Catalogue description Catalogue of Original Communications (O.C.s)

This record is held by Institution of Civil Engineers

Details of O.C
Reference: O.C
Title: Catalogue of Original Communications (O.C.s)

This catalogue in general is a listing of papers presented for publication in the Institution of Civil Engineers (Minutes of) Proceedings. Responsibility for maintaining the catalogue lay with the Institution's Publication Department until 1979 when the department was relocated in Old Street, and responsibility was transferred to the then recently established Archives Department within the Library. The catalogue as it presently exists was compiled c. 1960, probably from existing lists, and without checking back to original minutes etc. to verify spelling and dates. In the period since the 1950's the collection of O.C.s comprised almost exclusively 'manuscripts' of papers published in synopsis in the Proceedings, and papers rejected for publication, but not returned to the author. Papers published in full, and their associated drawings, were generally destroyed or returned to the author, a policy presumably instituted for reasons of space, and probably of nineteenth century origin. Certainly the catalogue is one of surving manuscripts, and survival generally reflects this policy. However, the Institution did not commence publishing papers until 1836, and had been accumulating papers from 1818. For the early period (1818-1839) the collection is apparently intact, but even a cursory examination reveals inconsistencies which can only be explained by an understanding of the early history of the Institution and its collection.

Date: 1819 - 1985
Held by: Institution of Civil Engineers, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Institution of Civil Engineers

Physical description: Approx 5500
  • Civil engineering
Administrative / biographical background:

Prior to 1836 the Institution had not published papers, although from the start Institution Members had been expected to present papers, models, drawings or books, initially on an annual basis. In 1818 available published literature on civil engineering was scarce, with the exception of published engineers' reports, and the collection of manuscripts and drawings was the accepted means of accumulating knowledge. In the early years, published lists of members also listed manuscripts, as well as books and models in the possession of the Institution. The Institution held meetings through the session, generally November until July, and receipt of papers, along with other presents, was duly announced, but the manuscript papers were not necessarily read, or indeed intended to be. In addition to papers, the Institution had a programme of 'questions' for discussion, and these discussions were recorded as manuscript "Minutes of Conversations" (Archive Register 94). For the period 1818-25 these only exist as very abbreviated abstracts but from 1826 full records were made, and from 1832 reports of these appeared in The Atheneum.


In 1834 the Institution had a collection of manuscripts, some of which had been read at meetings, together with manuscript "Minutes of Conversations". From 1829-1835 the receipt of these 'original communications' was listed in a manuscript notebook (Archives Register 160). In 1834 Thomas Telford, the first President of the Institution, died. His generous bequest of money made the financial position of the Institution more secure, and encouraged senior members to contemplate publishing papers. A deal was arranged with the technical publisher John Weale to produce "Transactions", and for the first volume, published in 1836, a selection of papers was made from existing original communications. The following volume (1838) represented a selection of papers recently received, and from 1837 the Institution itself began publishing abstracts of its discussion as Minutes of Proceedings (see ICE Archives Register 99 for the manuscript Minutes of Proceedings, 1839-40). Publishing brought its own discipline, as papers had to be selected initially for publication, and once this process had been established, for discussion and then eventually publication (see ICE Archives Register 75). Papers had to be identifiable for circulation for referees, and they were given a number within each session.


Telford's financial generosity had been accompanied by a bequest of all his papers and drawings. The catalogue of these and subsequent bequests of papers by Colonel Frederick Page, and founder Henry Robinson Palmer, stretched the resources of a part time secretariat to the limit. The Telford papers were never properly catalogued, but several attempts were made to catalogue the drawings. Three tentative listings of Telford drawings (ICE archive register 178, 179, 179a) were made before a definitive numbered sequence was established in 3 volumes in 1842-43. This numerical sequence was adopted for drawings accompanying papers until the early 1850's (the last entry is for drawing 4618, paper 922 of 1857), with listings published in the Annual Reports of the Institution from 1843-1857. At that time the separate numbering was abandoned, and drawings were numbered in the style which had been adopted for the "original communications". The drawings collection seems to have been largely abandoned until it was effectively destroyed in 1906.


Once publishing had been established it became important to have a simple system for ordering papers. This process, part of the contemporary drive to catalogue the Library and Drawings, began in 1842, and a single numerical sequence was adopted which commenced c.530 and was published in the Minutes of Proceedings, accompanying the papers and Annual Reports, from 1843. This numbering forms the basis of the present catalogue. The earliest manuscript register (ICE Archives register 101) begun in 1844 with paper no. 70. The clear implication of the numbering is that a collection of approximately 500 papers, identified by the then secretariat as original communications, then existed, and was physically consecutively numbered. This exercise was a retrospective one, and unfamiliarity with the material meant that some papers were included which had never been 'original communications' - they were in effect part of the Telford bequest- and the chronological sequence was lost - in some cases by more than 10 years. The first "original communications" were subsequently bound up c. 1940 (ICE Archive Register 95), perpetuating this sequence, although ensuring their survival.

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