University of Manchester, Department of Mechanical Engineering Archive

Scope and Content

Extant archive of the University of Manchester Department of Engineering. The archive is very fragmentary, and contains no material from the late 1970s onwards.

All departmental board and sub-committees' papers are currently missing (1969-2004), and these constitute a major gap in the record for post-1970 activities. As with other academic department archives, very few records of departmental administration have survived. The archive does include student registers from the 1890s to the 1950s (DME/1), after which this series was discontinued. there are a small number of departmental files dating from the 1940s to the 1970s (DME/2), which concern general administration, and some specific research activities within the Department (mostly relating to professors W B Hall and Jack Diamond). DME/3 comprises a small collection of Departmental publications.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Department was established in 1868, when Osborne Reynolds was appointed to the first chair of engineering at Owens College. The Department was generally known as the Department of Engineering or Mechanical Engineering, although its scope included civil engineering, and latterly nuclear and aeronautical engineering.

Reynolds (1842-1912) was the dominant figure in the Department for the next three decades, and he succeeded in building a nationally important university department. This owed much to his personal reputation as a researcher, especially in the field of fluid dynamics; he devised the Reynolds number to help predict flow pattern in different flow situations, and Reynolds' work had many practical applications, including in the design of ships.

Reynolds retired from the Department in 1905, and was succeeded by Stanley Dunkerley in 1905, whose research specialism was the vibration of crank shafts. Dunkerley resigned in 1908 and was succeeded by Joseph Petavel in 1909. Petavel (1873-1936) was known mainly for his work on measuring pressures within exploding gases, but he also did important work on designing plant for chemical reactions under high pressure, and he took an interest in meteorology, supervising the University's kite station at Glossop for several years. Petavel left Manchester in 1919 to become director of the National Physical Laboratory. From 1920 to 1949, the Department was headed by Arthur Gibson (1878-1959), an expert in hydraulic engineering.

During the postwar period, the Department like others in the Faculty of Science expanded. By the early 1960s, there were almost four hundred undergraduates studying engineering, and a growing number of research students. New areas of research developed, such as nuclear engineering, and geotechnics. A separate department of fluid motion/fluid mechanics, based at the Barton aerodrome, undertook aeronautical engineering (it was absorbed by the department of engineering in the mid-1980s). From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Department was dominated by a group of professors who included J L Matheson, professor of mechanical engineering and head of department, 1950-1959, William Bateman Hall (1923-2003), professor of nuclear engineering from 1959 to 1986, who established the Manchester-Liverpool joint research nuclear reactor in 1964, Michael Rex Horne (1921-2000) professor of civil engineering from 1960 to 1983, Jack Diamond (1912-1990), professor of mechanical engineering 1953-1977, Alan Morton professor of mechanical engineering 1967-1991, Donald McDowell professor of hydrodynamics/civil engineering, 1966-1983 and Peter Rowe, professor of soil mechanics (1922-1997), 1963-1982.

The increasing size and complexity of the Department meant that what were essentially sub-departments developed for civil, mechanical, nuclear engineering and geotechnics. The Department was noted for its research work in hydraulic engineering, including the hydrodynamics of complex structures, fluid mechanics (a specialism which dated back to Reynolds' time), including the flow of liquids and gases in industrial and environmental situations, internal combustion engines, thermodynamics, elasticity and strength of materials, vibrations, nuclear reactor physics, especially reactor safety, soil mechanics and geotechnics. By the late 1980s, distinct research groups had been set up for aeronautical engineering, environmental and industrial fluid mechanics, geotechnics, structures, management research, solids, dynamics and control, thermal power, and nuclear technology. In the 1970s, a special unit, the Wolfson Motor Cycle Research Unit, was created. In 1994 the Manchester School of Engineering was established with divisions for mechanical and nuclear, aeronautical, civil and electrical engineering. This involved a merger with the University Department of Electrical Engineering, which had been an independent department since 1913 [and originally known as Electro-technics].

The Department operated on several sites during its existence. From 1887, it occupied specially designed engineering laboratories, behind the John Owens building. These were endowed by Sir Joseph Whitworth. In 1909, a new building opened in Coupland Street, like its predecessor known as the Whitworth Engineering Laboratories. The Department remained here until the early 1960s, when it moved to the Simon Engineering Building, facing Oxford Road, and where it remained until 2004. By the 1990s, the University department and its UMIST equivalent were working closely together, and the departments merged to form a new School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) following the creation of The University of Manchester in 2004.


Arranged by series as follows:

  • DME/1 - Student Registers
  • DME/2 - Departmental Files
  • DME/3 - Departmental Publications

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader, unless otherwise stated. Some items are currently closed to public inspection, and others may require review before access is granted to researchers.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under the Act 2018 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the University Archives from MACE in October 2006. A few items had been donated to the Archives independently in the 1970s and 1980s.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.


Further accruals possible

Related Material

Annual reports of the Department (to 1996) can be found in the Reports of Council to Court (UOP/2); staff lists etc. are available in the University calendars (UOP/1). The Faculty of Science archive (FSC) has some information on the development of the engineering curriculum and syllabus from 1903-2004. Prospectuses (mainly Faculty) can be found in the prospectus collection (PRO).

Vice-Chancellor's files (VCA) also provide additional information on the administration of the Department: see VCA/7/303 (1919-1949), VCA/7/592 (1955-1964), VCA/7/752 (1950-1975), VCA/7/882 (1976-1985). Chair files include Matheson VCA/7/33, Diamond VCA/7/650, Horne, VCA/7/651, and Hall, VCA/7/685. Although this archive does not include departmental board records, copies of the board minutes for 1969 to 1979 can be found in the Peter Rowe papers, PWR/3/2/2.

A corresponding archive exists for the UMIST department of mechanical engineering TME. The post-2004 MACE archive is a separate and as yet uncatalogued collection. The University Archives also has custody of the records of the University Engineering Society (UES).


Although there is no detailed history of the Department, see A H Gibson, "The past and present work of the Department of Engineering in Journal of the University of Manchester 1.1., 1937.

Geographical Names