Oral history of British science

Head, Peter (Part 3 of 14)

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  • Subjects

    Civil Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Head, Peter, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3 [33:02] Remarks on: FFP at time of 1970s bridge collapses, PH shock, not much conversation about it at PH's level, remoteness of PH from Alliance house and Bill Brown's team; Brian Smith picking up Milford Haven bridge and PH Avonmouth bridge under Bernard Wex; Merrison Committee created to steer research into steel bridges at Imperial, under Patrick Dowling, and Cambridge, under John Dwight, laboratory experiments to resolve issues quickly as Avonmouth, Erskine and Wye bridges under construction already; PH involvement in sub committee to apply Merrsion Committee rules to bridges exposing him to latest thinking on bridge innovation, impact of time on PH. [05:05] Remarks on work on Avonmouth Bridge: split of time between building site, fabricators, and meetings; telecopier installed c1971, similar to a fax machine for transferring drawings; quality of communications, need to be precise, difficulty in human communications; quality control and welding in steel bridges. [09:13] Remarks on Merrison sub committee meetings: PH working with Patrick Dowling, and later taking over as chairman on Steel Construction Institute from Dowling, and John Dwight at Cambridge; effects of welding on structures; Douglas Faulkner from Glasgow University, expert in ship construction; PH learning from experts as they created rules; complexity of rules as laid down; lack of understanding of thin wall bridge behaviour previously. [14:10] Comments on application of Merrison rules and construction to Avonmouth Bridge: Walter Brown's computer programs to analyse plates of bridges, grid analysis program; description of problems discovered with Avonmouth bridge by simple analysis by PH; value of simple structural analysis as well as detailed understanding; description of jacking bridge up to release load on bridge barrings according to PH program, PH bosses reactions to idea, PH discovery of error in stiffness calculations, Bernard Wex's supportive response; [20:52] later example of Wex listening to PH concerns about temporary condition in building bridge; success of process of jacking up bridge to release tension; changes to stiffening inside of Avonmouth Bridge and changes in span design; good relations with steel fabricators in Fairfield-Mabey in Chepstow, where Anthony Freeman, son of Ralph Freeman, worked; Anthony Freeman' friendship with PH and death in Bridge collapse in Lisbon, which also killed Jean Muller's son. [24:40] Description of Anthony Freeman, innovative and energetic person. [25:40] Comments on: PH feelings of responsibility in design of bridges, movement of bridges as they are being built; use of computer in civil engineering in 1970s, PH not replying on computer for design so he could keep feel of design; story about checking safety of Erskine Bridge under instruction of Oleg Kerensky to Merrsion rules, discovery of problems with deflection during construction, high stresses during construction.

  • Description

    Interview with civil engineer, Peter Head

  • Related transcripts

    Peter Head interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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