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Joseph Cubitt

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Joseph Cubitt (1811-1872)

1811 November 24th. Civil engineer, born at Horning, Norfolk

Only son of William Cubitt from his first marriage.

Educated at Castle School, Tottenham

Apprenticed to Fenton, Murray and Jackson of Leeds, where his uncle Benjamin Cubitt was managing engineer.

Returned to work with his father, on the South Eastern Railway.

1832 Joseph Cubitt of 2 Derby Street, Parliament Street, an engineer's assistant and draughtsman, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1843 established his own business.

1850 Chief Engineer of the Great Northern Railway at its opening[2].

1851 Great Exhibition [3].

Engineer to the London Necropolis Co at Woking (in succession to his father), built the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, the Rhymni railway, and the Colne Valley Railway, and was involved in projects including the southern section of the Great Northern Railway, the London and South Western Railway, and the piers at Weymouth and Yarmouth. He was engineer-in-chief to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. Designed the Blackfriars Bridge, opened in 1869.

1872 died at 7 Park Street, Westminster.


1875 Obituary [4]

MR. JOSEPH CUBITT, the only son of the late Sir William Cubitt, Past-President Inst. C.E., was born on the 24th of November, 1811, and died on the 7th of December, 1872.

His father was the last survivor of that vigorous band of men, who not only raised themselves from a comparatively humble position to one of distinction, but who, in so doing, created a new profession - a profession to which, more than to any other, is generally attributed the credit of the rapid strides of civilisation and social improvement in the present century.

With such an introduction to life, it was natural that Joseph Cubitt’s attention should be turned to engineering in its various branches; and at the age of nineteen, having determined to follow his father’s profession, he was placed with Messrs. Fenton, Murray, and Jackson, of Leeds, where Mr. Benjamin Cubitt, a brother of Sir William’s, was then Managing Engineer.

A fellow pupil writes of him:- 'I well remember how assiduously and diligently Joseph applied himself to his practical education at the vice, the bench, the lathe, and in the drawing office. It was there, and in those departments, that our lamented friend gained the practical knowledge that so distinguished him in all his undertakings in after life.'

After a period of two years’ service in the workshops at Leeds, Mr. Cubitt returned to assist his father, the most important work in which he took a prominent and responsible part being the South-Eastern railway. On one occasion, being placed in the witness-box in committee on some other point, he was unexpectedly, and through an accidental circumstance, cross-examined on the whole of the estimates which he had assisted his father to prepare. This is a trifling incident; but to go through such a cross-examination well at his age, and with so little previous experience, was highly creditable to a young man.

Mr. Cubitt continued in his father’s office as an assistant till the year 1843, when he began his independent career. His most important work was the Great Northern railway, which, with its various branches, constitutes one of the leading lines of the country, and the works of which are always acknowledged to have been well designed and well carried out.

Mr. Cubitt’s other works included the branch of the South- Eastern railway from Ashford to Canterbury, Ramsgate, and Margate; the London, Chatham, and Dover railway, which, commencing with the East Kent in 1853, finally grew into the present extended system of main lines and branches; the drainage of the London Necropolis Company’s estate, and the works for their Cemetery at Woking; Yarmouth Pier; the Oswestry and Newtown railway; Rhymney Valley railway; Weymouth Pier; Carmarthen and Cardigan railway, &c.

He was consulted upon various other works, such as the Eastern Union railway project; the sea-wall and esplanade at Cove; on matters relative to the Pistoja and Vallee railway; the Direct Portsmouth railway, the project for which was carried on to the deposit of plans in 1846; the Llynvi Valley railway; on matters relating to Purton Pill on the river Severn, in connection with the Forest of Dean railway; and the Weaver Navigation. Mr. Cubitt was also much engaged in opposition to various bills in Parliament, and as arbitrator in disputes connected with engineering works.

His last great work was the new bridge at Blackfriars. It fell to Mr. Cubitt as the Engineer-in-Chief of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, to carry out the extension of that line into the City of London in 1860. When the design for the railway bridge, to be built within 100 feet of the old Blackfriars Road Bridge, was submitted to the Bridge House Estates Committee, the question arose, as it was necessary that the piers of that structure should coincide with those of the long-talked-of new Road Bridge, whether the time had not arrived to remove old Blackfriars Bridge, long known to be both unstable and inconvenient.

It was soon settled that a new bridge must be built, and the Bridge House Estates Committee called for designs from a selected number of eminent Engineers. That sent in by Mr. Cubitt was finally adopted and executed, and opened for public traffic by the Queen in person on the 6th November, 1869. The design was the joint work of Mr. Cubitt and Mr. H. Carr, M. Inst. C.E.

Mr. Cubitt was anxious that his colleague’s name should appear on the records of the bridge as joint Engineer along with his own; but that wish was overruled by the Bridge House Estates Committee, and Mr. Cubitt’s name alone was placed on the official records, Mr. Carr remaining joint Engineer by private arrangement only.

There is one point respecting Blackfriars Bridge which, in justice to its designers, should be put on record. No one can examine the arrangement at the northern end without feeling surprise that the roadway of the Thames Embankment was not carried under the bridge and thence up towards Queen Victoria Street, thus avoiding the cross traffic of two main thoroughfares. In the first instance the instructions received from the Bridge House Estates Committee were to place the south abutment of the new design in the same position as the then existing abutment, but to advance the northern abutment into the river 120 feet, thus giving room to carry forward the embankment by a land arch under the roadway of the bridge. This arrangement was clear and natural, and the plans were prepared accordingly.

Then came what was known as the 'Battle of the Bridge.' After a time the struggle took the form of 'five arch' vevsus 'three arch,' and the advocates of the 'five arch,' including Mr. Cubitt, carried the day for the moment; but the 'three-arch' party then got the position of the abutments altered to the shore line at both ends, thus making the bridge 180 feet longer than was at first arranged. Entirely new competitive plans were called for, giving a 'three-arch' promoted the opportunity of converting his three-arch into a five-arch design. This was the origin of the now existing cross traffic at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge, and of the awkward shoulder to the embankment.

Mr. Cubitt had commenced a Paper on Blackfriars Bridge for the Institution, but a claim by the contractors was, and is still, undecided, and as this claim involved questions which would have to be discussed, it was felt that it would not be right thus to anticipate the evidence to be given.

Mr. Cubitt’s character and natural disposition were not such as to procure for him the prominence in the profession that he deserved. Being of a retiring disposition, 'his natural diffidence kept him from pushing or asserting his proper place in the profession in which his talents would otherwise have placed him.' His firm adherence, moreover, to the old line of practice threw him out of the stream of modern times; he never engaged in getting up schemes, but waited till called upon by those who required his services. This was the case even with regard to the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Company. Though this trait of character did, no doubt, keep him in the background when he might have come forward, yet, on the other hand, combined with his well-known truth and honour, it gave great confidence in him, in such matters as he did undertake. No one doubted his word or his strict justice; directors and contractors alike placed reliance on his decisions, whether acting as engineer on works carried out by himself, or as arbitrator in disputes between other parties.

Mr. Cubitt was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 14th of February, 1832, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 21st of January, 1840. He served as a Member of the Council from 1847 to 1855, was again elected in 1856-7, and continued in that capacity until December 1865, when he was made a Vice-President, and at the time of his death was the senior holder of that office.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1832 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. The Times, 6 August 1850
  3. 1851 Great Exhibition: Official Catalogue: Class V.: J. Cubitt
  4. 1875 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  • Biography of Sir William and Joseph Cubitt, by Hermione Hobhouse ODNB [1]