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Charles Richardson

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Charles Richardson (1814-1896)

1881 His third son died of Typhoid fever in Paris. [1]


1896 Obituary [2]

CHARLES RICHARDSON, born on the 14th August, 1814, at Capenhurst Hall, near Chester, was the third son of Mr. Richard Richardson, J.P., Deputy Lieutenant for the County and Chairman of Quarter Sessions, who died when Charles was six years old. From his childhood the latter showed exceptional ability in mechanics and a natural instinct for engineering.

He was educated at a private school on the outskirts of Paris and at Edinburgh, which he left in the year 1833.

At the age of nineteen Mr. Richardson was apprenticed to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His first practical experience was obtained during the construction of the Thames Tunnel, where, as a pupil, he remained for some months while the shield was being slowly forced through the bed of the river. He possessed great physical strength and activity

It was he for whom Brunel called to scramble down the St. Vincent rocks at Clifton with a message for those below when the work of getting the bar across was in progress, and from his earliest days he displayed a phenomenal taste for tasks of scarcely less danger.

As a pupil he saw much work on the Great Western Railway in and around Gloucester, and at the age of twenty-three he was placed by Brunel in charge, as Resident Engineer, of the portion of the Cheltenham and Great Western Railway between Swindon and Cirencester, 18 miles in length. The nature of the ground caused much trouble, landslips occurring to an alarming extent in the banks. The details of a plan devised by Mr. Richardson to stop these landships are given in a Paper which he read before the Bristol Naturalists’ Society in 1891.

During the construction of the Cheltenham and Great Western Railway Mr. Richardson lived for several years at Chalford, in the Stroud Valley, where there stands now an unimposing but almost unique monument of the artistic taste he brought to bear upon his work, consisting of a narrow bridge over the line where it runs through a cutting along a steep slope. The bridge was built to enable the owner of the surrounding woods to slide felled trees to the canal at the foot, and it was a necessity that the slope of the hill - rather steeper than 1 in 3 - should be continued in unbroken descent. Brunel was so pleased with the appearance of the drawing that he would not allow the beauty of the proportions to be interfered with by a parapet wall, and a light iron rail only was placed on one side.

Mr. Richardson then became Resident Engineer on the Hereford, Ross and Gloucester line under Brunel Not being satisfied that the best route had been chosen, he, with one assistant, made the survey of a new line, which was adopted by Brunel and afterwards carried out.

It was while this line was in abeyance, when he lived at Ross, that he turned his attention to cricket, of which he became an enthusiastic player until late in life, and it is not generally known that he made the first cricket bat with a cane-spliced handle, and invented and made a catapult for bowling a cricket ball. His experiments at this time upon the flight of boomerangs and of carefully ground concave pebbles may also be referred to. He likewise possessed great manual dexterity and skill as a handicraftsman.

In the year 1858 Mr. Richardson was appointed Resident Engineer, still under Brunel, of the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway, a post which demanded more than ordinary power of observation to investigate the unusual currents and peculiarities of the Severn, across which the ferry was to pass, and, on Brunel's death in the year 1859, he completed the designs and finished the line as Engineer-in-Chief, in conjunction with the late R. P. Brereton.

This led up to the great work of his life, viz., the Severn Tunnel, of which he was the originator and for six years the sole acting engineer, Sir John Hawkshaw being the consulting engineer. In March, 1873, the sinking of the first shaft was commenced on the Welsh side of the stream. An influx of water into the heading under the Shoots, which occurred in 1879, and the consequent stoppage of the works, though due to no want of skill or foresight, and in nowise due to the subaqueous part of the undertaking, seemed to have shaken the confidence of the public in the success of the scheme; and in order to give renewed confidence, the Great Western Company thought it desirable to place Sir John Hawkshaw in the position of chief joint engineer with Mr. Richardson.

In an interesting pamphlet: written by the latter for private circulation, are given in detail the particulars of his connection with this arduous undertaking, which was successfully brought to a completion and opened in 1887.

Mr. Richardson was also Engineer to the Bristol Harbour Railway, constructed by the Great Western and the Bristol and Exeter Railways jointly, from Bristol Station to the quay near Hill's drydock.

This line had heavy works the whole way, the first portion consisting of a viaduct on arches from Bristol Station to near Redcliffe Church, then a tunnel under the churchyard and Redcliffe Hill, and a bascule bridge over the lock between Bathurst Basin and the floating harbour. This bridge can be opened or shut in about thirty seconds, and an ingenious knee-lever arrangement was introduced, which relieves the axle of the bridge when a train is passing over.

Mr. Richardson likewise prepared plans for the Exe Valley Railway, which fell through at the time, but has since been carried out, While he was engaged on the Bristol and South Wales Union line he noticed the excellent quality of the bricks made out of the clay in the cutting below Patchway Tunnel and erected works there at which some 200 hands are now employed, the output being about 12,000,000 annually. Mr. Richardson took the keenest interest in all that related to the profession.

In later years he prepared several Papers: an account of the Severn Tunnel was read before the Clifton Scientific Club in 1887, and in the same year he gave a Paper on Arches to the Bristol Naturalists' Society, of which he was for many years President.

Mr. Richardson's death, which took place on the 10th February, 1896, at the age of eighty-one, six days after a paraslytic seizure, was a fitting close to a useful life. In temperament he was benevolent, genial, peaceful and contemplative, while his straightforwardness and honour were such as are rarely met with. His modest disposition prevented his being known to fame, and it was only those who were intimately acquainted with him who realised the nobility of his character.

He was elected a Member on the 6th April, 1875.


1896 Obituary [3]



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