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Basil Mott

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1936.
1938.

Sir Basil Mott (1859-1938), 1st Baronet, was one of the most notable English civil engineers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was responsible for some of the most innovative work on tunnels and bridges in the United Kingdom in the 40-year period centred on World War I.

1859 September 16th. Born in Leicester

He was educated at the International School, Switzerland and at the Royal School of Mines where he won the Murchison medal in 1879.

He was first employed as a mining engineer with the Neston Colliery Co in Cheshire but in 1886 was invited by James Henry Greathead to join the staff of the City and South London Railway (C&SLR), for which Greathead was Engineer. His work on the C&SLR gave him a taste for underground construction works that influenced the remaining 40 years of his professional life.

He did well at the C&SLR and was promoted, first to resident engineer (RE) for the extension of the C&SLR from Stockwell to Clapham, then to RE for the entire line.

After the railway opened in 1890, he was retained as Engineer by the operating company: this gave him the opportunity to develop techniques for carrying out reconstruction works during overnight possessions of the tunnels, techniques which are still used on LU today.

Shortly after Greathead's death in October 1896, Benjamin Baker formed a partnership with Mott for the design of the Central London Railway. Their association continued with the extensions and rebuilding on the C&SLR (including the underpinning of St Mary Woolnoth church at Bank) and the widening of Blackfriars Bridge. They worked from the same offices until Baker's death in 1907.

1n 1902, Mott formed what turned out to be a lifelong partnership with another protégé of Baker's, David Hay. Subsequently, the partnership of Mott and Hay (now Mott MacDonald) worked on extending the Central London Railway, the building of escalators in London Underground and the construction of the Tyne and Southwark bridges. It also designed the underpinning required to stabilize Clifford's Tower in York.

During the first world war, Basil Mott visited France and India, advising the government on solving engineering problems. He was created a Companion of the Bath (CB) in 1918 in recognition of these services.

The Mersey Tunnel, which he worked on between 1922 and 1934, is his most well-known work. From the outset, it was designed on a large scale; it is still the longest, widest road tunnel in Great Britain. Basil Mott was Engineer for the works, in association with J. A. Brodie, Engineer for the City of Liverpool. His partnership (by then named Mott, Hay and Anderson) designed and supervised the construction of the Mersey Tunnel in its entirety.

In 1924, he was elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Basil Mott's other post-WW1 works include the extension to Morden of the Northern Line, the enlargement of the original C&SLR tunnels from 10' 6" to 11' 8" (using a tunnelling shield which could be worked at night but through which trains could drive during the day), the Queensferry Bridge and work on the Newport Lifting Bridge.

In 1930, aged 71, he gave evidence to a British government inquiry on the engineering aspects of a proposed Channel Tunnel (which was not built, though Mott, Hay and Anderson designed the bulk of the successful scheme for Channel Tunnel half a century later). In the same year he was created a baronet.

In May 1932 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society.

1938 September 7th. Died in London.


1938 Obituary [1]



1938 Obituary [2]

SIR BASIL MOTT, Bart., C.B., F.R.S., was born in Leicester on the 16th September, 1859, and died in London on the 7th September, 1938. He was educated at Leicester Grammar School, at the International College, Isleworth, Middlesex, in Soleure, Switzerland, and at the Royal School of Mines, South Kensington, where he won the Murchison Medal in 1879.

After spending some years as a Mining Engineer for a number of collieries, becoming thoroughly conversant with underground working conditions, he commenced his association with the work with which his name will be more particularly associated by becoming assistant to the late Mr. J. H. Greathead, M. Inst. C.E. At that time, the London tube railway system was in its infancy, the only railways of this type in existence being the shallow Metropolitan and District Railways, both steam operated. The first tube of modern type was the City & South London Railway, originally known as the City & Southwark Railway, from the Monument to Stockwell, constructed by Greathead between 1886 and 1890. Though only 25 years of age Basil Mott was appointed Resident Engineer for this work, which was of a revolutionary nature, the Greathead shield being employed for the first time on a large scale. The construction of the railway was successfully completed, but many unforeseen difficulties arose before the line, with its novel electrical equipment, could be opened for public traffic on a satisfactory basis. Mott was asked, at this critical stage, to take charge of the running of the line, and he did so for several years, until the early troubles had been overcome. He was thus able to acquire an unique experience of the interrelation between traffic and constructional problems on tube railways.

Basil Mott then entered into partnership with the late Sir Benjamin Baker, Past-President Inst. C.E., and the firm commenced the construction of the second deep-level tube, still known as the Central London Railway, from the Bank to Shepherds Bush, costing £3,114,000. This railway was opened in 1900.

After Sir Benjamin Baker’s death in 1907, Mott carried on his own practice as a Consulting Engineer with his partner, Mr. David Hay, M. Inst. C.E., with whom, and with Mr. David Anderson, M. Inst. C.E., joined later by Mr. G. L. Groves, M. Inst. C.E., he continued to practise until his death.

His association with London tubes did not end with the construction of the Central London Railway. The tube system grew and became coordinated. Traffic increased, escalators were introduced to take the place of the early lifts ; tunnels for larger rolling-stock and many miles of extensions were required for the two lines on which Mott had done so much pioneer work. As Consulting Engineer to the London Passenger Transport Board he was in later years responsible with his firm for carrying out the many large constructional works necessitated by these new conditions. Though he may be remembered primarily as a tunnel engineer, he was associated as senior partner in the firm of Mott, Hay & Anderson, with many important bridge schemes and other works relating to road transport during his long period of service. In London he had been associated with Sir Benjamin Baker in the scheme for widening Blackfriars bridge, and he carried this out after Sir Benjamin’s death. He was also Engineer for the widening of Kingston bridge and the reconstruction of Southwark bridge. The latter was started in 1913 and, after being held up during the Great War, was completed in 1921. Other bridges carried out in different parts of the country include the Queensferry bridge over the Dee at Chester, the new Tyne bridge at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Wearmouth bridge at Sunderland, Boothferry bridge near Goole, Newport bridge at Newport, Monmouthshire, and the vertical lift bridge over the Tees at Middlesbrough.

The new Tyne bridge at Newcastle was an imposing single-span high-level road bridge, with an arch-span of 531 feet and a rise of 170 feet from the pin centres. The vertical lift bridge over the Tees at Middlesbrough was of special interest because it was not only the first of the vertical lift type to be constructed in Great Britain, but was one of the largest of this type in the world.

One of the most important projects with which Sir Basil Mott was associated in his later years was the Mersey road tunnel. This was the largest sub-aqueous tunnel in the world. No tunnel approaching it in length and diameter, ventilated for petrol-driven traffic, had ever been attempted before, and the burden of solving the many problems which arose during its construction fell primarily on Sir Basil Mott’s shoulders. The work was successfully completed, and the tunnel was opened on the 18th July, 1934.

During the Great War Sir Basil served on several Government Committees and visited not only France; but also India, and for his services and advice he was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath. After the War Sir Basil was consulted by the Ministry of Transport, and among others, made reports on the Charing Cross bridge scheme, the Channel tunnel, and other important schemes. He was also a Member of the Severn Barrage Committee of the Economic Advisory Council. In 1925, considerable anxiety arose regarding the condition of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a Works Committee of engineers and architects was appointed to take the necessary steps for the preservation of the fabric. Sir Basil was appointed Chairman of the Committee. In the King’s Birthday Honours List of 1930, Mr. Mott was created a baronet in recognition of his many services to engineering. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1932.

Sir Basil was elected a Member of The Institution in 1895, a Member of Council in 1912, Vice-President in 1920, and President in 1924. His intimate association with the work of the Council was of the greatest value to The Institution, as his engineering achievements in the construction of underground railways and tunnels, particularly the Mersey tunnel, have been of the greatest utility and benefit to the country.

He married Florence Harmar Parker, by whom he had two sons.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1938 Jul-Dec: Index
  2. 1938 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries