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Thomas Bouch

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Sir Thomas Bouch (1822-1880) was a British railway engineer.

1822 February 25th. Born in Thursby, Cumberland, the son of William Bouch

Thomas found the premises at Woodbank near Upperby that became the home for the firm the he set up with John Cowans and Edward Pattinson Sheldon and his older brother, William Bouch. This eventually became Cowans, Sheldon and Co.

He worked initially for the North British Railway and helped design parts of Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station.

He set up as an independent consultant, during which time he built a rail line to St Andrews in Fife. The railway suffered numerous mishaps owing to poor quality engineering, such as the use of old rail lines.

1862 Thomas Bouch, Engineer, 78 George Street, Edinburgh.[1]

He also built a number of railway bridges, at Belah and Deepdale on an important cross-Pennines route (now defunct), but which survived until the Beeching Axe in the 1960s. His negligence led to the disaster of the Tay Bridge, which destroyed his reputation shortly before his death.

1873 of Oxford Terrace, Edinburgh[2]

He designed the first Tay Rail Bridge whilst working for the Edinburgh and Northern Railway. Queen Victoria travelled over it at the official opening in 1878, and she awarded him a knighthood in recognition of his achievement in 1879. The bridge collapsed on 28 December 1879 when it was hit by strong side winds. A train was travelling over it at the time, and 75 people died.

The subsequent public inquiry revealed that the railway company sacrificed safety and durability to save costs. Sloppy working practices such as poor smelting and the re-use of girders dropped into the estuary during construction were factors in the bridge's collapse.

The inquiry concluded that the bridge was "badly designed, badly built, and badly maintained". All of the high girders section fell during the accident, and analysis of the archives has shown that the design of cast iron columns with integral lugs holding the tie bars was a critical mistake. The lugs were composed of cast iron, which is brittle under tension. Many other bridges had been built to a similar design using cast iron columns and wrought iron tie bars, but none used this design detail.

As the engineer, Thomas Bouch was blamed for the collapse of the Tay bridge, his assistant Charles Meik, having merely left an impression that he "was aptly named", implying that he had no great influence over the design and construction.

After the inquiry, Bouch rapidly removed and reinforced similar lugs on the new bridge he had built at Montrose (Angus), but after another inspection, the bridge was demolished and replaced.

The remains of the original Tay bridge were demolished and replaced by an entirely new design by William Henry Barlow and his son Crawford Barlow. Some of the wrought iron girders were re-used in the new double track bridge by cutting them in half and re-welding to form wider structures for the track. The brick and masonry piers from the old bridge were left as breakwaters for the new piers, which were monocoques of wrought iron and steel.

Bouch's design for the Forth Bridge had been accepted and the foundation stone laid, but the project was cancelled due to the Tay Bridge Disaster. An entirely different design was proposed by Benjamin Baker and John Fowler. A cantilever bridge, not a suspension bridge as proposed by Bouch, it was completed in 1890.

Thomas Bouch retired to Moffat, his health deteriorated, and he died a few months after the public inquiry into the disaster finished. He is buried in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.

Bouch did the initial survey for the Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway. For the Edinburgh and Northern Railway, he designed the ferry slip for the world's first train ferry, which ran from Granton to Burntisland in Fife. Services began on 3 February 1850.

He also designed the Hownsgill Viaduct in Consett, County Durham which carried the Stanhope & Tyne Railway 175 feet above Hownsgill. The viaduct is 700 feet long and follows a 12 arch design constructed in brick. Today it forms part of the Sea to Sea Cycle Route which crosses from Whitehaven or Workington on the west coast to Sunderland or Tynemouth on the east coast.

1880 October 30th. Died

1881 Obituary [3][4]

SIR THOMAS BOUCH, the third son of William Bouch, a retired captain in the mercantile marine, was born in the village of Thursby, Cumberland, on the 22nd of February, 1822. The village school of Thursby was for a time conducted by Mr. Joseph Hannah, and the elementary part of Thomas Bouch’s education was acquired under that teacher, who still survives, and who has given interesting information regarding the early career of his subsequently distinguished pupil.

For a time, the boy showed no greater inclination for study than is usual with an average village lad, and the beginnings of his interest in learning are attributed to a curious course. Fond of out-door exercise, hunting, &C., he was more prominent in the rougher traits of school life than in attention to his teacher, and in the annual carnival of 'barring out' - when the scholars occupy the schoolhouse, and defy the master till some concession as to holidays, &C., has been gained - Thomas Bouch took an active part. It appeared to Mr. Hannah that this rather barbarous and demoralising practice might give way to a more rational procedure, and he persuaded his boys to come to the schoolhouse to a lecture on Natural Philosophy. Bouch was the last to give in, but, deserted by his comrades, he too attended.

Many years afterwards he confessed to his teacher that the lecture (which treated of ways of raising water in ancient and modern times) had not proceeded far before he found his whole attention engrossed, and he began to wish the master would talk till night! He at once took to reading books on the subject of Mechanics, 'Ferguson’s Lectures on Select Subjects' being a favourite volume. This stimulus appears to have eventually led him into that career wherein he won distinction. Mr. Hannah removed from Thursby to take charge of an old-established school in Carlisle, and there Thomas Bouch followed him, completing his education about the year 1840.

His first entrance to business was in a mechanical engineering establishment in Liverpool, but he did not find this congenial or suitable for his tastes, and after a short interval he returned to Carlisle. At the age of seventeen, he was engaged by Mr. Larmer, civil engineer, who was then employed on the construction of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, under Messrs. Locke and Errington. Here Mr. Bouch remained about four years, giving such satisfaction that Mr. Larmer asked Mr. Hannah, if he could 'send another youth as well qualified to act as assistant.'

In November 1844, Mr. Bouch proceeded to Leeds, where he was occupied for a short time under George Leather, M. Inst. C.E. Subsequently he was for four years one of the Resident Engineers on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, under the late Mr. John Dixon, Engineer-in-chief, and in that position took part in many important engineering operations for the Company.

In January 1849, Mr. Bouch left Darlington to assume the position of manager and engineer of the Edinburgh and Northern Railway, subsequently known as the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee, and now absorbed in the North British system. This engagement first brought to his notice the inconvenient breaks in railway communication caused by the wide estuaries of the Forth and the Tay, the efforts to remedy which afterwards occupied so much of his attention.

His first proposal was to cross the estuaries by convenient steam ferries; and he soon prepared and carried into effect plans for a “floating railway,” a system for shipping goods trains which has now been in operation for thirty years. From the discussion at the Institution in 1861, ten years after the system had come into operation, it would appear that several plans and suggestions, more or less nearly approaching that carried out by Mr. Bouch, had previously been in existence. But the dictum of the late Mr. Bidder, who was President at the time, may be accepted, that “there was little merit in a simple conception of this kind, as compared with a work practically carried out in all its details, and brought to perfection.”

With the exception of such slight accidents as are perhaps inevitable in working such a system, it has been used daily, in all weathers, and within qualified success, during the whole period since it was erected under Mr. Bouch’s direction. It may be mentioned that the ‘Leviathan,' the vessel first employed on this service on the Forth, was built by the late Robert Napier, M. Inst. C.E., of Glasgow, and was brought round from the Clyde, by the north of Scotland, in weather which fully tested its sea-going qualities. Mr. W. Hall, M. Inst. C.E., from whose Paper some of the above particulars are taken, urged the success of the scheme as a plea for its more general adoption.

Shortly after completing this work, Mr. Bouch left the service of the Northern railway, and engaged in general engineering business, The railways actually carried out on designs by Mr. Bouch embraced the Darlington and Barnard Castle, 20 miles; the South Durham and Lancashire Union, 50 miles; the Eden Valley, 22 miles ; the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith, 31 miles ; the Sevenoaks and Maidstone, 20 miles; the Peebles (long the pattern for cheap construction), 21 miles; the Kinross-shire, 10.5 miles; the Leven (Fife), 6 miles; the Leslie, 5 miles; the St. Andrews, 5 miles ; the Crieff Junction, 9 miles ; the Coatbridge undertaking, 8 miles; the Edinburgh, Loanhead and Roslin, 6 miles ; the Leadburn, Linton and Dolphinton, 10 miles; the Penicuick, 6.25 miles ; the North British Arbroath and Montrose (on the eve of completion at his death), 16 miles; the Newport (Fifej, 6 miles; the Tay bridge, tunnel, station, and connecting lines, 8 miles ; and the Edinburgh Suburban Railway, 8 miles, for which powers were obtained last session.

In addition to the lines actually constructed, Mr. Bouch’s name is associated with a number of plans of railways which from various causes were not carried out. In 1861, he was engineer of a scheme to connect Edinburgh with Perth by a new line, carrying the trains across the Forth at Queensferry by an adaptation of the “floating railway,” which had then been proved by ten years’ experience at the wider crossing at Burntisland. Some years later he projected the Glasgow and North British railway, with a bridge over the Forth above Queensferry, which will be noticed further on.

In 1864 he was the author of an important scheme for completing the 'inner' and 'outer' circles of the London system, and his proposals were in part adopted by the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons which sat on this question, and from whose labours sprang the District railway.

On the introduction of the tramway system, Mr. Bouch was extensively engaged in laying out lines, including some of the London tramways, the Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dundee tramways, and others.

In the course of his professional work, Mr. Bouch constructed a number of remarkable bridges, chiefly in connection with railways. At Newcastle-on-Tyne, he designed the Redheugh Viaduct, described by him as a compound, or stiffened-suspension bridge. It consists of four spans, two of 260 feet, and two of 240 feet each. Its piers, formed of four grouped pillars of 3 feet in diameter, with horizontal cast-iron girders and diagonal wrought-iron bars, are 80 feet above high water, being the same height as the high-level railway bridge.

His principal railway bridges, independent of the Tay bridge, were the Deepdale and Beelah viaducts on the South Durham and Lancashire Union railway, the Bilston Burn bridge on the Edinburgh, Loanhead and Roslin line, and a bridge over the Esk at the Montrose end of the North British, Arbroath and Montrose line.

The Beelah Viaduct presents a design of sixteen spans of 60 feet, the greatest height being 196 feet. The piers consist of a group of six columns, two centres and two rakers on each side, with a diameter of 12 inches.

The Deepdale Viaduct has eleven spans of 60 feet, with a maximum height of 160 feet. At Bilston the bridge is constructed with stone piers, and has six spans of 70 feet, with a maximum height of l50 feet. In a bridge crossing the Tees, the spans, five in number, are 120 feet each, with a maximum height of 130 feet, the piers being, as in the Bilston bridge, constructed of stone. In all these bridges Mr. Rouch made use of the lattice girder, because of its simplicity and its slight resistance to the wind encountered at such high elevations.

After the 'floating railway,' already described, had come into operation, Mr. Bouch’s attention was drawn to the desirability of having a more direct connection between the north and south of Scotland, by carrying uninterrupted railway communication across the two estuaries of the Forth and the Tay. Taking the Forth first, besides laying out the scheme for a railway ferry at Queensferry, he projected the Glasgow and North British railway, plans for which were lodged in 1864, and in which it was proposed to cross the estuary by a fixed bridge. This was proposed to be 3 miles long, and was to extend from the south side to a point called the Stacks, about a mile above Charleston on the Fife shore, the piers consisting of wrought-iron cylinders supported on a wide base on the silt bottom of the river. An experimental pier for this bridge was prepared and partly sunk to its place, attracting much attention amongst professional men at the time. The bridge was to have been 125 feet above high-water level, and five of its spans were to have been 500 feet each, to cross the fairway of the river.

After considerable progress had been made with the experimental pier, the project was abandoned, on the failure of Mr. Hodgson’s policy as chairman of the North British railway. The question of bridging the Forth was, however, not lost sight of by Mr. Bouch, who in 1873, after the Tay bridge had been begun, projected a design of a much bolder character. He removed the point of crossing to Queensferry, where the width was much reduced, but the depth much increased. Taking advantage of the island of Inchgarvie, in the middle of the estuary, as a foundation for a central pier, he proposed to cross tho deep-water channels on each side by two spans of 1,600 feet each, elevated 150 feet above high-water line. Each span was to be supported by suspension chains, having a deflection of 375 feet, the stiffening necessary for railway traffic being provided by tie-rods and strong lattice girders. The piers were formed of cast-iron columns, strongly braced, and their total height from the foundation was upwards of 600 feet.

The advantages promised by this scheme were so great that the several railway companies, both English and Scotch, who were interested in the traffic on the eastern side of the kingdom, eagerly professed their willingness to support it, if it were practicable : but on account of the unexampled boldness of the design, they stipulated that it should be submitted to the opinion of some of the highest engineering authoritieisn the kingdom. Accordingly a committee of four eminent engineers, Sir John Hawkshaw, Messrs. W. H. Barlow, G. P. Bidder, and T. E. Harrison, were appointed for the purpose, and at their suggestion an elaborate investigation of the proposed design, in full theoretical and practical detail, was undertaken by Mr. W. H. Barlow and Dr. Wm. Pole, assisted on some points by the Astronomer Royal, Sir G. B. Airy. Their report was given on the 30th June 1873, and it was so favourable that the four referees pronounced an unqualified approval of the plan. They said : “It affords us great satisfaction to be able to give our sanction to a work of so imposing a character, and to express our high approval of the skill, scientific research, and practical knowledge which have been brought to bear upon the elaboration of this interesting work.”

It is right to add that in the designs of this, as of many other important structures, Mr. Bouch was assisted by Mr. A. D, Stewart, of Edinburgh, whose high mathematical attainments and great practical experience in iron construction, were of much advantage to him.

Some years elapsed, in consequence of financial difficulties, before the scheme took a practical shape, but in 1878 a company was formed, the contracts for the Forth Bridge were let, and on the 30th September in that year the works were formally begun.

Although Mr. Bouch had, as early as 1849, expressed his determination to bridge both estuaries, it was not till 1863 that the first proposal for a Tay bridge was made public, and not till July 1870 that the Bill for this purpose received the royal assent. As originally designed, the Tay bridge differed in some of its details from the scheme ultimately carried out. As eventually built, the bridge was within a few yards of 2 miles long: it consisted of eighty-five spans, namely, seventy-two in the shallow water on the north and south sides, varying from 29 to 145 feet; and thirteen larger spans over the fairway channel, two of these being 227 feet, and eleven 245 feet, wide. The rails rested on the upper members of the girders generally, but on the lower members of the thirteen large spans.

The system of wrought-iron lattice girders was adopted throughout, Mr. Bouch adhering to the form of construction which had been successfully employed in other works designed by him. The piers were originally intended to be of brickwork, but after the fourteen nearest the south shore had been thus erected, the fifteenth showed a failure of the anticipated foundation, which led to the abandonment of brick and the introduction of iron. In the lesser piers the group of pillars consisted of four of 12 inches diameter, and for the larger spans six pillars were used, disposed in two triangular groups of three each, and stiffened with cross bracing. After many vicissitudes and delays caused by unexpected difficulties in carrying out the work, the line was completed continuously from shore to shore on the 22nd of September, 1877, after which date there was a heavy ballast traffic across the river, testing the carrying power of the bridge in a satisfactory way. The inspection of the work by Major-General Hutchinson, R.E., on behalf of the Board of Trade occupied three days, and on the 31st of May, 1878, the bridge was opened with much ceremony and rejoicing, the engineer being presented with the freedom of the town of Dundee.

Traffic on the bridge was at once begun, and a direct service of trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen was organised, saving much time and inconvenience by the abandonment of the ferry crossing and the double change of conveyance it involved.

The improvement was fully appreciated by the public, and in June 1879 the Queen crossed the bridge on her journey southwards from Balmoral. As a mark of royal approval of the striking achievement of the engineer, the Queen commanded the attendance of Mr. Bouch at Windsor, and on the 26th of June, 1879, he received the honour of knighthood.

The traffic was continued uninterruptedly till the evening of Sunday the 28th of December, 1879, when a violent, hurricane arose, and during the passage of a train from Edinburgh across the bridge, the central portion fell into the river, carrying with it the entire train and its load of about seventy passengers, all of whom lost their lives.

An inquiry was instituted by the Board of Trade into the circumstances of the accident, the evidence showing much conflict of opinion as to its cause. There could be no doubt, however, of the almost unprecedented violence of the gale, and Sir Thomas Bouch strongly held the opinion that under this force some part of the train had left the rails, which he considered would amply account for the disaster. He had for some time not been well, and under the shock and distress of mind caused by the casualty his health more rapidly gave way, and he died at Moffat on the 30th of October, 1880.

In his death the profession has to lament one who, though perhaps carrying his works nearer to the margin of safety than many others would have done, displayed boldness, originality and resource in a high degree, and bore a distinguished part in the later development of the railway system.

One unfortunate effect of the disaster was to paralyse the operations that had been favourably going on towards the larger project of crossing the estuary of the Forth. The public had, for the moment, lost faith in large iron bridges; the Board of Trade made larger demands of security, and the Forth Bridge Company, rather than persevere in so bold a scheme in the face of a temporarily unfavourable phase of public opinion, resolved to abandon the undertaking, or at least to wait until a more convenient season for its further prosecution. There must, however, be a feeling of universal regret at the loss to the public, without any sufficient cause, of the enormous advantages offered by a scheme so favourably launched, and which would have been so great a credit to the engineering talent and commercial enterprise of Great Britain.

Sir Thomas Bouch married in July 1853 Miss Margaret Ada Nelson, who survives him with one son and two daughters.

He became an Associate of the Institution on the 3rd of December, 1850, and was advanced to the class of Member on the 11th of May, 1858.

His brother, the late William Bouch, was long connected with the locomotive department of the Stockton and Darlington and North Eastern lines.

1881 Obituary [5]

SIR Thomas Bouch was born on 25th February 1822, at Thursby, near Carlisle, his father being a captain in the merchant service.

On leaving school he was apprenticed to Mr. G. Larmer, civil engineer; and after superintending railway works in different parts of England was appointed resident engineer for the Wear Valley line.

In 1849 he became manager and engineer of the Edinburgh and Northern Railway, to Perth and Dundee, now a part of the North British system. Here he designed and carried out the method still in operation of transporting railway goods wagons across the Forth and Tay ferries, by running them upon rails laid on the decks of ferry steamers.

In 1851 he commenced business on his own account as a civil engineer in Edinburgh, and was engaged as engineer for numerous railways in Scotland, as well as for several in England. Among the former may be mentioned the Peebles Railway, the Edinburgh and Roslin, the Glasgow and Coatbridge, and the Arbroath and Montrose; and among the latter, the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway, the Eden Valley Railway, the Cockermouth and Penrith, and the Maidstone and Sevenoaks.

His labours included the designing of several extensive bridges, including the Deepdale and Beelah viaducts, the Redheugh Bridge at Newcastle, and the Tay Bridge, on the completion of which last he received the honour of knighthood. Its subsequent deplorable fall during the hurricane of 28th December 1879 is believed to have hastened his death, which took place at Moffat on 30th October 1880, in the fifty-ninth year of his age.

He became a Member of the Institution in 1862.

1880 Obituary [6]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1862 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  2. Northern Echo, October 6, 1873
  3. 1881 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  4. The Engineer 1880/11/05, p347.
  5. 1881 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  6. Engineering 1880 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index