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The Chair of Engineering was endowed in 1868 by Sir David Baxter of Kilmaron (1793–1872).


In some respects, the Chair had a predecessor in the short-lived Chair of Technology, which was created in 1854 as a result of the university’s decision to transfer its Natural History collections to the nation. Amassed by Robert Jameson (1774-1854), these had far outgrown the university’s own museum premises. The government thus accepted a proposal from the Senatus Academicus to house the collection in a newly built Museum of Science and Art. The Professor of Natural History would remain Keeper of the strictly scientific part of the collection, but a new Regius Chair of Technology was now created, whose holder would function as Keeper of the more technological side of the Museums’ collections.

George Wilson (1818-1859) was appointed to the post and proved both an inspiring teacher and a conscientious keeper of the museum. Wilson defined technology ‘as science in its application to the useful arts’ and devised a three-year course of lectures, devoted to ‘Mineral Technology’, ‘Vegetable Technology’, and ‘Animal Technology’ respectively. ‘Mineral Technology’ encompassed lectures on fuel, building materials of mineral origin, glass and glass-making, pottery, and, most importantly, electrical engineering. Tragically, Wilson was of delicate heath and died in post in 1859. The Chair of Technology was subsequently suppressed and the curatorship of the university’s former technological collection passed out of its hands.

Within a decade, however, the growing importance of engineering studies was acknowledged when Dundee industrialist Sir David Baxter of Kilmaron (1793–1872) founded a Regius Chair of Engineering in 1868. He endowed the post with the sum of £6,000, which H. M. Treasury supplemented with an annual grant of £200. The first appointee (Baxter's own choice) was Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin (1833–1885) who had been Professor of Engineering at University College, London since 1866.

Early Years

Owing to a lack of funds, it was initially impossible to establish a laboratory for the practical teaching of engineering. Teaching was thus restricted to drawing office instruction under Jenkins and for the first few years of the tenure of his successor, George Frederick Armstrong (1842-1900), a specialist in railway engineering. Finally, in 1889, the University Court allotted a bequest of £3,000 from John Fulton to build a laboratory. Opened in 1891-92, tthe Fulton Engineering Laboratory was used for both instruction and analysis of materials. Two years later, in 1893, the Department of Engineering was transferred from the Faculty of Arts to the newly created Faculty of Science.

The department continued, however, to be housed in the basement of Old College, where space became an increasingly pressing issue. Urged by the third holder of the Chair, Sir Thomas Hudson Beare (1859-1940), the University Court allotted funds provided by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland to create new premises for the department. In 1905, it moved, along with the Department of Natural Philosophy to High School Yards.

From High School Yards to King's Buildings

Under Hudson Beare (known as 'Huddy'), the Engineering Department experienced a rapid increase in students. New lectureships were created in Hydraulics, Strength of Materials, Engineering Design, and Drawing, which, in turn, created a fresh demand for more teaching and laboratory space. The end of the First World War brought a massive influx of new students (100 candidates for the B.Sc. in Engineering in 1922, as opposed to 7 in 1906). Their needs could not be fully met by the High School Yards buildings, and in 1927 the University Court decided to allocate a bequest from James Sanderson of Galashiels to create a purpose-built establishment at the new science campus of King's Buildings. The Sanderson Building, designed by Sir Robert Lorimer (1864-1929) and John Fraser Matthew (1875-1955) was opened on 28 January 1932. The new premises housed what the Edinburgh University Journal called "one of the best planned and equipped engineering schools in the Empire".

Hudson Beare died in 1940, after four decades in post. The Chair remained vacant until 1946, when Ronald Arnold, a Glasgow-born specialist in structural analysis and gyrodynamics, was appointed from Swansea University. In 1960, Arnold oversaw the division of the unitary department of Engineering into two separate departments of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and of Electrical Engineering. New Chairs were created of Electrical Engineering (1960) and Civil Engineering (1963).

Post-World War II

Following the untimely death of Arnold in 1963, Leslie Jaeger was appointed fifth Regius Professor, from Magdalene College, Cambridge. Jaeger’s tenure was brief, as he left after only four years to take up the Chair of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics at McGill University (a Chair, coincidentally, previously held by an earlier Regius Professor, George Armstrong). His tenure saw a further split into three separate departments: Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. The Chair of Engineering itself was situated in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

James King, former Chief Scientist in the Naval Construction Research Establishment at Rosyth, became the sixth Regius Professor in 1968. King oversaw a period of extensive structural change. First, in 1970, the Department of Civil Engineering was renamed the Department of Civil Engineering and Building Science (with C. B. Wilson appointed Professor of Building Science). Then, in 1972, the Departments of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering united with the hitherto independent Department of Chemical Engineering (founded as the Department of Chemical Technology in 1955) to form the School of Engineering Science. The Department of Civil Engineering and Building Science initially remained a discrete unit. In 1973, a Department of Fire Engineering (renamed Fire Safety Engineering, 1976) was created within the School of Engineering Science, and a Chair was instituted in the discipline. Finally, in 1979, the Department of Civil Engineering and Building Science was incorporated into the School of Engineering Science.

Into the New Century

On King's retirement in 1983 the seventh holder of the Chair was Joseph McGeough, who was appointed from the University of Aberdeen to expand the department's research activities in electro-chemical machining. During McGeogh's tenure, Engineering was again subject to major institutional reorganization. First, in February 1991 the Faculty of Science was renamed the Faculty of Science and Engineering. In 1992, the School of Engineering was renamed the School of Engineering and Information Technology, expanding, in 1993, to incorporate the Departments of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science and the Centre for Cognitive Science. In 1995, the Department of Civil Engineering and Building Science was renamed the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. A Chair of Environmental Engineering was instituted in 1997, with David Andrew Barry the first appointee in 1998. In 1998, the School of Engineering and Information Technology split into a) the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering and b) the Division of Engineering (incorporating the Schools of Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering, and the Centre for Environmental Change and Sustainability).

Following university restructuring in 2002, the Faculty of Science and Engineering became the College of Science and Engineering. All engineering disciplines were once again reunited in a School of Engineering and Electronics (subsequently renamed the School of Engineering).

Following McGeough's retirement in 2005, the university appointed, in 2007, Peter Grant as the eighth Regius Professor of Engineering. Grant had previously led the signal processing research at Edinburgh, with achievements in the design of adaptive filters and mobile communication receivers. He was President of EURASIP, the European Association for Signal Processing from 2000–02 and recipient of the 2004 IEE Faraday medal. In 2008 he was awarded an OBE.

In 2013 Jason Reese was appointed the ninth Regius Professor of Engineering. With a background in physics and applied mathematics, his research focuses on multi-scale flow systems in which the molecular nature of the fluid determines the overall fluid dynamics.

The 21st century has thus far seen a significant expansion of the School of Engineering with the establishment of new chairs in Structural Mechanics (2006), Power Plant Engineering and Carbon Capture (2010), Synthetic Biology, Tomographic Imaging (both 2013), Chemical Reaction Engineering, Combustion Engines, Energy Storage, Future Infrastructure, Materials Engineering, and Structural Engineering (all 2015).

Regius Professors of Engineering

Other Engineering Chairs

The following chairs have been established in the School of Engineering. Personal chairs are not listed.

Chemical Engineering (established 1955)

From its foundation in 1955 through to 1963, this was known as the Chair of Chemical Technology. It lay vacant from 1980 to 1989 when it was reconstituted as the ICI Chair of Chemical Engineering.

Electrical Engineering (established 1960)

In 2003, the Chair of Electrical Engineering became the Bert Whittington Chair of Power Engineering.

Civil Engineering (established 1963)

Fire Safety Engineering (established 1973?)

Microelectronics (established 1979)

The Lothian Region Chair of Microelectronics was abolished in 2008.

Integrated Electronics (established 1986)

The Advent Chair of Integrated Electronics was converted into a personal chair for Prof. Denyer in 1990.

Civil Engineering Construction (established 1989)

Environmental Engineering (established 1997)

Interfacial Engineering (established 1997)

Materials (established 1998)

1999-2010: Christopher Hall

Structural Mechanics (established 2006)

Power Plant Engineering and Carbon Capture (established 2010)

Synthetic Biology (established 2013)

Tomographic Imaging (established 2013)

Chemical Reaction Engineering (established 2015)

Combustion Engines (established 2015)

Energy Storage (established 2015)

Future Infrastructure (established 2015)

Materials Engineering (established 2015)

Structural Engineering (established 2015)


  • Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884)
  • Sir Thomas Hudson Beare, 'Engineering', in The History of the University of Edinburgh 1883-1933, ed. A. Logan Turner (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1933), pp. 272-76.