A potted history of SCEME 1951 – 2015

The Society was formed in 1951 as “The Society of Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineers” by Hubert Westbrook who became aware of the benefits to be gained by meeting with other local authority Chief Engineers – it is worth noting that the word Mechanical was placed before Electrical at the time because the Mechanical Engineers considered themselves to be preeminent!

The Inaugural Meeting was held at the offices of the Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers, 75, Eaton Place, London SW1 on 16th November 1951. The objectives of the Society were:

  1. To provide a forum to discuss and promote mechanical and electrical engineering matters relating to Local Government Authorities and members of the Society.
  2. To exchange information concerning professional, technical and managerial functions between members of the Society and also other related bodies.
  3. To make such information available to members of the Society and, where desirable, to Local Authority Associations, Central Government and other appropriate bodies.
  4. To deal with other matters of interest to members of the Society.

These objectives largely remain true today although the Society did in time broadened beyond Building Services Engineering to encompass Energy and Communications matters.

Back in the early days membership of the Society was restricted to those individuals who had aspired to the dizzy heights of being a County Council Chief Building Services Engineer – no Boroughs, Districts or Cities at that time! Anyone who had not obtained such eminence was not recognized by the Society, and even when a potential member had achieved such greatness, they had to be vetted by other members of the Society for a minimum period of six months, before they could be considered for membership, which was by nomination only.

The world was a totally different place in those days. For a start, employment in Local Government was seen as a very good job with status in the community. For property services professional staff the range of work was interesting because County Councils had direct responsibility for many more public services than today including Police, Fire & Ambulance Services, Primary, Secondary & most of Higher Education, all forms of Care Homes & Medical Centers, Libraries & Museums etc – the list went on and on!

Work was also different. There were no computers, very few telephones and the speed of the first and second class daily postal deliveries dictated the speed of the industry. The cost of Energy was rarely considered in the design of engineering services, and design principles were based more on a ‘belt and braces’ approach as opposed to finesse. Steam was the principal heating medium for major building complexes, most of industry and other major energy consumers. The major fuel source was coal . Larger sites generally relied on massive ‘Lancashire’ solid fuel boilers with underfeed stokers and the heat loss from the distribution pipework could easily account for 35/40% of the total load. Heat was circulated around the buildings using cast iron pipework coupled to cast iron radiators but quite often it was the pipe coils themselves that provided the heating surfaces.
Putting this into perspective, the post of Chief Engineer was regarded as being second only to God, and having reached this pinnacle in life, a good Chief Engineer could expect to earn as much as £35 per week (£1820 per year)!

At some unrecorded point, probably in the 1960’s, the Society widened its membership criteria to include Boroughs, Districts & Cities.  Later, probably in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, the Society revised its title to the Society of Chief Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, adopted the acronym SCEME and established two branches – Northern and Southern. The Northern Branch encompassed all of Scotland and the northern Counties of England (Cumbria, Northumberland etc). The Southern Branch encompassed the rest of England and Wales. The President of the Society was appointed annually on an alternating basis between the two branches and the National Executive Committee (NEC) would be drawn from both. The NEC would attend at least one meeting a year in Edinburgh which were most memorable occasions particularly with the ritual of the ‘rusty nails’!

This was followed by the dropping of the word ‘Chief’ in the 1990’s and the broadening of the membership criteria to include Consultants working for local government. Sadly, following local government reorganisation in Scotland in the 1990’s the Northern Branch membership dwindled and it was finally brought to an end at the AGM in 2001 .

The SCEME Year Book

It took a 36 years before the first ‘year book’ was published by SCEME, which appeared in 1987. This was a gold embossed, hard back publication, and at the time of publication, the Honorary Officers of the society were:
President:    Alan Caird (Tayside)
Immediate Past President:  George Jones (Warwickshire)
Senior Vice President:  Norman Davis (Gloucestershire)
Junior Vice President:  R. Jeffrey (Central Region)
National Secretary:   John Wilcox (Lincolnshire)
National Treasurer:   Mike Woods (Gwent)

The editor of the first year book was George Jones, and a copy of the year book was sent out to members in September 1987. Articles contained in that first edition included:

  • Andrew Ramsey (Secretary CIBSE) – The Great Leap Forward
  • Peter Crean (Energy Manager of the year) – Energy Management in Shropshire CC
  • The 1986 BETA Awards

The first SCEME year book was followed in 1988, by an updated version which contained a number of Appendices:
Appendix 1 – Examples of PSA Schedule of Rates for both Electrical and Mechanical Services.
Appendix 2 – Examples of Schedule of Rates from the London Borough of Harrow for both Electrical and Mechanical Services.
Appendix 3 – A report based on the knowledge that a number of County Councils had co-funded a detailed study by a firm of private quantity surveyors into the possible use of a national schedule of rates for day to day maintenance.

In addition, there were articles on the need to conserve energy and reports from various Committees:
Electrical (Charles Tanswell)
Computers (Peter Cook)
Energy (Ian Wilson)
Maintenance (Mukund Patel)

Gradually over the years the emphasis had changed, the views of other non-chief engineers were now considered of value and the cost of energy had become a major consideration in all aspects of building/engineering design.

The Presidential Badge of Office

The original Presidential badge of Office was presented to the Society by H J Hay who was President in 1956 and a former Chief Engineer of Hampshire County Council.

When the official title of the Society was changed and the acronym SCEME adopted it was decided to commission a new Presidential Badge.  The design of the, new badge was the subject of a competition open to students in the ‘jewellery’ section of the Mid Warwickshire College of Art and the winner of the competition was commissioned to execute their craftwork.

The badge is made of silver and gold and the abstract design of lines cut into the polished base symbolizes the many diverging strands of technology encompassed in building services Engineering, whilst the superimposed enamelled bezels or roundels depict the traditional primitive elements, symbolized by lighting, the sun, and by the sea, which are harnessed and controlled in the practice of our profession.

There are two white metal replicas of the Presidential Badge that are suitably engraved for use by the Chairmen of the Northern and Southern Branches of the Society. The original Presidential Badge was suitably engraved and retained for use by the Senior Vice President of the Society at the time.

A complete list of SCEME Presidents is available here.

Major changes

  1. To open up membership of SCEME to senior Engineers employed in Local Government, who did not hold the post of Chief Engineer. (1995)
  2. To open up the membership of SCEME to other Engineers employed in the private sector (but worked on Local Government projects) to become members (1998).
  3. The first joint SCALA/SCEME Study Day (2007)
  4. The combining of SCEME with SCALA to form a new society, namely SPACES (2015).

Items to note

In November 2011, SCEME celebrated its 60th Anniversary. A number of members and their wives attended the Palaces of Westminster for afternoon tea with Mark Prisk MP, the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise. Proceeding this there was a presentation from the staff at the House of Commons on ‘Building Services and Sustainability at the Palaces of Westminster’.

SCEME members at the Palaces of Westminster in November 2011, celebrating 60 year anniversary

Geoff Robinson, the author of this article was introduced as a potential member of SCEME, along with Colin Davies, by their boss David Wilcox, when they worked for Avon County Council back in 1987. Quite shortly afterwards, early 1988, he took over as Chief Engineer with Wiltshire County Council, as the previous Chief Engineer, had accepted the position Chief Engineer with Kent County Council. The person he replaced was Charles Tanswell.

It is a sobering thought that between Charles, Colin and Geoff they have over 90 years’ experience of SCEME membership!

Both Geoff and Charles hold records and items from their time in SCEME and if you would like more information on SCEME’s past, or you our a previous member and have something to add, then please use the form below.

Our thanks go to the authors of this article Geoff Robinson and Charles Tanswell.

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