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Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE (9 August 1757 - 2 September 1834) was a Scottishmarker civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and a noted road, bridge and canal builder.

Early career

Telford was born in Glendinning, in the parish of Westerkirkmarker, Dumfriesshiremarker, Scotland. His father, a shepherd, died soon after Thomas was born. Thomas was raised in poverty by his mother. 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 Langholmmarker in the Scottish borders. He worked for a time in Edinburghmarker 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 Housemarker there. Two years later he found work at Portsmouth dockyardmarker 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 Shropshiremarker. Civil engineering was a discipline still in its infancy, so Telford was set on establishing himself as an architect. His projects included renovation of Shrewsburymarker Castle, the town's prison (during the planning of which he met leading prison reformer John Howard), the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Bridgnorthmarker and another church in Madeleymarker.

As the Shropshire county surveyor, Telford was also responsible for bridges. In 1790 he designed a bridge carrying the London-Holyheadmarker road over the River Severn at Montfordmarker, the first of some 40 bridges he built in Shropshire, including major crossings of the Severn at Buildwasmarker, and Bridgnorthmarker. The bridge was Telford's first iron bridge. He was influenced by the famous bridgemarker at Ironbridgemarker, 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 Bewdleymarker, 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 Tenburymarker 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.

Ellesmere Canal

Telford's reputation in Shropshire led to his appointment in 1793 to manage the detailed design and construction of the Ellesmere Canalmarker, linking the ironworks and collieries of Wrexhammarker via the north-west Shropshire town of Ellesmeremarker, with Chestermarker, utilising the existing Chester Canal, and then the River Merseymarker.

Among other structures, this involved the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueductmarker over the River Dee in the Vale of Llangollenmarker, where Telford used a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast iron plates and fixed in masonry. Extending for over with an altitude of 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-Ternmarker, pre-dating that at Pontcysyllte, and substantially bigger than the UK's first cast-iron aqueduct, built by Benjamin Outram on the Derby Canalmarker just months earlier.

Engineer in demand

Telford's circular-arch roadbridge in Bannockburn, Scotland
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 Liverpoolmarker, improvements to London's docklands and the rebuilding of London Bridgemarker(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 Canalmarker along the Great Glen and redesign of sections of the Crinan Canalmarker, some of new roads, over a thousand new bridges (including the Craigellachie Bridgemarker), numerous harbour improvements (including works at Aberdeenmarker, Dundeemarker, Peterheadmarker, Wickmarker, Portmahomackmarker and Banff), and 32 new churches.

Telford also undertook highway works in the Scottish Lowlands, including of new roads and numerous bridges, ranging from a 112 ft (34 m) span stone bridge across the Dee at Tonguelandmarker in Kirkcudbrightmarker (1805-1806) to the 129 ft (39 m) tall Cartland Crags bridge near Lanarkmarker (1822).

Telford was consulted in 1806 by the King of Swedenmarker about the construction of a canal between Gothenburgmarker and Stockholmmarker. 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.

The 'Colossus of Roads'

During his later years, Telford was responsible for rebuilding sections of the London to Holyhead roadmarker, a task completed by his assistant of ten years, John MacNeill; today, much of the route is the A5 trunk road. 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 theWaterloo Bridgemarker across the River Conwymarker at Betws-y-Coedmarker, the ascent from there to Capel Curigmarker and then the descent from the pass of Nant Ffranconmarker towards Bangormarker. Between Capel Curigmarker and Bethesdamarker, in the Ogwen Valley, Telford deviated from the original road, built by Romans during their occupation of this area.

On the island of Angleseymarker a new embankment across the Stanley Sands to Holyhead was constructed, but the crossing of the Menai Straitmarker was the most formidable challenge, overcome by the Menai Suspension Bridgemarker (1819-1826). Spanning , this was the longest suspension bridge of the time. Unlike modern suspension bridges, Telford used individually linked iron eye bars for the cables.

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

Further afield Telford designed a road to cross the centre of the Isle of Arranmarker. Named the 'String road', this route traverses bleak and difficult terrain to allow traffic to cross from east to west Arran (and vice versa) avoiding the circuitous coastal route.

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.

Late career

Other works by Telford include the St Katharine Docksmarker (1824-1828) close to Tower Bridgemarker in central London, where he worked with the architect Philip Hardwick, the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal (today known as the Gloucester and Sharpness Canalmarker), Over Bridgemarker 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 Canalmarker) - started in May 1826 but finished, after Telford's death, in January 1835. At the time of its construction in 1829, Galton Bridgemarker 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..

Telford's death

Telford's young draughtsman and clerk 1830-1834 George Turnbull in his diary states:
"On the 23rd [August 1834] Mr Telford was taken seriously ill of a bilious derangement to which he had been liable … he grew worse and worse … [surgeons] attended him twice a day, but it was to no avail for he died on the 2nd September, very peacefully at about 5pm. … His old servant James Handscombe and I were the only two in the house [24 Abingdon Street, London] when he died. He was never married. Mr Milne and Mr Rickman were, no doubt, Telford's most intimate friends. … I went to Mr Milne and under his direction … made all the arrangements about the house and correspondence. … Telford had no blood relations that we knew of. The funeral took place on the 10th September [in Westminster Abbeymarker]. … Mr Telford was of the most genial disposition and a delightful companion, his laugh was the heartiest I ever heard; it was a pleasure to be in his society."

Telford the poet

George Turnbull states that Telford wrote and gave him a poem:

On reading an account of the death of ROBERT BURNS, the SCOTCH POET

:::CLAD in the sable weeds of woe,
::::The Scottish genius mourns,
:::As o'er your tomb her sorrows flow,
::::The "narrow house" of Burns.

:::Each laurel round his humble urn,
::::She strews with pious care,
:::And by soft airs to distance borne,
::::These accents strike the ear.

:::Farewell my lov'd, my favourite child,
::::A mother's pride farewell!
:::The muses on thy cradled smiled,
::::Ah! now they ring thy knell.

:::: ---- ten verses and then ----

:::And round the tomb the plough shall pass,
::::And yellow autumn smile ;
:::And village maids shall seek the place,
::::To crown thy hallowed pile.

:::While yearly comes the opening spring,
::::While autumn wan returns ;
:::Each rural voice shall grateful sing,
::::And SCOTLAND boasts of BURNS.

:22nd August, 1796. T.T.

(Turnbull includes notes that explain nine references to Burns' life in the poem.)

Turnbull also states:

"His ability and perseverence may be understood from various literary compositions of after life, such as the articles he contributed to the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, such as Architecture, Bridge-building, and Canal-making. Singular to say the earliest distinction he acquired in life was as a poet. Even at 30 years of age he reprinted at Shrewsbury a poem called "Eskdale", … Some others of his poems are in my possession."

Bridges designed by Telford

Thomas Telford designed a number of bridges during his career. They include:

Places named after Telford

Telford New Town

When a new town was being built in the Wrekin area of Shropshiremarker in 1968, it was named Telfordmarker in his honour. In 1990, when it came to naming one of Britain's first City Technology Colleges, to be situated in Telford, Thomas Telford was the obvious choice. Thomas Telford Schoolmarker is consistently among the top performing comprehensive schools in the country [7131].

Telford, Pennsylvania

The Borough of County Line in Montgomery Countymarker, Pennsylvaniamarker changed its name to Telfordmarker in 1857, after the North Pennsylvania Railroad Company named its new station there "Telford" in honour of Thomas Telford.

Edinburgh's Telford College

Edinburgh's Telford Collegemarker, one of Scotland's largest colleges is named in the honour of the famous engineer. [7132]


His life, entitled The Life of Thomas Telford, Civil Engineer, written by himself, was published in 1838. [7133]


See also

He also completed the Grand Trunk after James Brindley died due to being over-worked.


External links

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