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James Muir

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James Muir (1817-1889) Civil engineer of the New River Co.

1882 Stood down from his full time position due to ill health

of Steunton Harold, Branksome Park, Bournemouth.

1889 Died aged 71. [1]


1889 Obituary [2]

JAMES MUIR was born at Glasgow, on the 31st of May, 1817, his father being the Rev. William Muir, D.D., LL.D., a minister of the Established Church of Scotland, afterwards of St. Stephen’s, Edinburgh, and one of Her Majesty’s chaplains in Scotland.

Mr. Muir was educated at Edinburgh, where he attended first the High School, and then the Academy, completing his education at the University. Whilst awaiting an opening that would form an introduction to civil engineering, he assisted Mr. John Scott Russell, under whom he had formerly studied, in investigating the laws that govern wave-motion and that affect the movement of floating bodies through water.

At the age of eighteen he came to London, and was articled to the Messrs. J. and G. Rennie, of Blackfriars. There Mr. Muir was employed in the office and workshops until the year 1841, when he entered the service of the New River Company, London, as assistant to Mr. W, C. Mylne, F.R.S. Whilst so engaged he designed a water-meter which was found to be a great improvement upon the then existing apparatus, and he was thereupon highly commended by the Directors of the Company for his ingenuity.

On the resignation of Mr. Mylne in 1859, Mr. Muir was appointed Engineer to the Company. From this time until his retirement he was energetically occupied in extending the sources of the supply, in improving the means available for its distribution, and in maintaining its quality at the highest standard of purity attainable ; or, in other words, in anticipating the continually increasing wants of the large district of London of which he had charge. In order to meet t.he heavy demands that arose from extension of building, and the increased use of water for sanitary purposes, he sunk numerous deep wells into the chalk between Hertford and London.

At most of these stations he successfully adopted pumps of comparatively small diameter and short stroke, working at a high velocity, rather than the older type of slow-moving pumps of larger calibre which had previously been used for long lifts of this kind. By deep boring at two of the wells, viz., those at Ware and at Turnford, he solved the question, so far as the country northward of London is concerned, of the possibility of finding a new source of water for the supply of the Metropolis in the Lower Greensand, a question that was formerly much discussed by geologists.

At both of the places named, the stratum sought was found to, exist, but in a very attenuated form and quite devoid of water. A matter that frequently engaged his attention was the enlargement. of the channel of the New River along which the supply is conveyed to town. This artificial watercourse having been formed more than two hundred and seventy years since, has from time to time needed much alteration to fit it for present requirements. In pursuit of this object, Mr. Muir renewed the aqueduct at places where diversion of the stream was required; added auxiliary conduits where the sectional area was restricted, and by various ingenious methods largely increased the carrying-capacity of the channel.

The rapid growth of the northern suburbs of London early necessitated the construction of an enlarged filtering and pumping-station at Hornsey, where, under his direction, provision was made for lifting large quantities of water to reservoirs on the tops of the ridges extending from Hornsey to Hampstead. Long lines of large pumping-main were laid in connection with this station, as also for the service of other reservoirs built in outlying places.

Among the number of these newly-made reservoirs, a pair at Crouch Hill, having a total capacity of 12,000,000 gallons, were constructed in the face of considerable engineering difficulties arising from the treacherous nature of the sub-soil. Shortly after his appointment as Engineer to the Company, Mr. Muire-arranged the whole system of distributing-mains throughout the town districts, forming zones of supply .at the various levels corresponding to the several reservoirs. This involved the laying of a great number of pipes, varying in size up to 36 inches in diameter, and the arrangement of many new connections, the work being often carried on under great disadvantages owing to the crowded state of underground London, and the many interests, municipal and other, that must necessarily be consulted.

In 1872, when the Regulations for prevention of waste of water were framed by the Board of Trade, as prescribed by the Metropolis Water Act of the preceding year, he took an active part in collecting materials that would be of service in their compilation, his aim being to obtain for London the advantages that are possessed by most of the larger municipal Corporations, in the way of ability to prevent waste of water without restricting its use for domestic purposes. With this end in view, he also took great interest in all newly-invented water-fittings, whether for domestic or public use. Among the many details appertaining to the various structures and appliances used in waterworks, which had his studious and indefatigable attention, may be mentioned the arrangement of the filtering medium in filter-beds. He first introduced the method, which has now become general, of forming small drain-channels of common bricks laid dry in rows at the bottom of the bed, with a closely-paved covering of the same above, upon which shingle for supporting the sand rests.

In the course of the many inquiries concerning such matters as Water-Supply, Pollution of Rivers, &C., that have, from time to time, been conducted by Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Committees, Mr. Muir was often called upon to appear as a witness, in which capacity he greatly excelled, impressing all who heard him by the readiness of his replies, and by the full and lucid, but at the same time concise, manner in which he answered questions, whether from friendly or opposing counsel. Another direction in which he showed talent to a remarkable degree was in dealing with financial affairs, for which he evinced a special aptitude. Thus it frequently happened that he was able to effect considerable economies without in any way lessening the value of the final results.

In the year 1882, having fallen into ill-health, Mr. Muir was relieved from active duty, and accepted the post of Consulting Engineer to the Company. In the succeeding year he was elected a Director, and, notwithstanding that he then resided at Bournemouth, was unremitting in his attendance at the weekly Board Meetings until about Midsummer of the year 1888, when he was seized with the illness which, after a long and painful course, terminated in his death on the 4th of January, 1889. Mr. Muir was most conscientious and scrupulous in all his dealings, and earnestly strove to imbue his subordinates with his own intense devotion to duty. He combined a kindly and gentle disposition, with great firmness and love of discipline. His judgment was much esteemed by those who were professionally associated with him, whilst his courteous manner and readiness to assist with judicious counsel made him respected and trusted by all who knew him.

In private life he was always deeply interested in works of benevolence, to some of which he unobtrusively devoted himself, especially bestowing much time to the instruction and improvement of the young.

Mr. Muir was elected a Member of the Institution on the 1st of May, 1866.


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