Reference numberJS
TitleWorking design drawings of civil engineering projects by John Smeaton
CreatorSmeaton, John (1724-1792) Civil Engineer
DescriptionThe working drawings of John Smeaton, civil engineer. They illustrate his researches on applied mechanics especially water wheels, and the relative efficiency of overshot as opposed to undershot wheels. The full collection, with supplementary engravings and manuscript notes, was classified by John Farey from 1821 under six headings:
Windmills and Watermills for Grinding Corn
Mills for various purposes and Machines for Raising Water
Fire Engines for Raising Water
Bridges and Buildings
Canal Works, Sluices, and Harbours
Canals and River Navigations

Smeaton was a man of laborious habits and made all his drawings himself. His earliest designs, executed under his own supervision, show signs of having been used as working drawings. After he became more established and employed a draughtsman, he still continued to draw the lines of all his drawings to the proper scale in pencil lines on cartridge paper which he called sketches. Fair copies of the sketches were then made on drawing paper by the draughtsman, William Jessop or his successor Henry Eastburn, and Smeaton's daughters frequently helped in the shadowing and finishing in indian ink.
Extent6 volumes, each bound in two parts (with the exception of the first), a total of 11 bound volumes containing 995 folios in total
Physical descriptionDrawings mounted on guards or are inserted loose in eleven volumes measuring 22.5 inches by 16.25 inches
ArrangementAll the contents foliated.
Classified by John Farey from 1821 under six headings:
Windmills and Watermills for Grinding Corn
Mills for various purposes and Machines for Raising Water
Fire Engines for Raising Water
Bridges and Buildings
Canal Works, Sluices, and Harbours
Canals and River Navigations
Finding aidsPrinted catalogue edited by HW Dickinson and AA Gomme (1950) available. Includes preface and index. The printed catalogue of 1950 includes the location of the original engineering project, type of drawing, (plan, elevation, ) scale, date, and text of any inscriptions. The location in the printed 'Reports' is cited
Access statusOpen
Administrative historyThe son of an Attorney, after a sound elementary education and product of Leeds Grammar School, John Smeaton was encouraged to follow a legal career and entered his father's legal practice, then in 1842 was sent to London for further training in the courts. His inclination to mechanical arts prevailed, and with his father's consent he became a maker of scientific instruments, thereby providing scope for both his scientific interests and his mechanical ingenuity. In 1750 he set up his own business, producing several technical innovations, including a novel pyrometer with which he studied the expansion of various materials. However, the pace of industrial and and commercial progress directed his attention to large scale engineering works. He designed mills and did some most interesting experiments on both wind and water mills, though he did not publish his work on these in the 'Philosophical Transactions' until 1759. In 1755 the second Eddystone Lighthouse, built in 1706 by Rudyard following the destruction of the original Eddystoine Lighthouse designed by Henry Winstanley and begun in 1696 which was destroyed by the great gale of November 1703, was burnt down. Trinity House asked the Earl of Macclesfield, the President of the Royal Society, to recommend an engineer to design and build a replacement. Macclesfield recommended Smeaton. Hence from 1756-1759 Smeaton was occupied with his best known achievement, the rebuilding of the Eddystone lighthouse, which confirmed his reputation as an engineer. He subsequently became a consultant in the more profitable structural engineering and river harbour works, and adopted the term 'civil engineer' to distinguish civilian consultants from the military engineers graduating from the Military Academy at Woolwich. He was elected FRS in 1753, and in 1759 he published a paper on water wheels and windmills, for which he received the Copley Medal of the Royal Society. He was a member of the Royal Society Club, an occasional guest at meetings of the Lunar Society, and a charter member of the first professional engineering society, the Society of Civil Engineers founded in 1771; after his death in 1792 it became known as the Smeatonian Society. Its founding reflected the growing sense of professionalism among British civilian engineers during the eighteenth century.
James Watt is said to have acquired his engineering knowledge from the construction of the 'Fire Engine' at New River Head, now demolished, for which only Smeaton's drawings now exist.
Related materialFour volumes of Smeaton's "Machine Letters" are in the library of the Institution of Civil Engineers purchased by ICE from Sotheby's in 1986. Microfilms of drawings also available at the Insitution of Civil Engineers.
Fellows associated with this archive
NA6321Smeaton; John (1724 - 1792)1724 - 1792
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