Amey celebrates Owen Williams Group's 100 years


In the lavish main hall of One Great George Street, home of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Amey celebrated the centenary of Sir Owen Williams' engineering practice, which was bought by the company in 2006.

Sir Owen (pictured right) is one of the legends of British civil engineering and created some of our most iconic 20th century structures including the old Spaghetti Junction (original designs below), much of the early motorways, the old Wembley stadium, and...bizarrely, Walls ice cream.

Andy Milner, chief executive officer of Amey, introduced the evening with a celebration of the spirit of innovation and collaboration Sir Owen established in his practice, which Amey has tried to retain.

'We have kept the innovative and positive spirit. It is truly astonishing when you look back at Owen Williams’ work - he was a true engineering entrepreneur and innovator, who saw not only new engineering ideas but the markets they could exist in,' he told the large crowd.

Among his memorable buildings are the Dorchester Hotel and the futuristic 1930s art deco Daily Express buildings in Fleet Street in London and Manchester.

As one of the great early innovators in concrete, he spent World War One working on experimental projects for the Admiralty including the use of concrete in ship building - steel being rare during the conflict - and flying boats.

After the war Sir Owen set up his company in 1919 and became involved in the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, which helped gain him a Knighthood at just 34, as well as designing the old Wembley Stadium.

He went on to secure bridge design commissions from what is now the Department for Transport, and became a central figure in the nation's highways.

Post second world war, his focus went firmly onto transport. He won the job for the M1 motorway (some say in interesting circumstances) and Sir Owen Williams and partners was responsible for a significant proportion of the first 1,000 miles of motorway in UK including working on 131 bridges and 93 culverts to a tight budget in just 19 months.

Mr Milner said: 'He grasped the public sector brief and what was needed, standardised, repeatable designs.'

The Amey boss concluded his speech by saying that the company should focus 'more than ever on the legacy of Sir Owen Williams' in terms of innovation and collaboration, as the company approaches it own centenary next year.

Then Sir Owen's grandson Richard Williams (pictured below), former chief executive of the Owen Williams Group until the Amey acquisition, was invited to say a few words and focused on some of the more unusual projects the master had worked on.

These included Walls asking him to consider the problem of what to do in summer when - at the time - fewer people bought sausages. He suggested taking the pig fat from sausages, emulsifying it, freezing it and squeezing it through a nozzle to make ice cream.

He never even charged them for this idea which made Walls the family name in ice cream.

In a parting comment as he looked to the future, Mr Williams told the audience he saw the challenge in infrastructure over the next 10 years to be one of public communication through all mediums to secure backing for schemes.

'It will be about us convincing the public we can build these projects. We will have to convince people through media that these projects are necessary.'

There followed a panel debate about the future of engineering featuring:

  • Nicola Hindle – Managing Director, Consulting and Rail, Amey
  • Blessing Danha – ICE Council member & KPMG
  • Neil Rawlinson – MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre) Director, formerly of Aerospace & Rolls-Royce
  • Susan Scurlock – CEO and Founder of Primary Engineer – who have created an engineering curriculum that spans Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Further Education institutions.

The panel covered issues such as what will tomorrow's engineer look like, how data will be at the core of the industry going forward and how to widen our diversity.

Interestingly and perhaps sadly, one of the main themes running through the debate was a suggestion that the days of the visionary engineer like Sir Owen could be on the way out. 

A more multi-partner, data-based market, with standardised-production, focused on maximising multiple social, environmental and community-based issues is coming to the fore, the panel members said, rather than one focused on blazing a trail in pure engineering innovation.

People like Thomas Alexander Heatherwick were mentioned as modern examples of visionaries but the suggestion was the market is changing and a 34-year old being knighted for striking, auteur-like engineering visions would be a unlikely sight today.

After all, how many Spaghetti Junctions would get built now?

Still, if the market for the great British tradition of brilliant madness is broken, it matters not to the legacy of Sir Owen. After all, they broke his mould as soon as he was born.

Highways jobs

Regeneration Delivery Manager - Heritage Action Zone

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£42684 - £45585 per annum
(Fixed Term Opportunity until March 2024)Woolwich town is undergoing a period of intensive regeneration with huge investment in new housing, transport England, London, Woolwich
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Senior Local Engineer

Birmingham City Council
£27,741 - £34,728
The Senior Local Engineer role is to provide technical service at senior level to Local Engineering teams Birmingham, West Midlands
Recruiter: Birmingham City Council

Traffic & Transportation Engineer

Conwy County Borough Council
£41,881 - £44,863 per annum
You should have a degree or diploma in civil engineering or other relevant discipline, and extensive experience in... North Wales
Recruiter: Conwy County Borough Council

Principal Development Co-ordinator

Gloucestershire County Council
£33,799.00 - £38,813.00 + 12% MRS
Leading on the review of Major Development Proposals. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Highways Development Management (HDM) Manager

Gloucestershire County Council
£53,445.00 - £58,008.00 + MRS
To oversee all aspects of Highways Development Management from pre application discussions to road adoption. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Principal Development Engineer

Gloucestershire County Council
£33,799.00 - £38,813.00 + 12% MRS
You will be responsible for undertaking design audit of third party developer works under Section 38 and 278 of the Highways Act 1980. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Director of Environment

Southwark London Borough Council
Up to £136,000
A fairer future for all A fairer future for all Southwark, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Southwark London Borough Council

Director of Public Health

Southwark London Borough Council
Up to £136,000
A fairer future for all Southwark, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Southwark London Borough Council

Parks Development Officer

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£26,999 - £29,636 per annum
You will work with community groups, organisations, ward members, residents and colleagues in order to... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Head of Infrastructure & Facilities

East Riding of Yorkshire Council
circa 100k
We are seeking a Head of Infrastructure & Facilities to lead the strategic management of the service in a unique and exciting opportunity for a... Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recruiter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Senior Professional and Technical Officer – Project Manager

Bristol City Council
£32,910 - £34,728
We are seeking to appoint a Project Manager, to work in the Transport Service, to help support the delivery of the above plans. Bristol
Recruiter: Bristol City Council

Policy Advisor – The Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN)

Department for Transport
Look to the sky for a great career opportunity Woking, Surrey
Recruiter: Department for Transport

Skilled Road Worker (TRR)

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£26,025 - £31,536 depending on knowledge, skills and experience
Do you want to be part of a supportive team and use an innovative method of working on the highway? London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Assistant Director of Transport & Sustainability

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£93,098 - £102,841
This dynamic role will see you provide strategic leadership to our transport strategy Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Highways Customer Communications Officer

North Yorkshire County Council
£27,741 to £30,451
We are looking for a strong communicator to join our Highways Team in Boroughbridge.   Boroughbridge, York
Recruiter: North Yorkshire County Council

Assistant Engineer - Grade 2

Northumberland County Council
£24,313 and £26,999
We are looking for candidates to fill the post of Assistant Engineer. Morpeth, Northumberland
Recruiter: Northumberland County Council

Street Cleaning Operative / Driver

Barnet London Borough Council
Competitive Salary
We are looking for hard working, motivated, reliable people to join our team. Barnet (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Barnet London Borough Council

Highways Manager - Operations

Lancashire County Council
£46,566-£50,514 Per annum
Lancashire is a vibrant and striking place to live and work and it’s also one of the fastest growing locations in the UK. Lancashire
Recruiter: Lancashire County Council

Highways Inspector

Hackney London Borough Council
£28,752 - £32,577
We are looking for an organised and self-motivated individual to join our Streetworks Team based in Hackney Central. Hackney, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Hackney London Borough Council

Senior Network Support Engineer

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
£36,600 - £49,600 per annum
We are looking for an experienced Senior Networks Support Engineer to provide up to date... Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recruiter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue
  • Shell celebrates 100 years of bitumen
  • Why we need to be more strategic about safety
  • Major reforms aim to close cycling gap
View the latest issue

Latest Video