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Image Library collections

The ICE Image Library offers a gallery of images from the extensive collection of the Library and Archives at ICE.

Gathered from its portraits, paintings and photographs, as well as plates, drawings and illustrations to classic engineering texts, the images date from the 1700s onwards.

Brought together from John Cooke Bourne's famous works on the London and Birmingham and Great Western Railways, the collection comprises his lovely and acute lithographs of the structures and work along the lines. Not only are they a delight to the eye but they give an accurate depiction of the methods of construction for earthworks employed in the 1830s and 1840s, showing fascinating glimpses of early tunnels, cuttings and retaining walls.

Bourne's volumes represent one of the earliest efforts at recording the progress of a construction project. Smeaton's narrative of the building of Eddystone Lighthouse was a previous example. Later in the nineteenth century, engineers would employ photography with enthusiasm for the same purpose and Bourne himself was an early adopter of the technology, although few of his photographs survive.

Born in 1814, the story goes that Bourne sent some of his drawings of the engineering works around Camden Town to John Britton, an author and antiquary. The works were for the London and Birmingham Railway and Britton persuaded the Railway to commission Bourne to record the construction and to publish engravings of the drawings. The success of the publication led to a similar commission for Brunel's Great Western Railway.

The engravings on the Image Library are taken from the very rich collection of classic texts and historic volumes held by ICE.

Prior to the invention of photography, the techniques of drawing, engraving and lithography were among the few means of depicting structures and capturing and illustrating methods of construction.

Some, such as the views of the works at Sheerness Dockyard from Sir John Rennie's volume on British and foreign harbours or those from Smeaton's narrative of the Eddystone Lighthouse, might be clearly intended for engineers.

Others, beautifully coloured, appear to be aimed at a popular audience and are an indication of the fascination that great engineering and engineering works hold for the public – Bury's Coloured views on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, for example.

The engravings of the Thames Tunnel make the same point, in a different way. They show its enormous popularity at the time it opened.

Finden's views of the ports, harbours and watering places offer a record of how our ports looked during the 1840s, including Chatham Dockyard and Yarmouth and Holyhead Harbours, while Cooke's Views in London and its vicinity gives a glimpse of the sheer physical effort involved in the construction of St Katherine's Dock, one of Thomas Telford's great works.

Aside from photographic portraits of engineers and photographs of individual structures, ICE has many images of projects under construction, recording their progress and illustrating the techniques and methods of the time. Our photographic images include iconic structures and range across the entire globe, from the U.K. and France to India, China, Japan and Australia.

Some of our earliest date from the 1850s (Brunel's famous work, the S S Great Eastern, at Millwall Docks, for example, or Vignole's Bahia Railway project in Brazil), as well as site photographs from the 1860s of the Crossness and Northern Outfalls, part of Bazalgette's scheme for the main drainage of London.

Nineteenth century engineers were quick to spot the potential of photography and it became not uncommon to produce entire albums of photographs of construction works. ICE holds no less than thirty, amongst which are volumes relating to the first Aswan Dam (1901-1912).

There are also sets for the Metropolitan and District Railway (1866-68) and the Sydney Harbour Bridge – a twentieth century project that produced about 250 construction photographs.

Another source for the collection is slides of various types, used to illustrate talks and lectures. The earliest form was the glass lantern slide and its occasional fragility and delicacy is well shown by the images of the construction of Tower Bridge – damaged yet still somehow eerie and extraordinary.

Engineering is about people too and ICE has one of the largest collections of engineering portraits in the world, including portraits of almost all of its Presidents over its near 200-year history. (One or two are now in the National Portrait Gallery.)

The collection encompasses some of the most illustrious names in nineteenth century engineering, such as I K Brunel, George and Robert Stephenson and Sir Joseph Bazalgette, as well as 'cartes de visite' photographs of lesser-known members.

Along with paintings and photographs of individuals, there are images which illustrate the human side of engineering: group portraits of engineers and labourers, often unidentified, posing on site or in front of the structures they have designed and built, site photographs that throw light on working conditions, equipment and techniques of the time. Note, for example, the absence of safety equipment for working at height in the photographs of the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge, completed less than a century ago.

Thomas Telford, FRS, FRSE (1757-1834) was the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the most pre-eminent civil engineer of his day when he was invited to become so. In an outstanding career spanning over sixty years, he was responsible for the design and construction of innumerable buildings and works that defined the role of the civil engineer: canals, roads, bridges of all types, drainage, docks and harbours and water supply schemes.

His influence was crucial in the early development of ICE and at his death he donated to it his books, drawings and papers. The latter form the Telford Collection in the Archives and the drawings were reproduced in the Atlas to his Life, the biography of him written by Rickman and published in 1838.

The images in the database include his favourite portrait of himself (by Samuel Lane), along with the painting by Arnold of his bridge at the Menai Straits, a structure that made his international reputation and that remains in use today.

This is true also for several of his other works illustrated here, in elevation, plan and sometimes section - the Caledonian Canal, St Katherine's Dock, numerous roads and bridges.

One of the most interesting is the drawing of road making. It is a structure that modern engineers might recognise but Telford was among the pioneers in the eighteenth century who radically improved the form.