When tomorrow looks bleak, the past can inspire

How to mark The Engineer‘s final issue of 2008, the year of the banking crisis, the incredible fluctuating oil price and, if you believe the worst predictions, the beginning of a particularly bleak period for the world’s economy?

Enough, enough please. We have all had plenty of that, and no doubt have plenty more to come, but in the spirit of the festive season The Engineer would like to discuss something rather more uplifting.

Regular readers will know that our stance is determinedly forward-looking, but in the month of the Christmas carol we offer an insight into the salvaging of a wrecked piece of engineering that Dickens himself would have marvelled at.

Our feature on the restoration of the Prince Consort pumping engine — a key part of the sewerage network of Victorian London — by a dedicated team of enthusiasts and engineers is heart-warming.

It is a classic story of passion and perseverance — ‘dedication or insanity’ in the words of one of those who took part — triumphing in the face of adversity.

The bigger picture, of which the Prince Consort is just one element, is perhaps more uplifting still. The infrastructure masterminded by Joseph Bazalgette turned London from a place plagued by the type of diseases we now associate with the developing world into one that began to resemble a modern European city.

The Victorian predecessors of those of you who now read The Engineer thought big, future-proofing the system against demand to come, and making ambition their watchword.

We could all name many other examples of the legacy left to us by those pioneers, and it is pertinent at the moment to remember that it was engineers who took the UK out of the twilight of the pre-industrial era and transformed it into a modern nation.

As we survey the wreckage of the economic policies of the last two decades, we wonder whether this is the moment for their successors to repeat the trick, if they are given a chance.

Where else, in all honesty, is the growth going to come from except from industrial expansion and technical innovation? What else does the UK economy have in its locker now that the mad money merry-go-round has stopped? Some nice tourist destinations and a decent line in fashion designers and musicians isn’t going to cut it, not for a nation of 60 million with a taste for the good things in life.

But there we go again, too much doom and gloom. The Engineer wishes all its readers a happy Christmas and a prosperous — yes, prosperous — 2009.


Andrew Lee, editor

Note, the next issue of The Engineer will be published on 12 January 2009.