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Benjamin Outram

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Benjamin Outram (1764-1805) was an English civil engineer.

1764 April 1st. Born at Alfreton in Derbyshire, Outram was a civil engineer, surveyor and industrialist.

Benjamin began his career assisting his father Joseph Outram, who described himself as an "agriculturalist" but this covered many duties from arbitrating in the many disputes which arose from the enclosures acts to advising on land management and surveying for new mines. In this, he was scrupulously honest and well respected.

When William Jessop was approached to design and build the Cromford Canal he therefore found an extremely able assistant in the 24 year-old Benjamin. Building the canal, particularly Butterley Tunnel, revealed substantial mineral deposits. It so happened that Butterley Hall came on the market and Francis Beresford, solicitor to the canal company, impressed by the young Outram's ability, 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 and Co which began trading in 1790. The following year William Jessop and John Wright, a Nottingham banker, also became partners.

Outram became the leading advocate in the construction of tramways using L-section rails, which were manufactured at his ironworks together with all the waggons. His first tramway was a line, just over a mile in length, 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.

He is, perhaps, best known for the 44 ft long single-span Holmes Aqueduct on the Derby Canal, which opened in February 1796 and was one of the world's first cast-iron aqueducts (it was demolished in 1971). It was cast by Benjamin Outram & Company and predated Thomas Telford's much longer aqueduct on the Shrewsbury Canal at Longdon-on-Tern by one month.

However an important extension to the Derby Canal was the Little Eaton Gangway, which was a feeder for the Derby Canal, built on the pattern of that at Crich, and such tramways became an important part of his later canals.

He was also the consulting engineer for the construction of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which included the pioneering Standedge Tunnels.

In 1794 he was also responsible for the Peak Forest Canal, which included the Marple Aqueduct. The climb from Bugsworth was negotiated by the six mile-long Peak Forest Tramway. The Stodhart Tunnel on this tramway is believed to be one of the earliest railway tunnels in Derbyshire.

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.

Meanwhile he was building railways for the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal and was asked to advise on railways for the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

He foresaw that, within a few years, 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."

Outram promoted the concept of plate rails and improved their design. In some cases he acted as engineer for canal companies seeking to build tram road branches; elsewhere he merely supplied rails made at Butterley Ironworks, which became one of the main producers of such castings outside South Wales.

In 1800 he married Margaret (1778–1863), daughter of the Scottish political economist and writer James Anderson (1739–1808), with whom he had five children. Shortly afterwards he gave up most of his engineering commitments to devote more time to managing the works at Butterley, which by this date already employed more than 500 men.

1805 May 22nd. He died of a brain fever in London. His sudden death, without leaving a will, led to the discovery of considerable confusion in his affairs and his dealings with the Butterley Co, as the business became known in 1807.

1815 After four years of litigation, the partnership was reconstructed and Mrs Outram was released from obligations incurred by her husband.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Wikipedia
  • Biography of Benjamin Outram, ODNB