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British Industrial History

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John Birkinshaw

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John Birkinshaw (c1781-c1845) of the Bedlington Ironworks

c1781 Born

1809 October 10th. Married Ann Cass (1789- )the daughter of John and Ann Cass, at St John's, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

1811 November 11th. Birth of son John Cass Birkinshaw at Bedlington

c1817 Birth of son Henry Birkinshaw at Bedlington

c1820 Birth of son George Peter Birkenshaw at Bedlington

c1822 Birth of son William Birkinshaw at Bedlington

c1824 Birth of daughter Emma A. at Bedlington

c1826 Birth of son Edward Birkinshaw at Bedlington

c1829 Birth of son Richard

c1834 Birth of daughter Mary J. S. at Bedlington

John Birkinshaw was a 19th Century railway engineer from Bedlington Iron Works, County Durham noted for his invention of wrought iron rails in 1820.

Up till this point, rail systems had used either wooden rails, which were totally incapable of supporting steam engines, or cast iron rails typically only 3 feet in length. These cast iron rails, developed by William Jessop and others, only allowed very low speeds and broke easily and although steam locomotives had been tested as early as 1804 by Richard Trevithick, these experiments had not been economically successful.

John Birkinshaw's 1820 patent for rolling wrought-iron rails in 15ft lengths was a vital breakthrough for the infant railway system. Wrought iron was able to withstand the moving load of a locomotive and train unlike cast iron, used for rails up till now, which was brittle and fractured all too easily

Birkinshaw's wrought iron rails were taken up by George Stephenson in 1821 for the proposed Stockton and Darlington Railway, despite the fact that Stephenson already held the rights to the best cast iron product and it was this railway that effectively launched the rail era.

1841 Living at Lewisham, Kent (age 60), Independent. With his wife Ann (age 50) and their children Emma (age 17), Edward (age 15), Richard (age 12) and Mary (age 8). [1]

John Birkinshaw died before 1851 when his wife is shown as a widow


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Sources of Information

  1. 1841 Census