Chrimes' Biographical dictionary
It may seem more than a little perverse to entitle this web-page "Chrimes" when Volume 1 of this extremely worthy publication was edited by a group of experts headed by the late Professor Skempton, which included Mike Chrimes, and in the case of Volume 2 Mike rightly heads the list. As noted in KPJ's comments on the ODNB Mike is one of the few star performers in the biogaphies relating to engineers, and many, but not all, of the other biographers writing on engineers in the ODNB are sometimes ill-equipped for the task. As steamindex seeks to establish paradigms Chrimes must be included as worthy of this accolade and Chrimes will join Marshall as one of those cited in the biographical sections of this website. This will only be achieved with difficulty, however, as: (1) Chrimes lacks a subject index and locating "railway engineers" will take time (to an extent this lack is ameliorated by an index of places which is an excelloent substitute in Volume 3 (and to a lesser extent in Volume 2); and (2) these magnificent volumes are not included within the miserable collection of material held by Norfolk County Library, in spite of many Norfolk men being listed, notably Cubitt. The third volume has been received by KPJ.
Chrimes, Mike and others. Biographical dictionary
of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 2. 1830-1890.
London: Thomas Telford, 2008.
Cited as Chrimes. Exclusions noted include Stroudley; D.K. Clark; Ramsbottom; Bury and Sinclair. Zerah Colburn is included, however. There is an interesting and informative overview of the professional development of civil engineering during the period covered. Lists of Patents are included in some entries. Includes a wonderful lucid biography of Francis Whishaw. Probable error in entry for Joseph Phillips: name of son not Peter but Philip: see article by Humm in J. Rly Can. Hist. Soc., 2009, 36, 166.. Reviewed Martin Barnes in J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc, 2008. 36 (202), 123.
Skempton, A.W. Biographical dictionary of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 1. 1500-1830. London: Thommas Telford, 2002.
Cited as Skempton. Some engineers appear in both volumes and this was probably a strategic error on the part of the committee which organized the work. Portraits are included in both volumes, but do not achieve the reprographic standard set by the ODNB. Major works, both in the physical sense, as in Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge across the Tyne, and the rarer written contributions, are listed in both volumes.
Chrimes, Mike and others. Biographical dictionary of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. Volume 3. 1890-1930. London: ICE Publishing, 2014. 743pp..
Alec Westley Skempton
Born 4 June 1914; died 9 August 2001. Born in Northampton and inspired by his science teachers at Northampton grammar school, in 1932 Skempton went to the City and Guilds College, then a separate part of London University's Imperial College, to study civil engineering. Encouragement from his professor, Sutton Pippard, and a Goldsmiths' Company bursary allowed him to begin work on a PhD. Having obtained a post at the Building Research Station (BRS) in 1936, Skempton developed his work on reinforced concrete an area in which Britain lagged behind the United States. By January 1937, his love of geology guided him to the neighbouring soil mechanics laboratory. In joining that section of the BRS, Skempton began a lifelong involvement in soil mechanics.
The importance of Skempton's field immediately became apparent with the failure, under construction, of the earth embankment for a reservoir at Chingford, in north-east London. Skempton's analysis revealed that the speed of construction had imposed too great a load on the clay strata before they had gained strength from a consolidation process. His work at the BRS continued until 1946, encompassing Waterloo Bridge, the Muirhead dam (near Largs, in Scotland), Gosport Dockyard and the Eau Brink Cut channel of the river Ouse, near King's Lynn. In 1945, Sutton Pippard invited him to establish a soil mechanics course at Imperial. Initially a part-time BRS secondment, the post became a full-time senior lectureship the following year. Assisted by Alan Bishop, Skempton built an international reputation for Imperial, which was consolidated by his introduction in 1950 of the first postgraduate course in soil mechanics. Skempton was elevated to the chair of soil mechanics in 1955. Two years later he succeeded Pippard as departmental head a position he held until 1976 and professor of civil engineering; from 1981, he was professor emeritus and senior research fellow.
For the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), in 1947 he was a founding member of the soil mechanics and foundations committee first contributing to the Rotterdam international conference and then establishing what is today the British Geotechnical Association. His ICE work saw him named as the first chairman of the civil engineers archive panel in 1975. During a 21-year tenure, he oversaw a reorganisation of the archive's collections. As chairman of the panel for historical engineering works (1982-90), he raised the professional standards of its work and publications.
His dedication was matched by his willingness to understand and contextualise the work of others. Challenging orthodox assumptions, he played a guiding role in developing intellectual and academic rigour in his field. Predecessors in civil engineering whose work had been ignored found a new champion in Skempton. The work he edited on John Smeaton (1981), today recognised as a founder of modern civil engineering, his papers on the early fen drainage engineer John Grundy, and the biography he co-authored of William Jessop (1979), typified his thirst for, and dedication to, re-understanding his professional ancestors. The dissatisfaction with the work of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and others that drove his work on the origins of modern skyscrapers in the late 1950s typified his success in finding a fresh perspective. Active in publishing until the end of his life, Skempton had been working on a biographical dictionary of civil engineers of the British Isles.
A keen amateur flautist, he performed at one of the first Imperial College lunchtime concerts, in 1950; he and his wife, Nancy, were avid croquet-playing members of the Hurlingham Club. His many honours included the vice-presidency of the ICE (1974-76), the fellowship of the Royal Society (1961) and a knighthood in the millennium honours, but he had a great dislike of formal gatherings. Guardian obituary.
His bibliography is vast (KPJ).