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Peter Ashcroft

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Railway and Civil Engineer at Charing Cross.


Died in 1870.


* 1870 Obituary[1].

After a somewhat protracted illness, Mr. Peter Ashcroft, engineer of the South-Eastern Railway, died at his residence, Richmond-house Dalston, on Tuesday, the 1st inst. In the course of last summer Mr. Ashcroft gave much of his personal attention to the laying of his new pattern of rail on the Charing Cross section of the line and being a man of full habit of body suffered considerably from the heat. He was accustomed to cover his head in the open air, and was supposed on one occasion to have suffered from a sunstroke, which was the commencement of an illness that could not be conquered by the best medical skill and assistance which could be obtained. He had liberal leave of absence from his board of directors and spent some months of his time recently on the Continent, from which he returned to die, greatly regretted by all who knew him many of those who had the most intimate personal relations with him feeling that they "could well have spared a better man."

Mr. Ashcroft had a deservedly high reputation as a constructor and maintainer of permanent way. His compound rail, above refenced to and which has been described in former numbers of THE ENGINEER, is universally allowed to make a road of first-rate character.

Mr. Ashcroft was a native of Lancashire, and was born about the year 1809. He was a child of parents in humble circumstances, and owed his progress and success in life to the excellence of his character and rectitude of conduct, rather than to educational or adventitious advantages. He commenced his industrial life very early in the railway era, as an ordinary unskilled workman; but from his sterling qualities soon came to the front, and went through the gradations of ganger, inspector and overlooker upon some of the northern lines first constructed. About 1844 he entered upon the engagement of engineer of the Eastern Counties Railway, to which he was brought by Mr. George Hudson, whilom "Railway King," the new chairman of the company, and Mr. Waddington, deputy chairman, who brought new officers from the north on the occasion of a change in the administration. He con­tinued to be superintendent of way and works, and locomotive superintendent, on the Great Eastern for about ten years, and during that time carried into effect important improvements in the construction of permanent way, including the applicat1on of fish-joints.

In 1854 a change of administration took place in the South-Eastern Company. Capt. Barlow, general manager, Mr. Drane, engineer, and Mr. Herbert, the secretary, retired from office, and were succeeded by Mr. Eborall as general manager, Mr. Peter Ashcroft as engineer, and Mr. S. Smiles as secretary.

Mr. Ashcroft was not endowed as relates to the more exalted branches of engineering, to which, indeed, he made little pretension but he was admitted by all who knew him and his excellent work to be a thoroughly practical and able man as a layer and maintainer of permanent way; and as he has left the road of the South-Eastern system, we may safely venture to say that it is equal to many, and superior to most of the railways in the United Kingdom, and of the world.

In some of the larger works recently executed on the South Eastern system, such as the Charing Cross section, Mr. John Hawkshaw C.E., acted in concert with the company's officer as consulting engineer.

Mr. Ashcroft was also able to appreciate the talent of subordinates and has been for some years ably assisted by Mr. F. Brady, parliamentary engineer of the company. Amongst the more onerous duties he discharged as engineer of the South-Eastern Company may be mentioned the erection of the low water landing stage at Folkestone, which was constructed economically, strongly, and in all respects successfully, having resisted completely the heavy seas with which that coast is so often visited. Mr Ashcroft was also the engineer of the Wellington Pier at Yarmouth, another durable work. A very heavy work came into Mr. Ashcroft's hands a few years ago, when Mr. Jay, the contractor for the Sevenoaks and Tunbridge line, failed in his contract, and the work had to be taken up by the company's engineer. The work on this line has been already described in our columns, and it may be remembered that they include some of the heaviest work in tunnels, cuttings, and embankments of any railway in the south of England. In the Sevenoaks tunnel, in particular, it may be remembered an enormous influx of water had to be encountered, and formidable difficulties were also presented by the treacherous character of the stuff at the Orpington great embankment, but all these difficulties were successfully overcome by the persevering energy of Mr. Ashcroft, ably seconded by Mr. Brady.

Mr. Ashcroft was, we find, a man much beloved by those who knew him most intimately, and especially by his subordinates he was brusque in style and manners, but was warm hearted and open-handed almost to a fault. Appeals made to him on behalf of those who needed assistance were never made in vain, and, in some instances, indeed, those who made the appeal had to re-strain his generosity and take less from him than he offered for the object of their solicitude. He exercised the somewhat rare virtue of gratitude to those who offered him the opportunity of doing good, and enabling him to put in practice the treat grace of charity.

In early life Mr. Ashcroft, frugal and economical, was able to save money from his weekly wages, but was simple and primitive in his habits, and did not for some time acquire the art of investing to advantage. Latterly, however, he managed better, and carried into effect on the conduct of his private affairs the shrewdness and economy which marked his care of the company's concerns entrusted to him. He made an excellent investment in the purchase of a field in the neighbourhood of Dalston, which he by degrees covered with buildings, acting as his own architect, overlooking brickmaker and builder.

Mr. Ashcroft was buried on Saturday last at the Highgate Cemetery. His remains were followed to the grave by the principal officers of the South-Eastern Company, by twelve or fourteen of the permanent way inspectors, and a number of private friends all of whom sincerely mourned the loss they had sustained, and some of them, particularly his lieutenants, doubting whether they "would ever see his like again." Some of the inspectors who attended the funeral came with Mr. Ashcroft from the Great Eastern, and have worked under his direction for above twenty years.

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