Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,360 pages of information and 245,906 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Edward Leader Williams (1828-1910)

From Graces Guide

Sir Edward Leader Williams (1828-1910)

of Queen's Chambers, John Dalton Street, Manchester (1885)

son of Edward Leader Williams

Engineer of the Manchester Ship Canal and designer of the Barton Swing Aqueduct as a solution to the problem of passing the Ship Canal under the Bridgewater Canal[1]

1910 Obituary [2]

Sir EDWARD LEADER WILLIAMS was born at Worcester on 28th April 1828.

At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed under his father, Mr. E. Leader Williams, the engineer to the Severn Navigation Commissioners. When this work was completed he joined the engineering staff of the Great Northern Railway, which was then being constructed through Lincolnshire.

Three years later he received the appointment of resident engineer on the work being undertaken at Shoreham Harbour, which was extended in the direction of Hove; and on the completion of the work three years later he became engineer to the contractors of the Admiralty Pier at Dover.

In 1856 he was appointed engineer to the River Weaver Trust, thus returning to canal work, to which he kept for the rest of his professional career. On this river he brought about improvements of first-class importance, among which were the removal of the Northwich Lock, the construction of the Delamere Dock, and the well-known Anderton hydraulic boat-lift, which has recently been re-designed. This lift connects the River Weaver with the Trent and Mersey Canal, which is 52 feet higher than the river.

While still engaged on Weaver Navigation work, he was appointed, in 1872, engineer to the Bridgewater Navigation Co., which had purchased the Bridgewater canals and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation from the Bridgewater Trustees. In this capacity he was responsible for the enlargement of the docks at Runcorn, and for the successful introduction of steam-towing.

During his connection with this Company he had ample opportunity for studying the question of improving Manchester's means of communication with the sea.

In 1882 a provisional committee was formed to consider the question, and preliminary surveys were made by Mr. H. H. Fulton and Mr. Leader Williams. The schemes put forward by these two engineers differed widely, for Mr. Fulton advocated a tidal waterway without locks, which at the Manchester terminus would have involved a water-level 60 feet below the street-level. Mr. Williams' scheme, on the other hand, utilized the Mersey channel as far as was considered practicable, and from that point provided for the construction of a canal with four sets of locks.

Mr. James Abernethy, who had been retained as consulting engineer to the scheme, reported in favour of the latter method of construction, with the result that the lock scheme was adopted, and Mr. Williams was appointed chief engineer for the undertaking. Then followed the long Parliamentary procedure extending over several years before the Bill to enable the canal to be constructed received Royal Assent.

The construction was commenced in 1888, and was completed in 1894 after numerous vicissitudes. The contract for the construction was let for £5,750,000, but the work was not carried through for less than £15,250,000, owing to the serious floods that occurred, the death of the contractor, and other unexpected difficulties.

In addition to a large amount of dredging, the Rivers Irwell and Mersey were crossed no fewer than fourteen times, and their waters had to be provided for while the new channel was being cut. To cross the numerous roads eight swing- bridges and seven fixed bridges had to be constructed and erected; smaller streams had to be dealt with, while one river had to be carried by a siphon under the bed of the canal.

One of the important features was the provision of a swing-bridge to carry the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Canal at Barton. Five lines of railway which crossed the canal had to be diverted and raised 75 feet above the level of the water in the canal to allow vessels to pass under the bridges.

In 1891, on the occasion of the Liverpool Summer Meeting, the Members had the opportunity of inspecting the canal and locks during construction; and at that Meeting Sir (then Mr.) Leader Williams contributed a Paper on the Mechanical Appliances employed in the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal.

The whole canal was completed in January 1894, and when the late Queen Victoria formally opened it in 1895 Mr. Williams was rewarded with a knighthood.

From 1894 he had full charge of the canal until 1905, when he was appointed consulting engineer to the Canal Co., but latterly he had practically retired from active work.

His death took place at his residence at Altrincham on 1st January 1910, in his eighty- second year.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1883; he was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, at one time serving as Vice-President.

1910 Obituary [3]

SIR EDWARD LEADER WILLIAMS, designer and formerly Chief Engineer of the Manchester Ship Canal, died at his residence at Altrincham, Cheshire, on the 1st January, 1910, at the age of 82.

Born at Worcester on the 28th April, 1828, he was apprenticed at an early age to his father, Mr. E. Leader Williams, who was then Chief Engineer to the Severn Navigation Commissioners. He was then successively engaged as Assistant Engineer on the Lincolnshire section of the Great Northern Railway, Resident Engineer on the Shoreham Harbour works, and Engineer to the contractors for the Admiralty Pier at Dover.

In 1856 he was appointed Engineer to the River Weaver Trust, and whilst occupying that position carried out many improvements of the Weaver Navigation, and was responsible for the introduction of the well-known boat-lift at Anderton. This structure, the original design and erection of which was described in the Proceedings: worked successfully for many years, and has recently been converted from hydraulic to electrical 0peration.

In 1872, Mr. Leader Williams became Engineer to the Bridgewater Navigation Company, and during his tenure of this appointment, amongst other works of improvement, he enlarged the locks at Runcorn, and introduced steam-propulsion on the canal, building for that purpose a nearly vertical wall for a distance of nearly 30 miles along one side of the waterway. He also experimented with wire-rope traction, but found the cwves of the canal rendered it unsuitable for this system.

He next devoted his attention to the problem of devising such improvement of the Mersey and Irwell navigation as would give Manchester access to the sea, his successful solution of which was destined to prove the outstanding feature of his life’s work. To the Provisional Committee appointed in 1882, schemes for a ship canal were submitted by Mr. H. H. Fulton and the subject of this memoir. Mr. Fulton’s scheme provided for a tide-level canal, whilst that of Mr. Leader Williams utilized the Mersey channel as far as was considered practicable, completing the route to Manchester by means of a lock canal. On the recommendation of the late Mr. James Abernethy, Past-President, the latter scheme was adopted and Mr. Leader Williams was appointed Chief Engineer.

After many serious and unforeseen difficulties had been overcome, the undertaking was successfully completed and the canal was opened to sea-borne traffic in 1894. In that year a knighthood was conferred upon Mr. Leader Williams. The works are fully described in four Papers1 which were contributed to the Proceedings of The Institution, two of them from the pen of the Chief Engineer. After the opening of the ship-canal, Sir Leader Williams continued to act as Consulting Engineer, but latterly he had largely given up active practice.

In private life, he was one of the homeliest and simplest of men, always loth to speak of his own achievements. The eldest of eleven children, of whom another is Mr. B. W. Leader, R.A., he early displayed those qualities of resource and self-reliance which distinguished his after career.

Sir Leader Williams was elected a Member of The Institution on the 7th February, 1860. Between 1895 and 1907 he served on the Council, being for the last two years of that period a Vice-President of The Institution.

1910 Obituary [4]

"...deep regret that we have to announce the death of Sir Edward Leader Williams, which occurred at his home at Altrincham on Saturday last at the ripe age of eighty-one. For some time he had been in failing health, which prevented him from taking any active part in his profession, but as recently as Christmas Day he was with his family. During his long professional career, Sir Edward Leader Williams had opportunities of distinguishing himself such as fall to the lot of few engineers, the most noteworthy of which was, of course... the design and construction of that remarkable inland waterway, the Manchester Ship Canal.... "[More].

1910 Obituary [5]

Sir EDWARD LEADER WILLIAMS died on January 1, 1910, at Altrincham, Cheshire, in his eighty-second year. He was the eldest son of Mr. E. L. Williams, the engineer of the Severn Navigation, and it was on the works connected with the Severn that his professional education began. On the completion of the Severn works in 1850, he became engineer to the Great Northern Railway, then being constructed through Lincolnshire. Practically the whole of his life was devoted to canal and river improvement work, and his crowning triumph was the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, completed in 1894.

He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1883.

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