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How 500 years of engineering has made Plymouth what it is today

PUBLISHED: 17:23 01 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:23 01 February 2019

Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge is still the largest tubular arch bridge ever constructed

Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge is still the largest tubular arch bridge ever constructed

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Miranda Housden, regional director of the Institution of Civil Engineers, tells JUDI SPIERS about a film celebrating 500 years of engineering innovation in Plymouth

When the trailer for a new film hit the website of a local newspaper recently it attracted 34,000 views in 24 hours. We’re not talking the latest Hollywood blockbuster but a film released by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) called ‘Engineering Plymouth’ which tells how over the last 500 years civil engineering has shaped Plymouth and transformed lives for the better.

“Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Babylonians, Plymothians all prevail!” declares the narrator, Dawn French.

“This is a vibrant multicultural city continuing to evolve. Civil engineering shaped the past and is shaping the future of this the largest city on the south coast.”

Miranda Housden, regional director of ICE and the woman behind the project, is keen to reinforce this message.

“I want to get people to understand what civil engineering is and what a great profession it is. When I joined ICE I realised how incredibly modest and hidden the profession is. Engineers never take credit for anything. They are very collegiate it’s very much about the company and not about themselves.

The film features iconic landmarks such as Smeaton’s TowerThe film features iconic landmarks such as Smeaton’s Tower

“So I’m trying very hard to showcase them and as we have the ICE 200th anniversary this year it was an opportunity to show how they transform peoples lives.”

As well as featuring iconic landmarks including Smeaton’s Tower and Tinside Lido, the Guildhall and St Andrew’s Church, the Tamar and Royal Albert Bridges, Fort Bovisand and the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway, the film uses watercolours, oil paintings, engravings and maps all brought to life by animators from around the world.

There is even drone footage of the pupils of High Street Academy in Stonehouse spelling out the word PLYMOUTH.

Miranda is thrilled by the support the project has had from the community with funding from 14 regional partners and over 30 organisations.

It took two generations of the Rennie engineering family before Plymouth Breakwater was finally completedIt took two generations of the Rennie engineering family before Plymouth Breakwater was finally completed

“The amount of goodwill toward making this film has been incredible,” she says. “I see it as a massive collaboration.”

As well as being exhibited at Plymouth’s new cultural attraction The Box, she hopes local organisations will want to screen the film and sees it as a valuable part of the Mayflower 400 programme.

As Dawn French says in the narrative, “The Potential for Britain’s Ocean City is enormous. More than 30 towns and cities scattered across the world share its name, but this Plymouth is the mother of them all.”

For a screening of the film contact icesw.admin@ice.org.uk

Did You Know these facts about Plymouth?

- One of the country’s first civic water supplies was Drake’s Leat.

- In 1689 King William III ordered civil engineers to create a new dockyard.

- In 1703 Winstanley’s Light was blown off Eddystone Rocks.

- In 1755 John Rudyar’d replacement lighthouse burned down.

- In 1759, the 24 candles of the third Eddystone Lighthouse shone out for the very first time.

- It took two generations of the Rennie engineering family before Plymouth Breakwater was finally completed in 1848.

- Plymouth Dock was renamed Devonport in 1824 as Sir John Rennie began to plan, with Philip Richards, the construction of the then state-of-the-art Royal William Victualling Yard.

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