Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Telford’

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.

Sir William Pulteney 5th Baronet
October 1729 – 30 May 1805


William Pulteney

Sir William Pulteney 5th Baronet was a Scottish advocate, landowner and politician. He was reputedly the wealthiest man in the Great Britain. He invested in lands in North America, and in developments in Great Britain, including the Pulteney Bridge and other buildings in Bath, buildings on the sea-front at Weymouth in Dorset, and roads in his native Scotland.

He was a patron of architect Robert Adam and civil engineer Thomas Telford.

William Johnstone, as he was born, was the second son of Sir James Johnstone, 3rd Baronet of Wester Hall, Dumfries, and his wife Barbara Murray, the oldest sister of the literary patron Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank.

His older brother was the soldier and politician Sir James Johnstone, 4th Baronet. His younger brothers included the politician and naval officer George Johnstone and the East India Company official John Johnstone. Alexander Murray of Elibank, a Jacobite, was his uncle.

He studied law, became a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1751, and went on to become an eminent advocate. He lived in Edinburgh and associated with several major figures of the country’s learned society, including philosopher and historian David Hume, political philosopher and economist Adam Smith, and architect Robert Adam. He was a first cousin of Patrick Ferguson.

On 10 November 1760, he married heiress Frances Pulteney. Frances was the third daughter of MP and government official Daniel Pulteney and first cousin once removed of William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath. She inherited William’s substantial fortune and estates close to Bath in Somerset after his death in 1764 and that of his younger brother and heir in 1767. On inheriting, Johnstone changed his name in 1767 to Pulteney. Simultaneously, his daughter’s name was also changed from Henrietta Laura Johnstone to Henrietta Laura Pulteney.

At that time Bath was expanding, but the Pulteneys’ rural Bathwick estate was separated from the city by the River Avon, and with no bridge in place the only means of crossing the river was via a small ferry. They decided a bridge needed to be built, and Pulteney turned to his friend and fellow countryman, architect Robert Adam. Adam was influenced by his travels to Florence and Venice and proposed a bridge incorporating shops along both sides. This was completed in 1773, but the Pulteneys’ original plans for Bath’s expansion did not take effect until 1788 when Bath architect Thomas Baldwin started to create a new estate. As well as the bridge bearing his name, Pulteney’s involvement is recalled by Great Pulteney Street in Bathwick, reputed to be the longest boulevard of its kind in Europe, while Henrietta Street was named after his daughter.

Pulteney represented Cromarty and later Shrewsbury, where he usually resided, in seven successive Parliaments. He first but unsuccessfully contested the Shrewsbury seat in 1768, but subsequently won the seat for Cromarty. In 1774 he again contested Shrewsbury, and although he was defeated, he was returned on petition the following March (and retained the seat until his death in May 1805).

On 1 June 1782, Frances died, leaving him her fortune.

Pulteney invested in land in the West Indies and in what is today western New York state. The settlements of Bath, Pulteney, Henrietta and Caledonia are evidence of his speculation at the end of the 18th century, through ‘The Pulteney Association’ an agency run by his agent Charles Williamson.

In 1783, Pulteney began working with Thomas Telford, later the most eminent civil engineer of his day. When Pulteney first met him, Telford was a young stonemason from the same parish of Westerkirk in Dumfries, who had travelled to London to seek work. In 1787, Pulteney commissioned Telford to design and supervise restoration works at Shrewsbury Castle, and helped his appointment as Surveyor of Public Works for Shropshire.

Later, as Governor of the British Fisheries Society, Pulteney appointed Telford to design the world’s then largest herring fishing port, at Wick in Caithness. The village was named Pulteneytown and is the location of the Old Pulteney whisky distillery.

Pulteney was also influential in Telford’s 1801 appointment to devise a master plan to improve communications in the Highlands of Scotland, a massive project that was to last 20 years.

Pulteney also took a lively interest in many other engineering projects, including that of Bell Rock lighthouse, supporting a bill in 1803.

He succeeded to the Johnstone baronetcy in 1794 on the death of his elder brother James Johnstone. He was thus titled 5th Baronet Pulteney, having declined several offers of a peerage during his parliamentary career.

In 1804 Pulteney married, as his second wife, Margaret, widow of Andrew Stuart and daughter of Sir William Stirling. The marriage did not last long. Pulteney died intestate at Bath House in Piccadilly, London, on 30 May 1805, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

His daughter, (Henrietta) Laura, was created 1st Baroness of Bath on 26 July 1792 and 1st Countess of Bath on 26 October 1803. In 1794, she had married her father’s first cousin Sir James Murray, who had taken the name Murray-Pulteney. She died on 14 July 1808 without bearing children and her titles became extinct.

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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.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859


Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The son of French civil engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and Sophia Kingdom, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on 9 April 1806 in Britan Street, Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, where his father was working on block-making machinery. The family moved to London in 1808 for his father’s work. Brunel had a happy childhood, despite the family’s constant money worries, with his father acting as his teacher during his early years. His father taught him drawing and observational techniques from the age of four and Brunel had learned Euclidean geometry by eight. During this time he also learned fluent French and the basic principles of engineering. He was encouraged to draw interesting buildings and identify any faults in their structure.

When Brunel was eight he was sent to Dr Morrell’s boarding school in Hove, where he learned the classics. His father was determined that Brunel should have access to the high-quality education he had enjoyed in his youth in France; accordingly, at the age of 14, the younger Brunel was enrolled first at the College of Caen in Normandy, then at Lycée Henri-Quatre in Paris.

When Brunel was 15, his father, who had accumulated debts of over £5,000, was sent to a debtors’ prison. After three months went by with no prospect of release, Marc let it be known that he was considering an offer from the Tsar of Russia. In August 1821, facing the prospect of losing a prominent engineer, the government relented and issued Marc £5,000 to clear his debts in exchange for his promise to remain in Britain.

When Brunel completed his studies at Henri-Quatre in 1822, his father had him presented as a candidate at the renowned engineering school École Polytechnique, but as a foreigner he was deemed ineligible for entry. Brunel subsequently studied under the prominent master clockmaker and horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet. In late 1822, having completed his apprenticeship, Brunel returned to England.

Brunel worked for several years as an assistant engineer on the project to create a tunnel under London’s River Thames, with tunnellers driving a horizontal shaft from one side of the river to the other under the most difficult and dangerous conditions. Brunel’s father, Marc, was the chief engineer, and the project was funded by the Thames Tunnel Company.

The composition of the riverbed at Rotherhithe was often little more than waterlogged sediment and loose gravel. An ingenious tunnelling shield designed by Marc Brunel helped protect workers from cave-ins, but two incidents of severe flooding halted work for long periods, killing several workers and badly injuring the younger Brunel. The latter incident, in 1828, killed the two most senior miners, and Brunel himself narrowly escaped death. He was seriously injured, and spent six months recuperating. The event stopped work on the tunnel for several years.

Brunel is perhaps best remembered for designing the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Spanning over 700 ft (210 m), and nominally 200 ft (61 m) above the River Avon, it had the longest span of any bridge in the world at the time of construction. Brunel submitted four designs to a committee headed by Thomas Telford, but Telford rejected all entries, proposing his own design instead. Vociferous opposition from the public forced the organising committee to hold a new competition, which was won by Brunel.

Work on the Clifton bridge started in 1831, but was suspended due to the Queen Square riots caused by the arrival of Sir Charles Wetherell in Clifton. The riots drove away investors, leaving no money for the project, and construction ceased.

Brunel did not live to see the bridge finished, although his colleagues and admirers at the Institution of Civil Engineers felt it would be a fitting memorial, and started to raise new funds and to amend the design. Work recommenced in 1862 and was completed in 1864, five years after Brunel’s death.

Brunel designed many bridges for his railway projects, including the Royal Albert Bridge spanning the River Tamar at Saltash near Plymouth, Somerset Bridge (an unusual laminated timber-framed bridge near Bridgwater), the Windsor Railway Bridge, and the Maidenhead Railway Bridge over the Thames in Berkshire. This last was the flattest, widest brick arch bridge in the world.

In 1845 Hungerford Bridge, a suspension footbridge across the Thames near Charing Cross Station in London, was opened. It was replaced by a new railway bridge in 1859, and the suspension chains were used to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Brunel designed the Royal Albert Bridge in 1855 for the Cornwall Railway, after Parliament rejected his original plan for a train ferry across the Hamoaze—the estuary of the tidal Tamar, Tavy and Lynher. The bridge (of bowstring girder or tied arch construction) consists of two main spans of 455 ft, 100 ft above mean high spring tide, plus 17 much shorter approach spans. Opened by Prince Albert on 2 May 1859, it was completed in the year of Brunel’s death.

In the early part of Brunel’s life, the use of railways began to take off as a major means of transport for goods. This influenced Brunel’s involvement in railway engineering, including railway bridge engineering.

In 1833, before the Thames Tunnel was complete, Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, one of the wonders of Victorian Britain, running from London to Bristol and later Exeter. The company was founded at a public meeting in Bristol in 1833, and was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1835. It was Brunel’s vision that passengers would be able to purchase one ticket at London Paddington and travel from London to New York, changing from the Great Western Railway to the Great Western steamship at the terminus in Neyland, South Wales. He surveyed the entire length of the route between London and Bristol himself, with the help of many including his Solicitor Jeremiah Osborne of Bristol Law Firm Osborne Clarke who on one occasion rowed Isambard Kingdom Brunel down the River Avon himself to survey the bank of the river for the route.

Brunel made two controversial decisions: to use a broad gauge of 7 ft 1/4 in (2,140 mm) for the track, which he believed would offer superior running at high speeds; and to take a route that passed north of the Marlborough Downs—an area with no significant towns, though it offered potential connections to Oxford and Gloucester—and then to follow the Thames Valley into London. His decision to use broad gauge for the line was controversial in that almost all British railways to date had used standard gauge. Brunel said that this was nothing more than a carry-over from the mine railways that George Stephenson had worked on prior to making the world’s first passenger railway. Brunel proved through both calculation and a series of trials that his broader gauge was the optimum size for providing both higher speeds and a stable and comfortable ride to passengers. In addition the wider gauge allowed for larger carriages and thus greater freight capacity.

Drawing on Brunel’s experience with the Thames Tunnel, the Great Western contained a series of impressive achievements—soaring viaducts such as the one in Ivybridge, specially designed stations, and vast tunnels including the Box Tunnel, which was the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time.

The initial group of locomotives ordered by Brunel to his own specifications proved unsatisfactory, apart from the North Star locomotive, and 20-year-old Daniel Gooch was appointed as Superintendent of Locomotive Engines. Brunel and Gooch chose to locate their locomotive works at the village of Swindon, at the point where the gradual ascent from London turned into the steeper descent to the Avon valley at Bath.

Brunel’s achievements ignited the imagination of the technically minded Britons of the age, and he soon became quite notable in the country because of this interest.

After Brunel’s death the decision was taken that standard gauge should be used for all railways in the country.

The present London Paddington station was designed by Brunel and opened in 1854. Examples of his designs for smaller stations on the Great Western and associated lines which survive in good condition include Mortimer, Charlbury and Bridgend (all Italianate) and Culham (Tudorbethan). Surviving examples of wooden train sheds in his style are at Frome and Kingswear.

Overall, there were negative views as to how society viewed the railways. Some landowners felt the railways were a threat to amenities or property values and others requested tunnels on their land so the railway could not be seen.

In 1835, before the Great Western Railway had opened, Brunel proposed extending its transport network by boat from Bristol across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. The Great Western Steamship Company was formed by Thomas Guppy for that purpose.

It was widely disputed whether it would be commercially viable for a ship powered purely by steam to make such long journeys. Technological developments in the early 1830s—including the invention of the surface condenser, which allowed boilers to run on salt water without stopping to be cleaned—made longer journeys more possible, but it was generally thought that a ship would not be able to carry enough fuel for the trip and have room for a commercial cargo.

Brunel formulated the theory that the amount a ship could carry increased as the cube of its dimensions, whereas the amount of resistance a ship experienced from the water as it travelled only increased by a square of its dimensions. This would mean that moving a larger ship would take proportionately less fuel than a smaller ship. To test this theory, Brunel offered his services for free to the Great Western Steamship Company, which appointed him to its building committee and entrusted him with designing its first ship, the Great Western.

When it was built, the Great Western was the longest ship in the world at 236 ft with a 250-foot keel. The ship was constructed mainly from wood, but Brunel added bolts and iron diagonal reinforcements to maintain the keel’s strength. In addition to its steam-powered paddle wheels, the ship carried four masts for sails. The Great Western embarked on her maiden voyage from Avonmouth, Bristol, to New York on 8 April 1838 with 600 long tons of coal, cargo and seven passengers on board.

Brunel himself missed this initial crossing, having been injured during a fire aboard the ship as she was returning from fitting out in London. As the fire delayed the launch several days, the Great Western missed its opportunity to claim title as the first ship to cross the Atlantic under steam power alone. Even with a four-day head start, the competing Sirius arrived only one day earlier and its crew was forced to burn cabin furniture, spare yards and one mast for fuel.

In contrast, the Great Western crossing of the Atlantic took 15 days and five hours, and the ship arrived at her destination with a third of its coal still remaining, demonstrating that Brunel’s calculations were correct. The Great Western had proved the viability of commercial transatlantic steamship service, which led the Great Western Steamboat Company to use her in regular service between Bristol and New York from 1838 to 1846. She made 64 crossings, and was the first ship to hold the Blue Riband with a crossing time of 13 days westbound and 12 days 6 hours eastbound. The service was commercially successful enough for a sister ship to be required, which Brunel was asked to design.

Brunel had become convinced of the superiority of propeller-driven ships over paddle wheels. After tests conducted aboard the propeller-driven steam tug Archimedes, he incorporated a large six-bladed propeller into his design for the 322-foot Great Britain, which was launched in 1843. Great Britain is considered the first modern ship, being built of metal rather than wood, powered by an engine rather than wind or oars, and driven by propeller rather than paddle wheel. She was the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Her maiden voyage was made in August and September 1845, from Liverpool to New York. In 1846, she was run aground at Dundrum, County Down. She was salvaged and employed in the Australian service.

In 1852 Brunel turned to a third ship, larger than her predecessors, intended for voyages to India and Australia. The Great Eastern (originally dubbed Leviathan) was cutting-edge technology for her time: almost 700 ft long, fitted out with the most luxurious appointments, and capable of carrying over 4,000 passengers. Great Eastern was designed to cruise non-stop from London to Sydney and back (since engineers of the time misunderstood that Australia had no coal reserves), and she remained the largest ship built until the start of the 20th century.

Like many of Brunel’s ambitious projects, the ship soon ran over budget and behind schedule in the face of a series of technical problems. The ship has been portrayed as a white elephant, but in this case Brunel’s failure was principally one of economics—his ships were simply years ahead of their time. His vision and engineering innovations made the building of large-scale, propeller-driven, all-metal steamships a practical reality, but the prevailing economic and industrial conditions meant that it would be several decades before transoceanic steamship travel emerged as a viable industry.

Great Eastern was built at John Scott Russell’s Napier Yard in London, and after two trial trips in 1859, set forth on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 17 June 1860. Though a failure at her original purpose of passenger travel, she eventually found a role as an oceanic telegraph cable-layer. The Great Eastern played a significant role in laying the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable, which enabled telecommunication between Europe and North America.

During the Crimean War, an old Turkish barracks became the British Army Hospital in Scutari. Injured men contracted a variety of illnesses—including cholera, dysentery, typhoid and malaria—due to poor conditions there, and Florence Nightingale sent a plea to The Times for the government to produce a solution.

Brunel was working on the Great Eastern amongst other projects, but accepted the task in February 1855 of designing and building the War Office requirement of a temporary, pre-fabricated hospital that could be shipped to Crimea and erected there. In 5 months the team he had assembled designed, built, and shipped pre-fabricated wood and canvas buildings, providing them complete with advice on transportation and positioning of the facilities.

Brunel had been working Gloucester Docks-based William Eassrie on the launching stage for the Great Eastern, a man who had designed and built wooden prefabricated huts used in both the Australian gold rush, as well as by the British and French Armies in the Crimea. Using wood supplied by timber importers Price & Co., Eassrie fabricated 18 of the two-50 patient wards designed by Brunel, shipped directly via 16 ships from Gloucester Docks to the Dardanelles. The Renkioi Hospital was subsequently erected near Scutari Hospital, where Nightingale was based, in the malaria-free area of Renkioi.

His designs incorporated the necessities of hygiene: access to sanitation, ventilation, drainage, and even rudimentary temperature controls. They were feted as a great success, with some sources stating that of the approximately 1,300 patients treated in the hospital, there were only 50 deaths. In the Scutari hospital it replaced, deaths were said to be as many as 10 times this number. Nightingale referred to them as “those magnificent huts”. The practice of building hospitals from pre-fabricated modules survives today.

In 1830, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

On 5 July 1836, Brunel married Mary Elizabeth Horsley, who came from an accomplished musical and artistic family, being the eldest daughter of composer and organist William Horsley. They established a home at Duke Street, Westminster, in London.

In 1843, while performing a conjuring trick for the amusement of his children, Brunel accidentally inhaled a half-sovereign coin, which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it, as did a machine devised by Brunel to shake it loose. At the suggestion of his father, Brunel was strapped to a board and turned upside-down, and the coin was jerked free. He recuperated at Teignmouth, and enjoyed the area so much that he purchased an estate at Watcombe in Torquay, Devon. Here he designed Brunel Manor and its gardens to be his retirement home. He never saw the house or gardens finished, as he died before it was completed.

Brunel, a heavy smoker, suffered a stroke in 1859, just before the Great Eastern made her first voyage to New York. He died ten days later at the age of 53 and was buried, like his father, in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. He left behind his wife Mary and three children: Isambard Brunel Junior, Henry Marc Brunel and Florence Mary Brunel. Henry Marc followed his father and grandfather in becoming a successful civil engineer.

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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.

Benjamin Outram
1 April 1764 – 22 May 1805

Born at Alfreton in Derbyshire, he began his career assisting his father Joseph Outram, who described himself as an “agriculturalist”, but was also a land agent, an enclosure commissioner arbitrating in the many disputes which arose from the enclosures acts, an advisor on land management, a surveyor for new mines and served as a turnpike trustee.

In 1803 he had a son, James Outram, who became a general in the Indian Army and was later knighted.

He died of a “brain fever” (stroke) while visiting London in 1805. After his death, and some considerable litigation, in 1807 Benjamin Outram and Company was renamed the Butterley Company.

After his death, his wife Margaret (1778–1863), daughter of James Anderson, wrote that Outram “was hasty in his temper, feeling his own superiority over others. Accustomed to command, he had little toleration for stupidity and slowness, and none for meanness or littleness of any kind.” In spite of his prowess, Outram’s wife and family were for a while reduced to near poverty after his death until his liabilities could be settled through the courts.

Joseph Outram was a promoter of the Cromford Canal, and when William Jessop was approached to design and build it he found an able assistant in 24 year-old Benjamin. Construction of the canal, particularly Butterley Tunnel, revealed substantial mineral deposits. The neighbouring Butterley Hall and its 200-acre (0.81 km2) estate came on the market at this time and Francis Beresford, solicitor to the canal company, bought the freehold of the hall and its estate. He leased it on a moiety to Outram until the latter had acquired enough capital for a fifty percent holding.

This was the beginning of the ironworks, ‘Benjamin Outram & Company’ which began trading in 1790 (closed in 2009 DWW-shame). The following year William Jessop and John Wright, a Nottingham banker, also became partners. Starting with a nominal capital of £6000, Outram was the only partner active in the management of the company, assisted by his younger brother, Joseph. Over time the business expanded to include a limestone quarry, limekilns, collieries and ironstone pits.

Outram became a leading advocate in the construction of tramways using L-section rails, which along with the wagons were manufactured at his Butterley Ironworks. His first tramway was a line slightly over 1 mile (1.6 km) in length, built to carry limestone from quarries at Crich to Bullbridge Wharf on the Cromford Canal, for use by his works.

In 1792 he became engineer for the Nottingham Canal and in 1793 the Derby Canal, working in the meantime on the Nutbrook Canal.

One of his major works was the 44 feet (13 m) long single-span Holmes Aqueduct on the Derby Canal, which opened in February 1796 and was one of the first cast-iron aqueducts. It was cast by Benjamin Outram & Company and predated Thomas Telford‘s longer aqueduct on the Shrewsbury Canal at Longdon-on-Tern by one month. It proved troublesome and needed substantial remedial work in 1802, 1812 and 1930, eventually being demolished in 1971.

An important extension to the Derby Canal was the Little Eaton Gangway, a feeder for the Derby Canal built on the pattern of that at Crich. Such tramways became an important part of his later canals. A common misconception is that the word “tramway” comes from Outram’s surname but the word actually derives from the Low German word “traam” meaning “a beam” (of a wheelbarrow). Outram always referred to tramways as railways.

Outram was the consulting engineer for the construction of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which included the pioneering Standedge Canal Tunnel. In 1794 he was the engineer for the Peak Forest Canal, which included the Marple Aqueduct. The climb from Bugsworth was negotiated by the 6 miles (9.7 km) Peak Forest Tramway. Stodhart Tunnel on this tramway is believed to be the first railway tunnel in Derbyshire. In 1796 he reported on the extra funds needed to complete construction of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal.[5] In 1798, he was retained to complete the final section of the Ashton Canal which included the Store Street Aqueduct, among the first to solve the problem of skew arches.

Outram also built railways for the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal and was asked to advise on railways for the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. He predicted within a few years of their introduction that railways would become the principal mode of transport. In 1799 he wrote, while building the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal railway at four foot two inch gauge, “it appears that many hogsheads and packages require carriages . . . wider than those at Derby and Crich” and “it seems desirable that all extensive railways should be of the same width and that width should be sufficient to suit all the purposes of trade”.

His sudden death, leaving no will, led to considerable confusion in resolving the company’s affairs, and it was not until 1815 that the company’s affairs and liabilities with his wife and family were settled.

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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.

Thomas Telford
9 August 1757 – 2 September 1834


Thomas Telford

Telford was born at Glendinning, a hill farm 3 miles west of Eskdalemuir Kirk, in the rural parish of Westerkirk, in Eskdale, Dumfriesshire. His father John Telford, a shepherd, died soon after Thomas was born. Thomas was raised in poverty by his mother Janet Jackson.

At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a stonemason, and some of his earliest work can still be seen on the bridge across the River Esk in Langholm in the Scottish borders. He worked for a time in Edinburgh and in 1782 he moved to London where (after meeting architects Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers) he was involved in building additions to Somerset House there. Two years later he found work at Portsmouth dockyard and — although still largely self-taught — was extending his talents to the specification, design and management of building projects.

In 1787, through his wealthy patron William Pulteney, he became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire. Civil engineering was a discipline still in its infancy, so Telford was set on establishing himself as an architect. His projects included renovation of Shrewsbury Castle, the town’s prison (during the planning of which he met leading prison reformer John Howard), the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Bridgnorth and another church, St Michael, in Madeley. (Called in to advise on a leaking roof at St Chad’s Church Shrewsbury in 1788, he correctly warned the church was in imminent danger of collapse; his reputation was made locally when it collapsed 3 days later, but he was not the architect for its replacement.)

As the Shropshire county surveyor, Telford was also responsible for bridges. In 1790 he designed a bridge carrying the London-Holyhead road over the River Severn at Montford, the first of some 40 bridges he built in Shropshire, including major crossings of the Severn at Buildwas, and Bridgnorth. The bridge at Buildwas was Telford’s first iron bridge. He was influenced by Abraham Darby’s bridge at Ironbridge, and observed that it was grossly over-designed for its function, and many of the component parts were poorly cast. By contrast, his bridge was 30 ft (10 m) wider in span and half the weight, although it now no longer exists. He was one of the first engineers to test his materials thoroughly before construction. As his engineering prowess grew, Telford was to return to this material repeatedly.

In 1795 the bridge at Bewdley, in Worcestershire was swept away in the winter floods and Telford was responsible for the design of its replacement. The same winter floods saw the bridge at Tenbury also swept away. This bridge across the River Teme was the joint responsibility of both Worcestershire and Shropshire and the bridge has a bend where the two counties meet. Telford was responsible for the repair to the northern (Shropshire) end of the bridge.

Telford’s reputation in Shropshire led to his appointment in 1793 to manage the detailed design and construction of the Ellesmere Canal, linking the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham via the north-west Shropshire town of Ellesmere, with Chester, utilising the existing Chester Canal, and then the River Mersey.

Among other structures, this involved the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee in the Vale of Llangollen, where Telford used a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast iron plates and fixed in masonry. Extending for over 1,000 feet (300 m) with an altitude of 126 feet (38 m) above the valley floor, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct consists of nineteen arches, each with a forty-five foot span. Being a pioneer in the use of cast-iron for large scaled structures, Telford had to invent new techniques, such as using boiling sugar and lead as a sealant on the iron connections. Eminent canal engineer William Jessop oversaw the project, but he left the detailed execution of the project in Telford’s hands.

The same period also saw Telford involved in the design and construction of the Shrewsbury Canal. When the original engineer, Josiah Clowes, died in 1795, Telford succeeded him. One of Telford’s achievements on this project was the design of the cast-iron aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern, pre-dating that at Pontcysyllte, and substantially bigger than the UK’s first cast-iron aqueduct, built by Benjamin Outram on the Derby Canal just months earlier.

The Ellesmere Canal was completed in 1805 and alongside his canal responsibilities, Telford’s reputation as a civil engineer meant he was constantly consulted on numerous other projects. These included water supply works for Liverpool, improvements to London’s docklands and the rebuilding of London Bridge(c.1800).

Most notably (and again William Pulteney was influential), in 1801 Telford devised a master plan to improve communications in the Highlands of Scotland, a massive project that was to last some 20 years. It included the building of the Caledonian Canal along the Great Glen and redesign of sections of the Crinan Canal, some 920 miles (1,480 km) of new roads, over a thousand new bridges (including the Craigellachie Bridge), numerous harbour improvements (including works at Aberdeen, Dundee, Peterhead, Wick, Portmahomack and Banff), and 32 new churches.

Telford also undertook highway works in the Scottish Lowlands, including 184 miles (296 km) of new roads and numerous bridges, ranging from a 112 ft (34 m) span stone bridge across the Dee at Tongueland in Kirkcudbright (1805–1806) to the 129 ft (39 m) tall Cartland Crags bridge near Lanark (1822).

Telford was consulted in 1806 by the King of Sweden about the construction of a canal between Gothenburg and Stockholm. His plans were adopted and construction of the Göta Canal began in 1810. Telford travelled to Sweden at that time to oversee some of the more important initial excavations.

Many of Telford’s projects were undertaken due to his role as a member of the Exchequer Bill Loan Commission, an organ set up under the Poor Employment Act of 1817, to help finance public work projects that would generate employment.

During his later years, Telford was responsible for rebuilding sections of the London to Holyhead road, a task completed by his assistant of ten years, John MacNeill; today, much of the route is the A5 trunk road, although the Holyhead Road diverted off the A5 along what is now parts of A45, A41 and A464 through the cities of Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Between London and Shrewsbury, most of the work amounted to improvements. Beyond Shrewsbury, and especially beyond Llangollen, the work often involved building a highway from scratch. Notable features of this section of the route include the Waterloo Bridge across the River Conwy at Betws-y-Coed, the ascent from there to Capel Curig and then the descent from the pass of Nant Ffrancon towards Bangor. Between Capel Curig and Bethesda, in the Ogwen Valley, Telford deviated from the original road, built by Romans during their occupation of this area.

On the island of Anglesey a new embankment across the Stanley Sands to Holyhead was constructed, but the crossing of the Menai Strait was the most formidable challenge, overcome by the Menai Suspension Bridge (1819–1826). Spanning 580 feet (180 m), this was the longest suspension bridge of the time. Unlike modern suspension bridges, Telford used individually linked 9.5-foot (2.9 m) iron eye bars for the cables.

Telford also worked on the North Wales coast road between Chester and Bangor, including another major suspension bridge at Conwy, opened later the same year as its Menai counterpart.

Further afield Telford designed a road to cross the centre of the Isle of Arran. Named the ‘String road’, this route traverses bleak and difficult terrain to allow traffic to cross between east and west Arran avoiding the circuitous coastal route. His work on improving the Glasgow – Carlisle road, later to become the A74, has been described as “a model for future engineers.”

Telford improved on methods for the building of macadam roads by improving the selection of stone based on thickness, taking into account traffic, alignment and slopes.

The punning nickname Colossus of Roads was given to Telford by his friend, the eventual Poet Laureate, Robert Southey. Telford’s reputation as a man of letters may have preceded his fame as an engineer: he had published poetry between 1779 and 1784, and an account of a tour of Scotland with Southey. His will left bequests to Southey (who would later write Telford’s biography), the poet Thomas Campbell (1777–1844) and to the publishers of the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia (to which he had been a contributor).

In 1821, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

An Act of Parliament in 1823 provided a grant of £50,000 for the building of up to 40 churches and manses in communities without any church buildings (hence the alternative name: ‘Parliamentary Church’ or ‘Parliamentary Kirk’). The total cost was not to exceed £1500 on any site and Telford was commissioned to undertake the design. He developed a simple church of T-shaped plan and two manse designs – a single-storey and a two-storey, adaptable to site and ground conditions, and to brick or stone construction, at £750 each. Of the 43 churches originally planned, 32 were eventually built around the Scottish highlands and islands (the other 11 were achieved by redoing existing buildings). The last of these churches was built in 1830.

Other works by Telford include the St Katharine Docks (1824–1828) close to Tower Bridge in central London, where he worked with the architect Philip Hardwick, the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal (today known as the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal), Over Bridge near Gloucester, the second Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal (1827), and the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (today part of the Shropshire Union Canal) — started in May 1826 but finished, after Telford’s death, in January 1835. At the time of its construction in 1829, Galton Bridge was the longest single span in the world. He also built Whitstable harbour in Kent in 1832, in connection with the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway with an unusual system for flushing out mud using a tidal reservoir.

In 1820, Telford was appointed the first President of the recently-formed Institution of Civil Engineers, a post he held until his death.

Bridges designed by Telford

  • Bannockburn Bridge
  • Bewdley Bridge (1798)
  • Bonar Bridge (1812)
  • Bridgnorth bridge (1810)
  • Bridge of Keig (1827)
  • Broomielaw Bridge, Glasgow (1816)
  • Buildwas bridge (1796)
  • Cantlop bridge (1820)
  • Chirk Aqueduct (1801)
  • Clachan Bridge (1792)
  • Conwy Suspension Bridge (1826)
  • Coundarbour Bridge (1797)
  • Craigellachie Bridge (1815)
  • Dean Bridge, Edinburgh (1831)
  • Dunans Bridge (1815)
  • Dunkeld Bridge (1809)
  • Eaton Hall Bridge (1824)
  • Galton Bridge (1829)
  • Glen Loy Aqueduct on the Caledonian Canal (1806)
  • Harecastle Tunnel (1827)
  • Holt Fleet Bridge (1827)
  • A proposal for London Bridge
  • Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct (1796)
  • Lothian Bridge, Pathhead, Midlothian (1831)
  • Menai Suspension Bridge (1826)
  • Montford Bridge (1792)
  • Mythe Bridge (1826)
  • Over Bridge (1827)
  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (1805)
  • Potarch Bridge
  • Stanley Embankment (1823)
  • Telford Bridge (1813)
  • Tongland Bridge (1808)
  • Waterloo Bridge, Betws-y-Coed (1815)

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