Hugh Ferguson and Mike Chrimes, co-authors of The Consulting Engineers and previous ICE Publishing titles, The Contractors and The Civil Engineers, on why they chose to work in civil engineering, what it takes to write a book and more!
What inspired you to work in civil engineering?
All the usual things: good at maths and physics; wanted to work outside, not in an office; wanted to create things; wanted to do something useful. I later discovered that a training in civil engineering is also a good grounding for almost anything else you want to do in life.
I came into the field pretty much by accident. I was looking for a year’s post qualification experience in a Library and a job came up at ICE which offered promotional prospects after a year. I’d come from an arts background but had been good at sciences at school and found it a great challenge, with lots of variety in helping people to solve problems that generally benefit society. I also discovered that, for a discipline I’d expected to be fact based, there was a lot of uncertainty - not least about the history of structures.
What does writing a book entail?
Dedication, hard work, persistence, organisation (to set and achieve goals, otherwise you never finish!), an understanding family. Oh, and a little knowledge of the subject and some ability to write also help.
Definitely hard work, checking facts, but also in my case, being driven by the desire to share the knowledge you have.
What is the best part of writing a book?
The help and support of others, particularly those who had the confidence to put their money in as sponsors. The joy of seeing the finished product, and in this case, creating the unique ‘consultants timeline’ tracking the evolution and merger of firms over more than two centuries (hint - it’s hidden between pages 180 and 181!).
Making your thoughts available to others and working with a production team to make it work as a book.
And the worst…? What was the biggest challenge you faced?
After all the text was written, sourcing nearly 600 good quality illustrations, and obtaining the necessary permissions.
Always reducing the length to a manageable size.
What will the reader learn from The Consulting Engineers?
What a rich and interesting history the profession has, as well as how and why consulting engineering has changed so dramatically in recent decades.
How much could be done by relatively few people, and how work has been organised over three hundred years.
How do you take your tea?
India/Ceylon loose tea (never tea bags), dash of milk, no sugar.
By preference spiced black tea.
If you could invite any engineer (alive or dead) to dinner, who would it be?
John Smeaton, the founder of the consulting engineering profession in Britain in the 18th century (though the term ‘consulting engineer’ came later). I’d love to know what he’d have made of subsequent developments – international growth in the 19th century and again in the mid 20th century, and particularly the emergence of today’s giant firms.
Robert Stephenson - how on earth did he manage so much work and what would he have liked to have done that he didn’t have time to do.
If you had a chance to expand this book even further, what else would you include?
It would have been good to have a better understanding of the role of women, however, as they were generally in small family businesses, there are fewer records available.
Hear directly from Hugh Ferguson and Mike Chrimes what they have to say on:
What led them to write the third book in the collection?
What will practising engineers learn from this book?
Who were the the most important consulting engineers?
Why were consulting engineers so important to British infrastructure?
What impact did consulting engineers have on the rest of the world?
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