How to re-engender a love of science and engineering in today’s boys, so that this nation does not sink back into a Dark Age.

David Davis

Nice article about Meccano, a great scientific/mechanical invention, out of Liverpool.

The modern plastic stuff with all the wrong types of dedicated, non-standardised parts, in wacky zazzy colours, is just not gong to do what we want.

Here are the “Giant Blocksetting Crane”, and the “South Shields Assymmetric Blocksetting crane”, both famous models, realised all over the world, for decades.



OK, OK, OK, we can pay Chindia to build real ones for us, but we lose stature as a people if the knowledge of how to make one is no longer present as embedded in the culture, not as folk-memory but as something which people are proud to know.

When I was a boy, probably about aged 9 or so, I overheard a converstaion between my parents and my maths teacher, Mr Roberts, en ex-WW2 RSM. He was advised by my father that I was building fairly ambitious structures out of Meccano, but said that…

“Well, Mr Davis, here in the school, we don’t really recommend science toys in which the young boys are presented with pre-fabricated metal parts – it kills their initiative, you see. They should learn how to machine the parts themselves!”

Oh well, at least there’s K-Nex. It’s a good toy, but not really a patch on Meccano…

I often think about Mr Roberts, who fought all the way across North Africa, and up Italy, until he fetched up as a maths/Scripture/current affairs teacher at my prep school. If he had seen what was coming in the guise of “education, education, education”, in his nation, I can’t predict his reaction.

8 responses to “How to re-engender a love of science and engineering in today’s boys, so that this nation does not sink back into a Dark Age.

  1. I loved this stuff when I was young. Recently, the professional mechanics community considered trying to collate all of the relevant mechanical science into one definitive syllabus, because over the years there has become so much subject material. For this I suggest Meccano. :-)

  2. Nice stuff.

    Here’s a useful gadget, the UNIMAT, which configures as a drill press, a lathe, a milling machine, a thread-cutter and so on.

    Alternatively, you can now downlad a CAD/CAM package which prices the job up even as you input the design parameters. When design is complete, press key, and a few days later the part arrives through your letterbox, machined in the material of your choice.

    Let’s hear it for Mr. Roberts.

    Thatcher killed off 25% of Britain’s manufacturing industry. The City of London has been killing the rest off ever since WWII. Hard to believe that we once had three V-Bombers; the ability to built big aircraft-carriers; 90% of the world’s motorcycle production; … you name it.

    An activity I recommend is reading Keesing’s Contemporary archives across the years. You’ll find it nearly impossible to work out which Party is in Downing Street just from what’s happening in the country.



  3. Gosh, Tony, it’s your fault, I have just gone and bough the blasted thing. i’ll have to pay for it now.

  4. Yeah but a lot of that manufacturing was becoming unprofitable anyhow, although there are maybe certain areas which should be maintained as part of defence capabilities etc. As for the motorcycle industry, I know at one point the British government commisioned a major business consultancy to find out why the Japanese companies such as Honda were stripping us out of the markets. They came to the conclusion that it was a military-grade effort by the Japanese, which went against the principles of the free market. In fact, I think it was a former director of Honda, who said their success was simply down to the priciple of mass adaptability. The Honda Cub scooter, which became a worldwide bestseller, started out as the pet project of a Honda engineer to get people around their vast manufacturing plant. The story goes that a Western visitor saw one and enquired about buying one, and hey-presto they put it into production.

  5. I am not bemoaning the loss of our ability, physically, to make the stuff.

    Anybody can make anything, it’s not a problem; anybody can brak anybody else’s code, if clever enough; look at Bletchley Park and Enigma and Tunny.

    Only the loss, from the minds and brains and hearts of people here, about how “stuff” works – only this loss, the loss of understanding, is the important one.

  6. Dave!


    I’ll help you pay for it if absolutely necessary, and you can make small parts for me.

    I noticed in one of your posts that Alistair Darling stated that there were poor people on £40,000 a year. As a poor person on £120 a week, I can’t really understand the world these people live in; but don’t worry, I live pretty well, all things considered. I have a 600 sq. ft. sheltered council flat, one of eight in its own little park in posh Westbuty-on-Trym. Over the road is an 18-hole golf course, with another 600 acres with 19 miles of forest walks, rock climbing, etc.

    One thing with the Unimat — don’t try to cut too fast. It responds to gently, steady force on the cutting tool. There is a VAST range of accessories to choose from. Try obtaining some brass stock to practice on. Brass cuts really nicely. Very satisfying. I learned turning, drilling and milling by the age of 16. Our workshop at Geelong Grammar School was equipped by Ford’s.

    When I was 12, I hand-traced all the engineering drawings for the .45ACP Thompson.

    Have Fun!


  7. I will make anything you want, Tony, old chap! (Need the money now.)

    It’s just that I saw it, and it is so beautiful, and a man has to have one of these before he dies. I could also make all those funny little Meccano parts with strange shapes, that don’t turn up ever on ebay except for staggering sums.

    Maybe I could sell those too?

  8. When I was younger I used to build aircrafts and wanted to grow up to be an engineer, unfortunately that didn’t happen but this article and the comments has really made me want to start building and collecting again. Thank you guys!