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Early Life

Civil Engineering

What's so interesting about civil engineering?

Look around and you’ll see civil engineering is everywhere. It is used to build the roads, railways and bridges we travel to work on, it keeps our buildings standing up, transports goods along canals and protects our coastal towns from flooding.


A photograph of a rushing water down a weir and a metal bridge on the far right.
Knostrop Weir

Civil engineering takes creativity and scientific principles and combines them to solve practical problems.

John Smeaton is known as the Father of civil engineering. He came up with the term “Civil Engineering” to describe engineering works that were for the public good rather than for military purposes.

In Smeaton’s day the term 'Civil Engineering' was used to describe all forms of engineering whereas today engineering has been split into lots of different disciplines including mechanical engineering, structural engineering and electrical engineering. This is why civil engineering is sometimes described as the mother of engineering because all the other engineering disciplines were born from it.

John was instrumental in the professionalisation of engineering. He set out up systems of working, including roles such as Resident and Chief Engineer that can still be seen in today’s workforce. In 1771 he was also a founder member of the Society of Civil Engineers, a members’ club of prominent engineers who would meet at the Kings Head pub in Holborn, to dine together and discuss their work and topics of the day.

The Society, since renamed the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, continues to this day and each year it awards the Smeaton Medal for outstanding engineering achievement in hostile environments (a reference to the building of the Eddystone Lighthouse). Recent winners of the Smeaton Medal include Joshua Macabuag for works in disaster risk engineering and Vita Sanderson for her work on safety improvements to schools to resist earthquake damage. The Smeatonians hold their meetings at the headquarters of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the heart of Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a professional body for Civil Engineers, founded in 1818, it has over 95,000 members across the world and is responsible for awarding the Chartered Qualification for Professional Engineers.

Photograph of the entrance to a building with steps and a large glass doors.
Institution of Civil Engineers