wide variety engineering topics. One of the early members of the Association, Joseph Newton, discussed the other organisations in existence at the time of its founding and the need to cater for foremen engineers as follows;
“Prior to the founding of the London Association of Foremen Engineers there were in existence the ‘Old Society’, the ‘New Society’ and the ’Amalgamated Society’. These were purely of a trade character, and all their members were composed of workmen employed in the different branches of the engineering trade.”
Newton went on to say;
“The main reason, however, for mentioning these institutions is to show the difference in the social position of workmen and foremen in former days, and before the founding of the Foremen’s Association. It will be well to quote the words of Mr Briggs [one of the founders of LAFE] in illustration. He says: ‘I will take myself as an example. I had been in London many years holding a position as foreman… owing to my very limited acquaintance with my brother foremen I had no one to consult with as to carrying out such an object…. Workmen were really in a far better position. They had their societies and places of meeting, funds to afford them pecuniary aid when out of situations, superannuation funds when age and infirmity prevented them following their employment, and it was the duty of each member to inform the members generally when anyone was out of work, and to indicate where he was likely to get employment. Foremen were deficient of every one of these privileges, and what was worse they could not go from shop to shop as workmen did to ask for jobs, but were obliged to wait the issue of events.”
History of the London Association of Foremen Engineers
In its early days the qualifications required for membership of the Association were high and the Principal Foremen of those days were men who usually carried, next to their employers, the whole responsibility of running an engineering works. Many engineering firms started in London and membership of the Association was largely drawn from these. As firms grew and became successful, requiring larger works, they often moved out of ‘expensive London’ leading to a loss of membership for the Association which was replaced by members from new firms in London in new branches of engineering.
It was May in 1852 when 5 men met in the upper room of ‘Old George’ Inn, Borough, in the centre of the manufacturing industry in London, and started to work out the details of the Association which was to be know 100 years later as the London Association of Engineers. The 5 men who attended that first meeting were; Mr Sheaves; Mr Tillot (of Mr Henry Grissell’s of the Wharf Road, City Road); Mr Ross (from Messrs Rennies); Mr Allison (from Messrs Shears & Son, Bankside); and Mr John Briggs (of Messrs H Tyler & Co, Whitecross Street, St Luke’s).
After the example set by London, similar organisations were started in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Middlesborough, Newcastle, and the West of Scotland. At the same time as the formation of the Association, George Sheaves, 1st President of the Association, who held this office from 1852 to 1859, founded and promoted a magazine dealing with engineering in general and the London Association in particular which was called, ‘The Foreman Engineer and Draughtsman’.
From 1853 onwards the Association had an annual Anniversary Dinner and selected a Chairman for the Anniversary Dinner. The Chairmanship was not confined to the engineering sector and noted soldiers and statesmen also filled this role.
In 1934 the name of the Association was changed from The London Association of Foremen Engineers and Draughtsmen to the London Association of Engineers.
After the Second World War the Association changed its membership categories. Previously there was the single category of Member. After the war the category of Associate Member was inaugurated (applicants had to be 21 and an ‘outstanding employee’ for at least 1 year in a Department of Engineering). In addition the Association implemented a rule saying that corporate bodies and firms could join as Honorary Members, and Garrard Engineering and Manufacturing Co Ltd of Swindon became the first corporate body to come within this category. By the time of its centenary membership of the Association had grown to 450.
From the 1950s onwards little appears to be mentioned about the Association in newspapers. Finally an entry in The London Gazette, 14 January 1985, refers to the dissolution of the London Association of Engineers.
What’s in the box?
The two main items in the box are a photograph album of Presidents and Chairmen of the Anniversary Dinners and a photograph album of distinguished guests, both covering the period up to 1939. Whilst there are many gaps amongst the pages there are still many hugely influential and well-known individuals, including politicians and engineers, whose faces appear amongst the pages of the albums. For example Thomas Sopwith, the English aviation pioneer, was the Chairman of the 1920 Anniversary Dinner (page from album shown below).
Sir Herbert Austin, founder of the Austin Motor Company was the Chairman of the 1931 Anniversary Dinner (page from album shown below).
Clement Attlee, whilst he was Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, before he became Prime Minister, was one of the distinguished guests of the Association in 1938 (page from album shown below).
The influence and importance of the London Society of Engineers can perhaps be deduced from its centenary Anniversary Dinner in 1952, which took place at the Connaught Rooms in London and which was attended by high profile individuals including the Earl De La Warr (Postmaster General), Sir Frederick Handley Page (aircraft industry pioneer), and Lieutenant-General Ronald Morce Weeks (Chairman of Vickers). There is a British Pathé newsreel which covers the event which can be found here – British Pathé Newsreel.
If you have any material related to the London Association of Foremen Engineers or the London Association of Engineers that you would like to donate then please contact the IET Archives using the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.