Celebrating Her Majesty's service to engineering

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8 September 2023


Queen email edit

Crown copyright 1976 released under Open Government Licence v3.0 from the Malvern Radar & Technology History Society.

Referring to it as a “noble profession”, Queen Elizabeth II often showed her support and admiration for engineering. Her Late Majesty was involved with a variety of projects throughout her reign, from driving an underground train to opening Diamond Light Source, the UK’s only synchrotron facility. The photograph above was taken on 26 March 1976, when The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, Worcestershire. While they were there, she became the first monarch to send an email. At that time, the UK's Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense were collaborating on the development of a future standard programming language, which eventually became Ada. The collaboration required access to the Department of Defense ARPANET (the precursor to the internet). Her Majesty initiated the collaboration by pressing a velvet covered computer key, which sent an email to the US Secretary of Defense.

HMQ02 edit

Crown copyright 1976 released under Open Government Licence v3.0 from the Malvern Radar & Technology History Society.

While attending the opening ceremony at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were presented with an array of gemstones made from synthetic crystals grown by the Electronics Materials Division, which had their origin in the fabrication of materials for lasers.

Naming the Elizabeth Line

Photo above © Crossrail Ltd.

On 23 February 2016 Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, announced that the high-capacity underground service, Crossrail, would be officially named the Elizabeth Line when it opened in December 2018. The name, along with the line’s purple colouring, was unveiled in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch to date, during a visit to Bond Street station. In addition to the regal naming of the line, The Queen also played a part in the excavation of the tunnels, lending her name to one of the eight tunnel boring machines launched on Crossrail. Elizabeth, along with her partner machine Victoria, dug the longest tunnel run, creating 8.3km of tunnel, and connecting the Limmo Peninsula near Canning Town with Farringdon.

2013 Prize Winners

Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presents the winners with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) at Buckingham Palace, London, on Tuesday 25 June, 2013. The five prize winners were the leading lights in the creation of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Pictured from left are Vint Cerf, computer scientist and one of the founding fathers of the Internet; Robert Kahn, Internet pioneer who along with Vint Cerf, invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) which make up the fundamental architecture of the internet; Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; and Louis Pouzin, inventor of the CYCLADES computer network and its datagram packet-switching network, from which TCP/IP was derived. US engineer Marc Andreesen, co-author of Mosaic, the first widely-used web browser, was also awarded the prize but was unable to attend the ceremony.

Olympic Stadium Opening Ceremony Alexander Kachkaev

"Olympic stadium and The Orbit during London Olympics opening ceremony (2012-07-27)" by Alexander Kachkaev is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games took place on Friday 27 July 2012, in a purpose-built Olympic Stadium in Stratford, London. The engineering team, led by QEPrize judge Paul Westbury, designed a building intended to meet the needs of the Games that could later be converted for other uses. Their design marked a change in strategy for these types of buildings, ensuring a significant reduction in materials used and a lightweight construction, broad future flexibility to offer opportunities for many post-Games legacy uses, and the option for significant capacity reductions if required, as well as a number of environmentally smart features that minimised energy use during and after. The Olympics opening ceremony, brought to life by Academy-Award winning director Danny Boyle, featured several highlights in British engineering history. Beginning with a celebration of the Industrial Revolution, complete with seven smoking chimney stacks and several pieces of industrial machinery, the ceremony later paid tribute to the birth of the internet generation and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. As well as declaring the Games officially open, Her Late Majesty embraced the spirit of the ceremony, making an iconic entrance to the stadium alongside none other than 007, James Bond.

HM at DLS 2

The Queen, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, officially opened Diamond Light Source, the UK’s only synchrotron facility, on 19 October 2007. The synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator, became the largest science facility to be built in the UK to date, measuring over half a kilometre in circumference. It works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines. At the heart of the facility is the machine which speeds up electrons to near light speeds so that they give off a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. These bright beams are then directed off into laboratories known as ‘beamlines’. Here, scientists use the light to study a vast range of subject matter, from new medicines and treatments for disease to innovative engineering and cutting-edge technology.

Golden Jubilee Flypast

In honour of The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, marking 50 years of her reign, the Royal Air Force carried out a flypast of Buckingham Palace consisting of every type of Royal Air Force air craft in service. The 27 active craft were joined for the flight by Concorde and the RAF Red Arrow fleet. Concorde, the world's first turbo-powered, supersonic passenger jet, was in operational flight from 1976 until 2003, carrying passengers at twice the speed of sound. In a record breaking transatlantic crossing on 7 February 1996, Concorde completed a London to New York flight in just two hours and 52 minutes. QEPrize Trustee Professor Dame Ann Dowling conducted her PhD research on reducing the noise of Concorde's engines to acceptable levels.


Photo above: "3231 & 3999" by Hugh Llewelyn is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Opened in a ceremony in Calais by Queen Elizabeth II and then French President Francois Mitterrand on 6 May 1994, the Channel Tunnel marked the first land link between Britain and mainland Europe since the last Ice Age. Embarking on the maiden voyage through the Tunnel, Her Majesty’s train met nose to nose with that carrying Mitterand, and the two heads of state cut the ceremonial ribbon in Calais, before boarding the shuttle together back to Kent. The tunnel carries high-speed Eurostar passenger trains, and connects HS1 running from London Kings Cross to the tunnel mouth in Folkstone, LGV Nord, carrying passengers from Lille to Paris. The 190mph speed limit on the tracks allows passengers to reach Paris from London in around three hours, while the channel crossing takes just 20 minutes.

HM riding the Victoria Line

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Having first been introduced to the London Underground aged 13, The Queen later took control of a tube during the official opening of the Victoria Line in 1969. After a short ceremony to open the line and, of course, purchasing her 5d ticket at Victoria Station, she took to the cab, driving the train from Green Park to Oxford Circus. The first section of the line had begun its regular service in September 1968, running commuters between Walthamstow Central and Highbury & Islington. This was extended later that year to continue on to Warren Street station. The extension of the Victoria Line south towards Brixton was opened in 1971.

Severn Bridge Nilfanion

Photo above: "Severn Bridge" by Martin Edwards is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Severn Bridge is a motorway suspension bridge that spans both the Rivers Severn and Wye and connects the village of Aust in South Gloucestershire with Chepstow in Monmouthshire, South-East Wales. The Queen opened the 1.6km bridge on 8 September 1966, saying it marked the dawning of a new economic era for South Wales. The bridge engineers, Freeman Fox and Partners, won the inaugural MacRobert Award in 1969 for their innovative design of the superstructure. Since its construction in the late 1960s, the bridge has carried more than 300 million vehicles, and so popular was the route with motorists that the Second Severn crossing, located several miles south of the Severn Bridge, was opened in 1996.

Calder Hall Public Domain

Calder Hall, located at Sellafield in Cumbria, became the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. First connected to the national power grid on 27 August 1956, it was officially opened by The Queen on 17 October that same year. The pioneering station outlived its expected 20-year lifespan, producing low-carbon electricity to around 200,000 homes until its closure 47 years later on 31 March 2003. The four iconic cooling towers of the power station were demolished in 2007.

Changing a tyre

At the age of 18, then still Princess Elizabeth, she enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a Subaltern, gaining first-hand experience of mechanical engineering. By the time the War drew to a close, the Princess had reached the rank of Junior Commander, and passed out as a fully qualified driver following the completion of her course at the No. 1 Mechanical Training Centre of the ATS. Her Late Majesty was the first monarch to have changed a tyre, and, continuing her interest in engineering, was noted as the first reigning monarch to fly in a helicopter.

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