Engineering relics find new home in museum
Relics found in a storeroom at the University of Portsmouth are to go on show in a UK museum dedicated to civil engineering.
More than 35 pieces of equipment once used to teach civil engineering – including levels, theodolites and sextants dating back to the 1930s – will now be dusted off and take their place in history in the Institution of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) museum.
The ICE Scotland Museum, at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has about 450 items of historical interest, including original Telford letters, specimens of iron from 19th century world record bridge spans and Sir JW Gordon’s fine oil paintings of Scottish engineers, Thomas Grainger and John Miller. The museum also holds a collection of surveying and drawing instruments, flow meters, rails, materials and tools used to help make accurate calculations.
David McGuigan, curator, who came to Portsmouth to collect the haul, said: “The museum’s collection of surveying instruments is considered to be one of the finest in the UK.
“The items held by the University of Portsmouth will significantly enhance our collection.”
The School of Civil Engineering and Surveying at Portsmouth has existed in various forms since before the First World War.
The optical-mechanical instruments donated to the museum come from an era when topographic surveying and draughtsmanship were on the curriculum for all civil engineering students. Today, those skills are taught using robotic theodolites and GPS-enabled devices in the field and computer-aided design (CAD) in the studio. The School is now developing these skills even further with an unmanned aerial vehicle recently added to the surveying equipment available for research and teaching purposes.
None of us wanted to throw it all into a skip... We were delighted when the museum curator said they’d be happy to collect all of it and that it would be of value to the collection
Top image: Andrea Fitch with ICE Museum curator David McGuigan
Above: A piece of equipment routinely used by first-year students in the 1970s
The instruments donated to the museum include a Wild Theodolite minus its tribrach probably used by researchers in the School in the mid-1970s, tools used for Plane Table Surveying considered not very accurate by modern standards, a stereoscope used in Photogrammetry. All of it would in the 1980s have been considered out of date.
Today civil engineering students are taught using digital equipment, lasers and even the introduction of a new drone for aerial work.
Dr Stephanie Barnett, Head of School, said she was pleased the old equipment and tools had found the right home, after they had been unearthed by the School’s technical manager Andrea Fitch.
Dr Barnett said: “I’d asked Andrea to see if we could clear out a storeroom and she came across a treasure trove of old equipment.
“None of us wanted to throw it all into a skip, so Andrea contacted the museum hoping one or two items might be of interest. We were delighted when the museum curator said they’d be happy to collect all of it and that it would be of value to the collection.”
A stereoscope used in photogrammetry in the 1970s