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British Industrial History

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George Aitchison

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George Aitchison (1792-1861)

1828 George Aitchison, St. Katharine Docks, Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1862 Obituary [2]

MR. GEORGE AITCHISON was born on the 21st of December, 1792, at Leyton, Essex, and received his education at schools in the neighbourhood.

In 1808, he was apprenticed to his father, who was a builder, and with him he worked for some years.

In 1813 he was articled to Mr. Henry Hake Seward, Architect, with whom he remained until 1823, when Mr. Seward resigned his private practice for the Surveyorship of Greenwich Hospital.

During this period, Mr. Aitchison had become a student of the Royal Academy, and had sent in designs for London Bridge, and for the Caledonian Chapel.

From 1823 to 1826 he was the principal clerk to Mr. Thomas Hardwick.

In 1826 he was assistant to Mr. Thomas Lee, and in 1827 he accepted the office of Clerk of the Works to the St. Katharine’s Dock Company, on the recommendation of Mr. P. Hardwick, R.A. (M. Inst. C.E.), then Surveyor to the Company.

On the 25th October, 1828, the Docks were opened, and from that time he was permanently retained in his appointment. During the construction of the Docks he became acquainted with Mr. Telford, at whose suggestion he joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as an Associate in the year 1828.

When it was determined to construct a railway from London to Birmingham, a system of books and returns for the works was required ; and as many of the Directors were also on the Board of the St. Katharine’s Docks, they, knowing his skill in such arrangements, appointed Mr. Aitchison for this purpose.

He was also appointed architect to the Road Stations, and was requested to give the late Mr. R. Stephenson, ]LP. (Past President Inst. C.E.), the aid of his experience in carrying out the structural works on the line. In 1844 he was elected by the magistrates to the New District Surveyorship of Woolwich.

In 1848 he built the Irongate Wharf, probably the first fireproof warehouse erected in London; and he was shortly afterwards appointed Architect to the St. Katharine’s Dock Company, for whom he erected the Warehouses E, H, and I,-the new Engine and Accumulator Houses, and a new story over the whole of the Cutler street Warehouses.

He was likewise elected Architect to the Founders’ Company, and in addition to a large private practice, he was named the consulting Architect to several parishes.

In 1853 he was employed by the Directors of the Union Bank of London to alter and enlarge their premises in Princes Street ; and as there was a difficulty in obtaining sufficient light, he applied to the manager‘s room a screen of iron and glass, which was so satisfactory, that it attracted general attention, and has since been extensively applied. He also enlarged the building for the Pall Mall branch of the same bank, and constructed the branch establishment in Fleet Street. He erected many private houses, as well as several wharfs and warehouses on the River Thames ; he was employed by her Majesty’s Commissioners of Customs, to prepare drawings for a jetty to be erected at the Custom House ; and was consulted by the Government on the Bill of the Metropolitan Building Act of 1855.

These diversified labours at length told upon his constitution, and in 1858 he had a slight attack of paralysis, when, on his recovery he associated his eldest son George in his business, to which, however, he continued to attend until the period of the fatal attack of the same disease, of which he expired, after five days’ illness, on the 12th of June, 1861. His remains were interred at the City of London Cemetery, Ilford, in a spot which he had selected some months previously.

A bare recital of any man’s works can give but an inadequate idea of his professional talents, and leaves untouched his character, and other attainments. But it is rather by these, and by his personal qualities, that he has endeared himself to his friends.

It is admitted by all who knew Mr. Aitchinson, that the works he executed conveyed only an imperfect notion of his powers, as by adverse circumstances, he was unable to display or to exercise the skill and talent he possessed, except in subordinate positions, until he had arrived at an age when success is scarcely sought and but little cared for. He belonged to the race of architects, now nearly extinct, who appeared to have taken the description of Vitruvius as a model, and were determined to arrive at an equality of excellence in every branch of their profession, and who ridiculed the idea of attaining celebrity in one part of their profession at the expense of ignorance in the other, and who were consequently outstripped in the race by others who carried less weight. He was not only excellent at arrangement and construction, but was One of the most beautiful draughtsmen of his day. He was also a first-rate surveyor, with skill in measuring, and with knowledge of the value of artificers’ work; he was likewise a good land-surveyor, and he thoroughly understood the legal part of his profession.

His industry, rapidity, exactness, contempt of money, and capability of sustaining long continued mental and bodily fatigue, were remarkable. As an instance, it may be mentioned, that he could in one day make up the fair abstracts of the accounts of Greenwich Hospital, which occupied two of the best and hardest working clerks to copy in the same time. The beauty of his drawings attracted the attention of Sir John Some and of Mr. John Shaw.

At one period he worked for twenty hours a day for three weeks, only taking two hours’ sleep daily. The soundness of his judgment, his determination and energy, his fearlessness and the tenderness of his heart, and his integrity, were apparent to all who knew him, He was a keen sportsman, excelled in athletic exercises, and was a tolerable musician. A close observer of nature, he knew the habits of all the birds and animals about the country, and the name of every indigenous plant.

He was acquainted with the best English and foreign literature ; but his favourite reading was travels, and as he traced the route on the map, and read the adventures, he often regretted that he had been denied the pleasure of exploring some wild and unknown land. He had during his life a large circle of friends amongst men distinguished in the arts and sciences, by whom his loss was sincerely lamented.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1828 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. 1862 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries