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The Society's 250th Year

To mark the year, the Society commissioned an anniversary medal, which also represents the future focus of the next phase of the Smeaton Medal as an award for early/mid career engineers for excellence in 'innovative engineering in a hostile environment for the public good'

The Society also hosted a celebratory dinner at Trinity House in September 2021

In 2021 the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers celebrated its 250th Anniversary and the establishment of one of the world’s oldest professional societies in March 1771. In the Information Age that defines the 21st century, members of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers are celebrating 250 years of exchanging information in the most congenial, and traditional, formats - through regular discussions over dinner with fellow engineers and interested colleagues and guests.

Always a small society - for many years its membership was restricted to 60 - it has sustained its significance by providing a regular multidisciplinary forum for the UK’s leading engineers and colleagues. With regard to the latter the election of HRH Prince Philip as an Honorary Member In 1953, well-known for his interest in science and technology, created an important Royal link, that was further strengthened by the election of the Princess Royal in 2017. She is one of a number of distinguished women members elected in recent years. The Society has increased its numbers more generally to ensure younger engineers can get involved, and that new disciplines are adequately represented.

Today the Society is thriving as its dinner-based discussions continue to prove an attractive alternative to e-based meetings and formal lectures. Rather than relying only on informal discussions over dinner, which characterised its activities generally,  more formal discussion evenings on often controversial topics have become part of its regular programme, boosting attendance, and attracting a large number of guests. Recent topics have included nano materials, shale gas, the state of the engineering professions, space engineering, community energy, road pricing, artificial intelligence, and the state of the nation’s infrastructure.

In part this development reflects a conscious response to the establishment of other multidisciplinary bodies - The Royal Academy of Engineering (1976) and the Worshipful Company of Engineers (1983) - but it is also a reaffirmation of the Society’s original purpose that:   “… it would be well that some sort of occasional meeting, in a friendly way, was to be held where they (the Engineers) might shake hands together, and be personally known to each other; that thus the sharp edges of their minds might be rubbed off, as it were, by close communication of ideas; and might promote the true end of the public business upon which they should happen to meet in the course of their employment.”

In defining key characteristics which differentiate the modern world from previous historic eras many would identify rapid technological innovation which initially made possible the industrial revolution and has since driven global urbanisation and societal change for more than two centuries, and also the professionalisation of society which replaced feudal and landed elites by groups of individuals whose specialist knowledge made them indispensable to an increasingly sophisticated society, and proved capable of defining themselves through a shared body of knowledge and ethical standards.

In that context the establishment of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers represents a key moment in the creation of the modern world, a moment when a group of leading innovators had sufficient sense of collective belonging to establish themselves as a society to meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest in their nascent profession.

Further Details

Society President

We are delighted that HRH Princess Royal is President for the anniversary year, and with her support the Society has developed a series of anniversary events and activities. 

Discussion dinners

Events have included a number of virtual discussions. These were:

·        Scott Steedman (Director of Standards, BSI Group) spoke on ‘Standards - the new soft power for engineers’​

·        Bridget Rosewell spoke ‘What is infrastructure for and why should governments care’

·        Sir Peter Gershon spoke on ‘Crossing the minefield to delivering a net zero energy system’

An event re-enacting the first meeting of the Society on 15th March 1771 has been organised by Chris Price.

The discussions considered the international dimension and the global challenges affecting developing economies, as well the UK.

Smeaton Lecture

Each year the Society advises the Institution of Civil Engineers on a suitable speaker for the Institution of Civil Engineers prestige Smeaton Lecture.

250th Anniversary Dinner

A celebratory dinner was held at Trinity House, on 8th September 2021, for members and their guests.

Smeaton Medal

For many years the Society has awarded a Smeaton Medal. In keeping with our current themes

The Smeaton Medal next year will be an award for early/mid-career engineers for excellence in ‘innovative engineering in a hostile environment for the public good’. The details of applications for the medal award will be announced at the January 2021 meeting of the Society with nominations open from 1st February 2021 until 28th April 2021. The medal will be awarded at the Society’s Annual General Meeting on 24th November 2021. At the AGM dinner, which will include younger invitees, the award winner will prompt discussion on the subject of their nomination (modelled on the very successful REDR discussion dinner held in 2019).

Smeatonian Society website

This website was developed to increase the public profile of the Society in preparation for its 250th anniversary.

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