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Joseph Locke: Obituary

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Note: This is a sub-section of Joseph Locke


1861 Obituary [1]

Joseph Locke, M.P., one of the sons of William Locke, the Mineral Agent of the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Stourton, and other colliery owners, was born at Attercliffe, near Sheffield, on the 9th of August, 1805.

He received the rudiments of education at the Grammar School at Barnsley, where his father then resided; but the greater part of his time being of necessity devoted to employments little in accordance with his ultimate career, his subsequent scientific acquirements may be said to be entirely due to his own industry and desire for knowledge, fostered by the judicious and skillful guidance of Mr. Thomas Tate, who, in writing of him, says:-

"I first met Mr. Locke at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, about the year 1823. He was then a pupil of Mr. George Stephenson's, and was occupied during the working hours of each day on his duties at the Locomotive Manufactory. He was a very active youth, fond of athletic exercises, in which he excelled; but the chief part of his leisure time was devoted to the study of Mathematics, under my superintendence, and I was so struck with the energy with which he pursued his studies, his quickness of comprehension, and his indomitable perseverance, that I foretold, even at that early period, that he would take a leading position in the profession for which he was destined."

At the age of fourteen he was placed with Mr. Stobart, a colliery viewer, at Pelaw, in the county of Durham, with whom he remained about two years, and then returned to Barnsley to pursue the same occupation for twelve months under his father.

Between the families of the Lockes and the Stephensons there had long existed an intimacy, which resulted in Joseph Locke being received in 1823 as a pupil of George Stephenson, and his being placed at the Engine Factory at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where congeniality of tastes and pursuits induced the friendship with Robert Stephenson which, with slight intermission, continued throughout their lives.

Here he had full opportunity of studying the locomotive engine, then comparatively in its infancy, and of satisfying himself of its capabilities; and all his leisure hours were devoted to the acquisition of Mathematics, and generally to supplying the deficiencies of education which he then perceived. This feeling probably induced his taking a very active part in establishing the Mechanics’ Institution at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and on the occasion of a public meeting for promoting that object, when George Stephenson occupied the chair, Joseph Locke, in moving one of the resolutions, endeavoured to shadow forth the advantages to be anticipated from the cultivation of mechanical knowledge, and especially the devotion of attention to the subject of railways, then about to be introduced for general traffic. This was his first appearance in public.

The first civil engineering work upon which he was engaged was the construction of a railway of six miles in length from the Black Fell Colliery to the River Tyne, of which George Stephenson was the Engineer, and there he acquitted himself so well, that he was subsequently sent, in 1825, to survey the lines from Leeds to Selby, from Manchester to Bolton, and from Canterbury to Whitstable.

In 1826 George Stephenson became the Chief Engineer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and he immediately selected Joseph Locke as one of the Resident Engineers, a position which he continued to fill until the completion of the line. The attention previously devoted to the capabilities of the locomotive engine now came prominently into play, and in the controversy which ensued upon the Report of James Walker and J. U. Rastrick, recommending stationary power for working the line, Joseph Locke took a prominent part; and in the pamphlet written by Robert Stephenson and himself in 1828 the question of the future motive power of railways was virtually set at rest.

It was conceded that rope traction might and would still continue to be used in exceptional cases, but it was contended that the locomotive must become the inevitable power. Full confidence was not, of course, immediately accorded to the new machine, and easy gradients were at first generally considered indispensable, but Mr. Locke felt and expressed great confidence in the possibility of working steeper inclinations than he was ever permitted to try; and in after-times he always boasted of having been systematically the hardest task-master of the locomotive, by eliciting all its powers to overcome the gradients he had submitted to it.

In the year 1829, having intrusted to him other professional duties, in addition to those on the Liverpool and Manchester Line, then drawing to a close, he surveyed the Manchester, Stockport, and Whaley Railway.

The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway took place on the 14th of September, 1830, and its success establishing confidence throughout the district,, numerous schemes were proposed, for some of which Mr. Locke made surveys. Among them may be mentioned lines from Manchester to Sheffield by Stockport; from Manchester to Leeds; from Huyton to the North of Liverpool, &c.; but the enterprise to which he especially devoted himself was the survey of the line which, branching from the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at Warrington, was intended to run to Birmingham, and to form the main link in the chain between Liverpool and the Metropolis.

Circumstances contributed to oppose the facile accomplishment of this project, and in the meantime Mr. Locke examined a line from Limerick to Waterford in 1831, and from Dublin to Kingston in 1832.

In the years 1832-33 the project for the line between Warrington and Birmingham, then designated the Grand Junction Railway, was seriously revived, the Bill was carried, and in 1834 Mr. George Stephenson and Mr. Joseph Locke were appointed joint Engineers for the line.

In the following year (1835), on the resignation of Mr. Stephenson, the position of Engineer in chief was confided to Mr. Locke, and so strenuously did he devote his energies to the work, that the line was completed and opened for traffic on the 6th July, 1837. There were on the line some heavy works, such as the Dutton and the Vale Royal Viaducts; and it was on this railway that the heavy double-headed rails, - the wooden trenails, - and the wooden keys for securing the rails in the chairs were first used. The important feature, however, was the completion of the line within the estimate, and at a cost of between £14,000 and £15,000 per mile. This commercial result was seized upon by the speculative community, and upon the faith of Mr. Locke’s reputation as an economical engineer, capital could always be found for undertakings of which he assumed the direction.

Professional engagements were therefore pressed upon him. In 1837 the Lancaster and Preston Railway was commenced; and in the same year his aid was secured for carrying out the London and South Western Railway, which had been commenced some time previously by F. Giles. Both these lines were completed in the year 1840; and to the latter, a large proportion of Mr. Locke’s time was devoted, as he foresaw the extensions that would probably ensue to the south and the west of England, and the influence that must be exercised in directing commercial relations between Paris and London, through Rouen, Havre, and Southampton. On the South-Western Railway there are not many interesting works of engineering skill, excepting some deep cuttings, and the Micheldever embankment, near Winchester, which is 90 feet in height. The Sheffield and Manchester Line was also commenced by him in 1838.

For some time a body of capitalists, in Paris, represented by Messrs. Charles Laffitte and Edward Blount, had contemplated a railway between Paris and Rouen, and the overtures which were made to Mr. Locke resulted in his assuming, in 1841, the direction of the line, of which Brassey and Mackenzie became the contractors.

This was followed, in 1843, by the extension of the line from Rouen to Havre, and in 1852 by the line from Mantes to Caen and Cherbourg, affording direct communication between the capital and the chief naval arsenal of France. He also projected the Railway from Paris to Lyons, which was subsequently carried out by the Company in which M. Paulin Talabot has taken so distinguished a part.

The advent of Messrs. Brassey and Mackenzie, with their gangs of navvies, and all the means and appliances so entirely novel to the comprehension of the native workmen, created for a time a panic, which was, however, soon succeeded by a feeling of the most unbounded confidence, both in the ruling spirit and the satellites, and eventually whatever was ordered was as readily obeyed by the French as by the English workmen. That this feeling of confidence was mutual, and extended to the highest ranks, was demonstrated by the fact, that on the falling of the Barentin Viaduct, on the line of the Rouen and Havre Railway, Mr. Brassey, without waiting to discuss the question of liability, but acting on the suggestion of Mr. Locke, immediately commenced the reconstruction, leaving to the Engineer and the Directors to settle for him the amount of allowance to be made; and in this he was right, as the Directors, viewing the occurrence as an inevitable casualty, awarded such an indemnity as was just to all parties.

For these lines was established the extensive Engine Factory at Sotteville, near Rouen, under Mr. Buddicom, (M.Inst.C.E.,) and the late W. Allcard, (M.Inst.C.E.,) which, following upon the labours of Manby, Wilson and Co, at Charenton, has given such an impetus to the construction of engines and machinery in France.

During these extensive foreign engagements Mr. Locke found it essential to associate with him an Engineer to whom he could confide the direction of his home labours, which were fast augmenting.

In the year 1840 he was therefore joined by J. E. Errington, (V.P.Inst.C.E.,) with whom he had worked and had been partially connected since the year 1829. With his aid the Parliamentary labours and contests were carried on, and the works were executed for a multitude of lines, among which it will suffice to mention: the Scottish Central; the Midland Junction; the Kendal and Windermere;- the Caledonian: the Lancaster and Carlisle; the East Lancashire; the Scottish Midland; the Aberdeen; the Perth and Inverness; the Dundee and Perth; the Ormskirk; the Blackwall extension to Bow; the Royston and Hitchen; the Royston to Shepreth; the Crewe and Shrewsbury; and the Salisbury and Yeovil Railways; with many others; as well as the Greenock Railway and Docks; and the Dutch Rhenish Railway in Holland, and the Barcelona and Mataro Railway, in Spain, on which latter line his favourite coadjutor, A. S. Jee lost his life.

The unity of feeling between Locke and Errington, respecting the mode of conducting works, insured success, and their connection continued from the first with unbounded confidence and mutual pleasure and advantage, until the period of the decease of Mr. Locke.

On most of these lines steeper gradients were adopted than were advocated by other engineers; but Mr. Locke remained unshaken in his confidence in the powers of the locomotive engine, and to this, in a great degree, may be attributed his general success, and the economy of construction of his railways.

In addition to this long list of works actually executed, it must be remembered, that Mr. Locke was engaged, in common with the other leaders of the Profession, in a multitude of Parliamentary struggles, for which his coolness and steadiness as a witness, his caution and judgement, and his readiness of conception: peculiarly fitted him. Among these the Battle of the Gauges must not be forgotten. His early feelings with respect to the locomotive engine never quitted him, and he took great interest in the works at Crewe, discouraging the introduction of a diversity of engines of various forms and from numerous makers, and insisting upon the good system of uniformity in the greater number of the parts composing the engines, in order to insure economy, as well as the utmost promptitude in repairs. This system, hitherto so little attended to, and yet of so great value, especially on Indian and Colonial Railways, is not sufficiently understood by the Directors of those undertakings.

It has been said of Mr. Locke, that he has not left any monumental works behind him; and this is true. He has not constructed any such works as the Menai, the Britannia, the Victoria, or the Albert Bridges, nor such as the Great Eastern steam-ship, but he has left behind him as long a list of useful works as any of his compeers, and most of them have proved commercially profitable investment.

It has been appropriately said of him the peculiar characteristic of Locke’s career was the firmness and decision with which throughout all his projects he avoided the construction of great and too costly works. His viaducts were of ordinary dimensions, though some of them were of admirable construction such as those across the bold ravines of the north of England and Scotland. In every case they are exactly fitted to the places they occupy; and in the same manner his bridges over the Thames and the Seine are distinguished for their adaptation to their position, the lightness and simplicity of their construction, and the elegance of their design.

An Engineer with such qualifications, and so recommended to shareholders by his caution and judgement, united to his great talents, had naturally an eminent career before him. In common with the most fortunate of his profession he enjoyed golden opportunities, and in conjunction with Stephenson and Brunel more particularly, he may be said to have completed the triumvirate of the engineering world.

Mr. Locke entered Parliament in 1847, as M.P. for the Borough of Honiton, where he possessed a large landed estate. He was a decided liberal in politics, and steadily supported his party on all great questions, chiefly however only addressing the House on subjects of which he possessed a special knowledge, when he commanded general attention.

For his services in connection with railways in France, he received the Cross of the Legion of Honour from King Louis Philippe, and was created an Officer of the Order by the Emperor Napoleon III.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he joined the Institution of Civil Engineers, as a Member in 1830; was elected Member of the Council in 1845, became a Vice-President in 1852, and held the position of President during the years 1858 and 1859.

It is seldom that so much life and intense energy are combined with the physical power of working mentally and bodily for a long continuous period without severe reaction; yet this power was possessed by Mr. Locke, and to his habit of seeing for himself all his difficult works, under all their phases, may in a great degree be attributed their almost invariable freedom from accident.

Mr. Locke’s active habits and his naturally good constitution would have insured confidence in his enjoying a more than ordinary length of days; and until after the accident in the tunnel, during the construction of the Cherbourg Line, where his leg was severely fractured, he showed but little signs of age, or of the labours he had undergone. It was, therefore, with the utmost surprise, that the news was received of his sudden attack, confirmed within a few hours by the intelligence of his decease. He was staying at Moffat, near Dumfries, for the purpose of shooting in Annandale, his usual custom for many years past, when very early on Monday morning, he was seized with acute internal inflammation, against which the best medical advice proved unavailing, and he sunk and expired on Tuesday morning, the 18th September 1860, at the early age of fifty-five years.

Mr. Locke’s extensive professional practice would have sufficed to render him a rich man, but he had moreover the talent of making good investments, and not having any family, or any causes of expense, he became a very wealthy man, and at his death the administration of this large accumulation devolved upon Mrs. Locke, who, though suffering from habitual ill-health, has most praise-worthily undertaken to carry out what she knew to be the intentions, or desires of her late husband, although he had omitted to record them in his will. Hence the munificent gifts to his family and friends and assistants, as well as those to the town of Barnsley, in the form of a park, a recreation ground, an endowment for the Grammar School, where Mr. Locke received his education, and a donation to the Roman Catholic Schools of that district, although neither he, nor Mrs. Locke were members of that Church. Other equally liberal intentions with respect to public institutions are spoken of, which will be, without doubt, duly confirmed.

At a numerous meeting of noblemen and gentlemen, at the Institution of Civil Engineers, it was resolved to raise a statue to the memory of Mr. Locke, and permission was requested for placing it beside the statues of Stephenson and Brunel, in St. Margaret’s Gardens, Westminster; this permission was not, however, granted by the Government, and the work of Baron Marochetti will be transferred to the Locke Park at Barnsley; permission has been, however, accorded by the Dean and Chapter to Mrs. Locke to place a window, to the memory of her husband, in the Abbey at Westminster.

Thus passed away within a few short months the third of the leaders of the Engineering world:- Brunel, Stephenson, and Locke:- they were born within two years of each other, and within the same space of time they were all removed. They were intended to execute certain purposes, and having worthily fulfilled their mission, they were removed by the same all-wise Providence who rules all things for the general good


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