Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Robert Nicholson

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Robert Nicholson (1808-1855)

1838 Robert Nicholson, civil engineer, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1856 Obituary [2]

MR. ROBERT NICHOLSON was born on the 31st of August, 1808, at Horton Grange Low House, Northumberland.

He received the first rudiments of his education, at a country school at Berwick Hill, from which he was transferred to Mr. Bruce's academy in Newcastle, where he evinced great aptitude for the acquirement of mathematics.

At the age of sixteen, he was apprenticed for five years to Mr. Grace, a farmer, land-agent, and surveyor; and during this time, he was sent to assist in surveying the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, under the late Mr. George Stephenson.

He remained with Mr. Grace, for some time after the expiration of his indentures, and was chiefly employed in surveying, constructing turnpike-roads, and other local business.

In the year 1835, he obtained the premium for the best plan of the Durham and Tyne Turnpike Bridge, at the crossing of Chester Dean, in the county of Durham. In the autumn of the same year, he was employed in the preparation of the parliamentary plans of the Newcastle and North Shields Railway, and of the South Durham Railway, and in the following spring, was intrusted with the support of these projects before the Parliamentary Committees.

The Act for constructing the first of these railways being obtained, he was appointed Engineer to the Company on the 30th of July, 1836, and was engaged, during two years, in the construction of the line, and in its subsequent extension to Tynemouth. In the execution of this last portion, he was compelled to drive a tunnel under the town of North Shields, for the distance of about half a mile.

Between the years l840 and 1845, he constructed the Blyth and Tyne Railway, and afterwards, in conjunction with Mr. James Simpson, (President Inst. C.E.,) planned and executed the Whittle Dean Water-Works: for both of which undertakings, he continued to act as Engineer and Manager, up to the time of his death.

In 1848, 1849, and 1850, he was employed by the inhabitants near the mouth of the Tyne, to examine that river, and to conduct through Parliament, a Bill for removing its government from the hands of the Corporation of Newcastle, which was finally accomplished, after a struggle of two years' duration.

In 1852, a premium was awarded by the Corporation of Doncaster, to him and his partner Mr. Tone, for the best plans for supplying that town with water. This was a subject, to which he had devoted great attention, and on which he had collected and eliminated much valuable statistical information, which, unfortunately, he did not live to compile and complete. He had also particularly studied the question of the comparative advantages of employing locomotive, or atmospheric power on railways, and in 1845, in conjunction with Mr. Robert Stephenson, (V.P.,) and Mr. Locke, (V.P.,) gave evidence in favour of the former.

In conjunction with Mr. Tone, he received the appointment of Engineer to the Severn Valley, and the Border Counties Railways, which latter was, at the period of his decease, on the point of being commenced. This event took place at his residence in Newcastle, on the 9th of May, i855, in the forty-seventh year of his age. A cold caught in London, where he had gone for the purpose of giving evidence on the Liverpool Water-Works Bill, brought on a distressing and painful illness, which he bore with great fortitude, but under which, on his return, he finally succumbed.

Mr. Nicholson was remarkable not only for the professional skill, but for the great practical ability and sound judgment, which he brought to bear on all questions submitted to him. He insured the success of the enterprises with which he was connected, by an unwearied assiduity in the performance of his duties, and by a personal supervision of the most minute details. His reputation steadily advanced with his years, and his industry kept pace with his reputation: not only was he largely connected with the manufacturing interests of the district where he resided, but also with those of the coal trade. He had great experience in parliamentary business, and his thorough acquaintance with the forms and standing orders of the House, rendered him a great authority in all matters connected with that branch of his business. In private as in professional life, his opinion was alike held in estimation, and he was the valued adviser of a numerous circle of friends : he was ever distinguished for the universal kindness of his demeanour, and the unvarying nature of his personal friendships. His loss was severely felt, not only by those who had the advantage of his intimate acquaintance, but also by the commercial world, who had so long profited by his energy and experience.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1838, and in the following year, he was transferred to the class of Members. He took great interest in the Society, and whenever he visited London, was constant in his attendance at the Meetings, where he was ever welcomed by his. brother Members, with a cordiality indicative of their estimation of his worth.

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