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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Archibald Williams

(* I'm pleased to welcome Tony Woolrich to the pages of Bear Alley with a piece on Archibald Williams, whose popular books on engineering and technology appeared a century ago.)

Archibald Williams contributed a small number of pieces to boy’s magazines and wrote a number of books about engineering, manufacture and also exploration. He was born 14 July 1871, the son of the Rev. Daniel Rowland Williams of Bowers Gifford, Essex. He was a BA of Oxford, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He was married to Florence. The 1901 census records him as living at Bowers Gifford, single, and a school tutor. Williams died on his birthday, 14 July 1934. It is not known if he was survived by any family.

Williams was an occasional contributor to Pearson’s Magazine, The Strand Magazine and boys magazines. Two of his books were published in Hungarian. Many of his books were reprinted: the earliest dates are noted here.

The brief notes about his life do not do justice to the quality of his work for he was a highly competent technical journalist specialising in books for boys. The ‘Romance of …’ series he published from 1903 with C Arthur Pearson introduced youngsters to the very latest engineering and technical developments. How It Works (1906), How It Is Made (1907) and The Wonders Of Mechanical Ingenuity (1910) dealt with the practicalities of mechanism and manufacture.

The three volume Engineering Wonders Of The World (1909-10), which he edited, was originally a part-work, with many chapters written by named specialists such as Felix J. Pole, chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. Each volume had about half a dozen coloured plates, mostly by Howard Penton and a large number of half-tones and line drawings. The topics covered mostly civil and structural engineering, world wide. There is much about engineering endeavour in the Colonies as well as Continental Europe and the Americas. Several chapters describe the oil industries of America and the Middle East. The third volume begins with a series of chapters about flight. Curiously, there is only one chapter about the motor car, describing racing cars. In many ways the book’s format mirrors that of Cassier’s Magazine and Fielden’s Magazine, both of which were being published then for the interested general reader. Engineering Wonders of the World was the precursor of the part-work series edited by Clarence Winchester in the late 1930s.

Things To Make (1913), Things Worth Making (1920) and The Mechanic's Friend (1922) all contain practical instructions for handicraft projects, a number of which, such as building a working back-yard gas works, would be condemned today on health and safety grounds! His books usually had one nor two coloured plates as well as monochrome photographs and line drawings in the text. His earlier books often had attractive illustrated cloth covers. A number of his books can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. Secondhand copies are quite common from ABE, eBay and charity shops as well as regular book sellers.

Williams has escaped the attention of biographers and he does not appear in modern academic studies of children’s books. It is certain that more of his journalism awaits discovery.

Chronological list of his writings
The Romance Of Modern Invention. London, London, C Arthur Pearson, 1903.
The Romance Of Modern Engineering. London, C Arthur Pearson, 1904.
The Romance Of Modern Locomotion. London, C Arthur Pearson, 1904.
The Romance Of Mining. London, C Arthur Pearson, 1905.
The Romance Of Modern Exploration. London, Seeley Service, 1905.
How It Works. London, Seeley Service, 1906.
Petrol Peter, illus. A. Wallis Mills. London, Edmund Evans, 1906.[A parody of Strewwelpeter]
The Romance Of Modern Mechanism. London, Seeley Service, 1906.
The Romance Of Early Exploration. London, Seeley Service, 1907.
How It Is Made. London, Seeley Service 1907.
Victories Of The Engineer. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1908.
Engineering Wonders Of The World (ed). London, T. Nelson & Sons, 3 vols., 1909-10 [A part work.]
The Wonders Of Asiatic Exploration. London, Seeley Service, 1910.
The Wonders Of Mechanical Ingenuity. London, Seeley Service, 1910.
The Boy's Guide, line drawings by Howard Penton. London, T Nelson & Sons, 1911.
The Wonders Of The Modern Railway. London, Seeley Service, 1911.
The Wonders Of Modern Engineering. London, Seeley Service, 1912.
Things To Make. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1913.
Let Me Explain. London, Wells Gardner & Co., 1913.
Ships And Shipping (anon with others). London, T. Nelson& Sons, 2 vols., 1914 [Part of Nelson’s Encyclopaedic Library]
Home Entertainments, with Florence M Williams. London, T Nelson & Sons, 1914.
A Book Of The Sea. London, T Nelson & Sons,1915.
Isabelle Rimbaud In the Whirlpool of War, translated from the French by Archibald Williams. London. T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. 1918. [She was the sister of the poet, and her letters describe life in German-occupied France.]
Thinking It Out. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1919.
Things Worth Making. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1920.
Amateur Photography, with Francis Thomas Beeson. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1920.
The Wrinkle Book. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1921.
The Mechanic's Friend. London, T Nelson & Sons, 1922.
The Marvels of Railways. London, Seeley Service, 1925.
All About Our Wonderful Ships. London, Cassell 1924.
Wireless Working Hints For Beginners. London, Percival Marshall, 1925.
Engineering Feats. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1925.
Brunel And After. London, The Great Western Railway, 1925.
The Book Of Trains. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1926.
Conquering The Air. London, T. C. & E. C. Jack,1926/1933.
Telegraphy And Telephony. London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1928.

The Times (Obituary), 16 July 1934.
David Blamires, ‘Social Satire in the English Strewwelpeter Parodies’ in Princeton University Library Chronical, LXII, part 1, Autumn 2000, pp 45-58.


  1. I can not find any Bowers Gifford in Suffolk. I can find it in Essex though.

  2. Wonder how I managed to miss that... Error now corrected. Thanks.