Tunneling for the London Underground, 28 Oct 1937, London, England, UK


England’s engineering heritage is vast. To mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the London Underground this year, national tourist board Visit England has drawn up this list of nine of the nation’s top engineering landmarks. What do you think should be the tenth?

1. London Underground Network 

Dating back to 1863, the London Underground is the world’s oldest underground network. On its first day of operation the Metropolitan line carried a total of 40,000 passengers from Paddington to Farringdon in the newly constructed tunnel via Edgware Road, Baker Street, Portland Road (now Great Portland Street), Gower Street (now Euston Square) and King’s Cross. The train took 18 minutes to make the 3.75-mile journey. By 1880 the line was carrying 40 million passengers a year.

2. British Engineerium, Brighton 

Steeped in history, the Grade II-listed British Engineerium asserts itself as an impressive landmark in Brighton and Hove. The collection of Victorian brick buildings and its imposing chimney demands historical and architectural recognition. But inside this polychrome exterior is where the real action is: the restored Corliss steam engine and 1890s steam-powered fire engine stand proudly among an array of gleaming exhibits and 19th century engines. The Engineerium is being renovated and is due to reopen later this year.

3. Steepest funicular railways in England, Hastings 

The East and West Hill Funiculars are fine examples of Victorian engineering, built to attract tourists and transport people to the hills of Hastings. The West Cliff Railway, close to the ruins of Hastings Castle, was opened in 1891 and built by the Hastings Lift Company. A 363ft brick-lined tunnel was driven through a natural cave at an inclination of 1:3. The 500ft journey to the top, taking in panoramic rooftop views of the Old Town squeezed between two hills, takes a few minutes and the original carriages are still in use today. The East Hill Funicular is the steepest of its kind in England. The water balance lift, at a gradient of 78 per cent, was opened on Coronation Day 1902. Today it’s an electric operation and the carriages are replica versions of the handsome mahogany-framed cars with oak strip flooring and arched roofs.

4. Fastest car in the world, Coventry 

ThrustSCC is the current Land Speed Record-holding car. It is on permanent display at the Coventry Transport Museum. The vehicle was designed and built by an English team headed by Richard Noble OBE. Powered by two afterburning Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines, as used in the British version of the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter, it was driven through the sound barrier by RAF Wing Commander Andy Green in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA, in 1997.This feat of English engineering is still appreciated today: the same team is now in advanced stages of building a new car, Bloodhound SSC, which, it is hoped, will break the 1,000mph barrier.

5. Oldest surviving turning shed in the world, Derby 

The crumbling remains of Derby Roundhouse have been restored into a truly unique learning centre. The world’s first railway roundhouse, built by Robert Stephenson in 1839 for the North Midland Railway, contained 16 lines of rails, radiating from a single turntable in the centre. The turntable was a genius invention because it allowed a locomotive to be turned around for the return journey. The Derby Roundhouse was endorsed by the Guinness World Records in 2012.6 Largest bell foundry in the world, Leicestershire John Taylor Bell Founders has been casting bells since the 13th century. In 1881, John Taylor cast the largest bell in Britain, ‘Great Paul’, for St Paul’s Cathedral in London. John Taylor is now the largest bell foundry in the world and has a museum telling a story of one of the world’s oldest manufacturing industries. Part of the museum has a room full of great-sounding bells from different ages and founders.

6. The largest bell foundry in the world, Leicestershire

John Taylor Bell Founders has been casting bells in Leicestershire since the 13th century. In 1881, John Taylors cast the largest bell in Britain, 'Great Paul', for St Paul's Cathedral in London. John Taylors is now the largest bell foundry in the world and has a museum which tells a story of one of the world’s oldest manufacturing industries in the world. One of the rooms is full of great-sounding bells from different ages and founders.

7. Oldest windmill in Britain, Buckinghamshire 

Dating back to 1627, Pitstone Windmill is believed to be the oldest windmill in the country. Pitstone ground flour for the village for almost 300 years until a freak storm in the early 1900s left it badly damaged. It was later donated to the National Trust and restored. The mill and its machinery balance on the head of a massive wooden post.

8. World’s first passenger train, Manchester 

The world’s first passenger train is now kept at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. MOSI is housed in the original buildings of Manchester’s Liverpool Road station, which was part of the world’s first passenger railway – the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, built in 1830. Once used to transport goods between the port of Liverpool and the industrial powerhouse of Manchester, this engineering creation revolutionised travel and now boasts of the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world. 

9. Longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain, Huddersfield 

The Standedge Tunnel, Britain’s longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel, passes under the Pennines between Diggel and Marsden. Built over 200 years ago, the tunnel is nearly three and a half miles long and took 16 years to build. The final section was overseen by renowned engineer Thomas Telford in 1811. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, as listed by Robert Aickman (the co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association in 1946).

10. So what would make your top ten of English engineering marvels? 

Send your thoughts and reasons why to vvitaliev@theiet.org

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