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British Industrial History

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Nicholas Wood

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1822. Built with George Stephenson.

Nicholas Wood (1795-1865) who was Chief Engineer at Killingworth Colliery.

Judge at the Rainhill Trials in 1829.

Gave parliamentary evidence in favour of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

1829 Nicholas Wood of Killingworth Colliery near Newcastle, Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1858 of Hetton Hall, near Fence Houses, Durham.[2]


1866 Obituary [3]

Nicholas Wood, of Hetton Hall in the county of Durham, was born on 24th April 1795, at Ryton, Durham; and was sent by Sir Thomas Liddell of Ravensworth to the Killingworth Colliery to learn the profession of colliery viewer.

Here he became acquainted with the late George Stephenson, and was associated with him in his inventions and experiments in connection with the Safety Lamp and the Locomotive Engine ; and although he continued his profession of mining engineer, he was also intimately connected with the progress of the locomotive and railways.

In 1822 he entered into a discussion of the superiority of locomotives over stationary engines for working railroads; and in 1825 he published a practical treatise on railroads, giving the results of extensive and important experiments on the subject.

In 1829 he was appointed one of the judges to award the premium offered by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for the best locomotive engine.

In 1845 he was engaged in the battle of the gauges, being in favour of the narrow gauge; and he was also connected with various railways as engineer and as a director.

Mr. Wood occupied a leading position in his profession of. mining engineer, and held many important appointments, being the mineral adviser to the Durham Bishopric Estates and to Lord Ravensworth, and also manager of the Hetton and many other collieries; and he was frequently consulted on mining matters by Government. During the latter portion of his life he confined his attention more particularly to those mining affairs in which he himself held so large an interest.

He was elected a Member of this Institution in 1858, and contributed a valuable paper on the improvements and progress in the working and ventilation of coal mines in the Newcastle-on-Tyne district within the last fifty years.

He died in London on 19th December 1865 at the age of seventy.


1871 Obituary [4]

Nicholas Wood was born at Sourmires, in the parish of Ryton, on the south side of the river Tyne on the 24th of April, 1795.

Educated at the village school at Crawcrook, by Mr. Craigie, who had the reputation - a rare one at the time - of turning out lads clever at figures and well-grounded in the most useful branches of an ordinary English education, young Nicholas Wood proved himself to be a ready scholar, and soon did credit to his master.

In April, 1811, Sir Thomas Liddell (afterwards Lord Ravensworth), having taken a fancy to the lad, sent him to Killingworth colliery to learn the business of a viewer. Here it was that Nicholas Wood made the acquaintance of George Stephenson, whose skill and ingenuity had already led to his being advanced from the position of a brakes-man to that of an engineer, and, in 1812, to that of colliery engine-wright at the Killingworth High Pit; whose friend and confidant Mr. Wood immediately became, assisting in the construction of the Geordie safety lamp, and, it is said, being one of those who witnessed the testing of the lamp at a 'blower' in Killingworth Colliery.

On the 15th of November, 1815, Mr. Wood explained the merits and details of the invention before the members if the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, and he took a prominent part in the controversy with the advocates of Sir Humphry Davy’s lamp.

Mr. Wood also assisted in the early experiments in connection with the locomotive engine, maintained in the columns of the Newcastle Magazine for 1822 that it could be profitably employed as a tractive power, and in 1823 accompanied Stephenson to Darlington, when it was determined to proceed with the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

In 1825 appeared his celebrated Treatise on Railroads, which has gone through several editions, and which materially assisted in the early development of the railway system. In the same year, as well as in subsequent sessions, until the Act was obtained, he gave evidence before Committees of both Houses of Parliament on the Liverpool and Manchester railroad bill.

By this time Mr. Wood had acquired considerable fame as an engineer, but he retained his preference for the mining interest, and had already entered into colliery speculations on his own account, and was rapidly extending his influence and position in the coal trade.

When the British Association for the Advancement of Science met at Newcastle in 1838 he read an elaborate essay on the geology of Northumberland before the Geological Section, in which he endeavoured to show the probable identity of the red sandstone formations of the valley of the Tweed and those of the Cumberland plains.

In 1844 he removed from Killingworth to Hetton, and assumed the management of the collieries belonging to the Hetton Coal Company, in which he was a partner.

He took a prominent and active part in the investigations which ultimately led to the Mines Inspection Bill, which was passed in 1851; and in the organisation of a society, proposed to be called 'The North of England Society for the prevention of Accidents, and for other purposes connected with Mining,' which was established at Newcastle on the 3rd of July, 1852. Almost immediately afterwards the name was changed to that of 'The North of England Institute of Mining Engineers.'

Mr. Wood was elected the first President, and on the third of September in that year he delivered an inaugural address in which he defined the 'objects of the Institution to be - 'First, by a union or concentration of professional experience, to endeavour, if possible, to devise measures which may avert or alleviate those dreadful calamities which have so frequently produced such destruction to life and property, and which are always attended with such misery and distress to the mining population of the district; and, secondly, to establish a literary institution more particularly applicable to the theory, art, and practice of mining than the institutes in the locality present, or which are within the reach of the profession in this locality.'

He retained the office of President to the day of his death, and he devoted all his influence, talent, and much of his time to promote its success, being a frequent contributor of essays on mining subjects.

In 1855 the idea of a mining college for the cultivation, improvement, and teaching of that science, especially coal mining, was mooted in the North of England, and Mr. Wood, in conjunction with the late T. J. Taylor, took a prominent part in promoting the undertaking; but notwithstanding the support of the late Algernon, Duke of Northumberland, the project fell through; nor was a subsequent attempt, made under the same auspices, to induce the University of Durham to add mining science to their course of studies more successful.

Mr. Wood appeared for the last time as an author on the occasion of the British Association for the Advancement of Science visiting Newcastle for the second time in 1863, when in conjunction with Mr. T. J. Taylor, Mr. I. L. Bell, Dr. Richardson, and others, he presented a Paper on the various industrial pursuits of the northern counties.

Soon after his health failed and prevented him taking an active part in business, and he died in London, whither he had resorted for medical advice, on the 19th of December, 1865. Mr. Wood was of commanding height, portly form, and had a ruddy, good-humoured countenance, which bore no traces of the hard work he got through.

He was an old Member of the Institution, having been elected on the 12th of May, 1829. Mr. Wood married Miss Lindsay of Alnwick, whom he survived some years, and by whom he left four sons and three daughters.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1829 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. 1858 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  3. 1866 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  4. 1871 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries