Posts Tagged ‘John Rennie’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.

George Rennie (Agriculturist)

George Rennie (Agriculturist) was the son of James Rennie, farmer, of Phantassie, Haddingtonshire (now East Lothian), and elder brother of John Rennie, the engineer, born on his father’s farm in 1749.

On leaving school he was sent by his father, at the age of sixteen, to Tweedside to make a survey of a new system of farming which had been adopted by Lord Kames, Hume of Ninewells, and other landed gentry of the district. In 1765 he became superintendent of a brewery which his father had erected. The elder Rennie died in 1766, and, after leasing the business for some years, the son conducted it on a large scale from 1783 to 1797, when he finally relinquished it to a tenant. Rennie then devoted himself to the pursuit of agriculture on the Phantassie farmland and in 1787 he employed Andrew Meikle, the eminent millwright (to whom his brother, John Rennie, the engineer, had been apprenticed) to erect one of his drum thrashing-machines. This was driven by water. When Meikle’s claims as the inventor were disputed, Rennie wrote a letter in his favour, which was printed in A Reply to an Address to the Public, but more particularly to the Landed Interest of Great Britain and Ireland, on the subject of the Thrashing Machine.

Rennie died on 6 October 1828. He was one of the authors of A General View of the Agriculture of the West Riding of Yorkshire…. By Messrs. Rennie, Brown, and Shirreff, London, 1794, written for the Board of Agriculture’s General View of Agriculture county surveys. Other writing, co-authored by the science writer Robert Brown, discussed the practical application of new techniques. His son, George achieved notability as a sculptor and politician.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Peter Ewart
14 May 1767 – 15 September 1842


Peter Ewart

Peter Ewart was a British engineer who was influential in developing the technologies of turbines and theories of thermodynamics.

He was son of the Church of Scotland minister of Troqueer near Dumfries, and was one of eleven children. His brother Joseph Ewart became British ambassador to Prussia; John, a doctor, became Chief Inspector of East India Company hospitals in India; and William, father of William Ewart. was business partner of Sir John Gladstone, father of William Ewart Gladstone, whose godfather he was and whom he was named after.

After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he was apprenticed to millwright John Rennie. His work with water wheels led him to work with Matthew Boulton and James Watt for whom by 1790 he was agent in Manchester. At the same time as acting as agent he was also trading on his own account as a millwright, enabling him to provide the complementary shafts, gears and other necessities to harness the power of the Boulton & Watt steam engines.

In 1792, frustrated in administering the immature and, as yet, unreliable machinery, he left Boulton and Watt to work in partnership with Samuel Oldknow in a cotton bleaching and calico printing venture. He anticipated this being a profitable concern but the partnership was dissolved within a year and he returned to engineering. In 1798 he went into partnership with Samuel Greg, installing an innovative water wheel at Greg’s Quarry Bank Mill on the River Bollin in Cheshire. As a standby, he installed a Watt steam engine.

By 1811, Ewart had abandoned the venture with Greg to concentrate on his own manufacturing business but also his scientific work. He became, along with John Dalton, a vice-president of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and became active in the contemporary controversies about heat, work and energy. Motivated by a paper of John Playfair and encouraged by Dalton, in 1813 he published On the measure of moving force in which he defended the nascent ideas of the conservation of energy championed by John Smeaton. The paper was strongly to influence Dalton’s pupil James Prescott Joule. A vocal advocate of the application of scientific knowledge in engineering, he was one of the founders of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute.

Ewart took up the post of Chief Engineer and Chief Inspector of Machinery with the Admiralty in 1835 and died on 15 September 1842 at Woolwich Dockyard when a chain snapped as he was supervising the removal of a boiler.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Hurst Ashpitel
1776 – 1852

William Hurst Ashpitel was an English architect.

Ashpitel was a pupil of Daniel Asher Alexander. He assisted his master in the designs for the London Docks, and in the execution of the works connected with that undertaking. Afterwards a pupil of John Rennie the Elder, he was largely concerned in the Kennet and Avon canal, and in the work of tunnelling under the town of Bath, Somerset.

Later he was in partnership with James Savage, and eventually went into practice on his own account. Amongst other buildings he designed Sir Charles Talbot’s house at Deepdene. He left his profession rather early in life, and died 20 April 1852.

His son Arthur Ashpitel was also an architect, and a writer on architectural subjects.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Daniel Asher Alexander
6 May 1768 – 2 March 1846


Daniel Asher Alexander

Daniel Asher Alexander was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1782.

His first major work was the improvement of the medieval bridge at Rochester. The bridge was widened and the two central arches merged into one to provide a wider channel for shipping. The work was not completed until 1824, by which time Alexander had been dismissed from his post as engineer to the bridge. He was the principal architect of Dartmoor Prison and Maidstone Prison, two of the oldest gaols still in use in the United Kingdom.

In 1799 he carried out a detailed survey of Rochester Cathedral, and recommended a programme of repairs, which was begun in 1801.

Alexander was the surveyor to the London Dock Company between 1796 and 1831 and was responsible all the buildings at the London Docks during that time, including the Pennington Street Warehouses and the London Dock House (the dock basins themselves were by the company’s engineers, including John Rennie).

In his capacity as surveyor to the Trinity House he built a number of lighthouses, including the High Lighthouse at Harwich (1818), and others at Holyhead, Farne Island, and Lundy Island, the latter built on older foundations in 1819.

Other works include Mote House near Maidstone, built in the 1790s for the 1st Earl of Romney; repairs to Coley House near Reading and extensions to Inigo Jones’ Queen’s House (then the Royal Naval Asylum) in Greenwich, London.

In later life he lived at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, and at Exeter, where he died.

His pupils included James Savage, John Whichcord Snr and William Hurst Ashpitel.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

George Rennie (Sculptor)
1802 – 22 March 1860

George Rennie (Sculptor) was born to George Rennie, agriculturist, and his wife in Phantassie, East Lothian, Scotland. He was a nephew of John Rennie, the civil engineer. Interested in art from an early age, Rennie studied sculpture at Rome as a young man.

After his return to Britain, Rennie worked as a sculptor. He exhibited statues and busts at the Royal Academy from 1828 to 1837. He also exhibited three times at the Suffolk Street Gallery during the same period.

His most important works at the academy were: A Gleaner and Grecian Archer, 1828; Cupid and Hymen (depicting Cupid blowing on the torch of Hymen to rekindle its flame) and busts of Bertel Thorvaldsen and his uncle John Rennie, 1831. Also considered of merit are The Archer (which he afterwards presented to the Athenaeum Club) and a bust of the artist David Wilkie in 1833. He exhibited The Minstrel in 1834; and a group of four figures in marble, 1837.

Currently Cupid and Hymen is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In 2005 it was temporarily removed from display during reorganisation of the museum’s sculpture galleries. It was returned to display in the sculpture court adjoining the central courtyard.

With a view to improving the state of the arts in Britain, Rennie turned his attention to politics. In 1836 he suggested to Sir William Ewart the formation of the parliamentary committee which led to the establishment of the schools of design at Somerset House. He assisted the efforts of Joseph Hume to obtain for the public freedom of access to all monuments and works of art in public buildings and museums.

From 1841 to 1847 he was Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Ipswich, retiring before the 1847 general election in favour of Hugh Adair. In 1842 he proposed the “New Edinburgh” scheme for establishing a Scottish settlement in New Zealand. Such a site was developed and the city is now called Dunedin.

On 15 December 1847, he was appointed to the governorship of the Falkland Islands.

He returned to England in 1855. He died in London on 22 March 1860.

Two of his sons were:

  • Richard Rennie, Chief Justice of the British Supreme Court for China and Japan
  • William Hepburn Rennie, auditor-general of Hong Kong and Lt Governor of St. Vincent

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Joseph Whidbey
1757 – 9 October 1833


Joseph Whidbey

Joseph Whidbey was a member of the Royal Navy who served on the Vancouver Expedition 1791–95, and later achieved renown as a naval engineer. He is notable for having been the first European to discover and chart Admiralty Island in the Alexander Archipelago in 1794.

Little is recorded of Whidbey’s life before his warranting as a sailing master in 1779. After years of service during the war of American Independence, he received a peacetime appointment to HMS Europa, where with then-Lieutenant Vancouver, he conducted a detailed survey of Port Royal.

Europa paid off, but Whidbey soon gained a berth, along with Vancouver, in the newly built HMS Discovery. During the Nootka Crisis, both men were transferred to HMS Courageux, but returned to Discovery and departed for the Northwest Coast of America.

In 1792, Whidbey accompanied Lieutenant Peter Puget in small boats to explore what was later named Puget Sound. On June 2, the team discovered Deception Pass, establishing the insularity of the Sound’s largest island, which Vancouver named Whidbey Island.

Upon Discovery’s return to England, Whidbey served briefly in HMS Sans Pareil, but eventually turned to a shoreside career. In 1799, then-Earl St. Vincent commissioned him to make of feasibility survey making Tor Bay a fleet anchorage; Whidbey recommended this be done by building a great breakwater. Surviving correspondence suggests that around this time he apparently struck up a lifelong friendly and professional relationship with the engineer John Rennie.

Whidbey was appointed Master Attendant at Sheerness in 1799. His innovative salvage of the Dutch frigate Ambuscade was the subject of a paper read to the Royal Society in 1803. In 1804 he received the prestigious appointment as Master Attendant at Woolwich, one of the Royal Navy’s greatest dockyards. In 1805, Whidbey became a Fellow of the Royal Society, sponsored by a long list of distinguished men of science: Alexander Dalrymple, James Rennell, William Marsden, James Stanier Clarke, Sir Gilbert Blane, Mark Beaufoy, Joseph Huddart, and John Rennie.

In 1806, as the Napoleonic Wars impended, Whidbey joined Rennie in planning the Plymouth Breakwater, at St. Vincent’s request; in 1811 came the order to begin construction and Whidbey was appointed Acting Superintending Engineer. This task required great engineering, organizational and political skills, as the many strictly technical challenges were complicated by the significant resources devoted to the project, from which various parties evidenced a desire for advantage. Nearly 4,000,000 (four million) tons of stone were quarried and transported, using about a dozen ships innovatively designed by the two men.

Construction started on August 8, 1812; it was sufficiently completed by 1814 to shelter ships of the line, although work continued for over 50 years. Napoleon was reported as commenting that it was a grand thing, as he passed by it on the way to exile on St. Helena in 1815.

His contribution to the Royal Society includes a paper on fossils found in the Plymouth quarries 1817. Whidbey continued to work on the breakwater and other engineering projects, including the breakwater’s lighthouse (designed by Trinity House), until retirement around 1830.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Rennie the Younger
30 August 1794 – 3 September 1874


John Rennie

John Rennie, the son of John Rennie, was born at 27 Stamford Street, Blackfriars Road, London, on 30 August 1794. He was educated by Dr. Greenlaw at Isleworth, and afterwards by Dr. Charles Burney at Greenwich. He subsequently entered his father’s manufactory in Holland Street, Blackfriars Road, where he acquired a practical knowledge of his profession, and in 1813 he was placed under Mr. Hollingsworth, resident engineer of Waterloo Bridge, the foundations of which he personally superintended. In 1815 he assisted his father in the erection of Southwark Bridge, and in 1819 he went abroad for the purpose of studying the great engineering works on the continent.

On the death of his father in 1821, John remained in partnership with his brother George, the civil engineering portion of the business being carried on by him, whereas the mechanical engineering was supervised by George.

Rennie along with Philip Richards designed Royal William Victualling Yard, Plymouth, (1823–33). Covering 14 acres (57,000 m2), this grand classical style ensemble built from Plymouth limestone and Dartmoor granite, consists of grand gateway surmounted by statue of King William IV, there is the Slaughterhouse, then around a central dock basin, to the south Melville Square, a warehouse with a central courtyard, it has a clock tower over the main entrance, to the west of the basin is the Bakery with its mill and to the east the Brewery, with its cooperage.

The most important of John Rennie’s undertakings, from 1824, was the construction of London Bridge, the designs for which had been prepared by his father. The bridge was opened in 1831, when Rennie was knighted, being the first of the profession since Sir Hugh Myddleton to be thus distinguished. He was responsible for the New River Ancholme Drainage Scheme in Lincolnshire, and Horkstow Bridge, which he designed to cross the river at Horkstow in 1835–6, is one of the earliest suspension bridges to survive and remains substantially as designed. As engineer to the admiralty, a post in which he succeeded his father, he completed various works at Sheerness, Woolwich, Plymouth, Ramsgate, and the great breakwater at Plymouth, of which he published an ‘Account’ in 1848. Many years of his life were spent in making additions and alterations to various harbours on different parts of the coast, both in England and in Ireland. One example would be his work in the 1850s designing a drydock for Joseph Wheeler at his Rushbrooke yard in Cork. He completed the drainage works in the Lincolnshire fens commenced by his father, and, in conjunction with Telford, constructed the Nene outfall near Wisbech (1826–1831). He also restored the harbour of Boston in 1827–8, and made various improvements on the Welland. He also re-modernised the Chatham Dockyards in 1862. Creating 3 huge basins and passageways.

Although Rennie and his brother were early in the field as a railway engineers – having been involved, with George Stephenson, in the design of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway – their practice in this department was not very large. The company did however supply a number of locomotives for the London and Croydon Railway in 1838 and 1839. In 1852 John laid out a system of railways for Sweden, for which he received the order of Gustavus Vasa, and in 1855 he designed a series of railways and harbours for Portugal, none of which were, however, carried out.

Rennie was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 25 June 1844, and he became president on 21 January 1845, retaining the office for three years. His presidential address in 1846 was a complete history of the profession of civil engineering. He also contributed papers on the drainage of the level of Ancholme, Lincolnshire, and on the improvement of the navigation of the Newry. He published, besides his Account of Plymouth Breakwater, (1848), the Theory, Formation, and Construction of British and Foreign Harbours (1851–54). He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Rennie retired from the active duties of his profession about 1862, and died at Bengeo, near Hertford, on 3 September 1874, just after completing his 80th year.

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