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Rowland Mason Ordish

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1858. Design for a rigid suspension bridge.
This painting, on display in the Old Town Hall in Prague, shows the Franz Josef Bridge in the distance, Charles Bridge in the foreground, and the Ordish-designed footbridge in between
Photo of Franz Josef Bridge on display in Prague city centre
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1868. Leeds Fine Arts Exhibition Building.
1870. Roof of the New Drill Hall at Derby.
October 5 1946. The Stefanik Bridge (originally named the Franz Josef Bridge, Prague. Date unknown, photo published in 1946

Rowland Mason Ordish (1824-1886), engineer.

Son of John Ordish.

1860 Responsible for the details of construction of the 'Amsterdam Crystal Palace', the contractors for which were Van Heel and Holtzman of Amsterdam and Smith and Son of Spring-hill Works, Birmingham.[1]. Note: Smith & Son was a partnership of Henry Smith and Henry George Smith.

1863 Designed the ironwork for Amsterdam station, Dutch Rhenish Railway. The roof had a span of 120 ft.[2]

1864 Designed the Franz Josef Bridge, Prague, a cable-stayed/suspension road bridge to cross the River Moldau (Vltava) in Prague. Contracts were signed in August 1865 with Ruston and Co (Prague) for ironwork and M. F. Schon of Prague for the masonry. The towers were of cast iron on masonry piers. The chain links, measuring 4" by 1", were made from 'Shortridge and Howell's homogeneous steel'. [3]. The bridge opened in 1868. It was rebuilt in the 1890s, replacing the chains with wire cables. It was renamed Leoš Janáčekre Bridge in 1940, and finally scrapped and replaced in 1949-51 by the present concrete arch bridge.

Ordish designed a pedestrian suspension bridge to cross the River Moldau (Vltava) in Prague between the historic Charles Bridge and the new Franz Josef Bridge, Prague (described above). Charles von Wesseley was the Resident Engineer. The bridge had a central tower and a span between abutment faces of 629 ft. The width of the deck was only 11 ft, while the chains were further apart to give improved resistance to wind forces. The main chains were of steel, 1" thick, 4.5" deep, and 21 ft long, made by Cammell of Cyclops Works, Sheffield. The pins were 3.5" diameter. The ironwork was made in Prague.[4]

1886 Died. Buried in Highgate Cemetery. Read his obituary in The Engineer 1886/09/17.


1886 Obituary[5]

"ROWLAND MASON ORDISH.

It is with much regret that we announce the death of Mr. Rowland Mason Ordish, which took place on the evening of Sunday last, September 12. Mr. Ordish was an engineer of no ordinary ability, but he was so, not so much by reason of his professional training — of which he had little or none—as by nature and intuition. He was a native of Derbyshire, and commenced his professional career in 1844, during the railway mania. Whilst a mere youth he was engaged in an engineer’s office, where his principal employment was putting the writing on the drawings of others, for which he had a special aptitude. In the office, competitive designs were being got out for an iron bridge over the Thames at Windsor, and in his spare moments young Ordish began making sketches of a bridge. Struck by the originality of the design and correctness of the proportions, the principal encouraged him to persevere, which he did, and his design, with many others, was ultimately submitted to Her Majesty, who selected it from amongst the rest, and the Victoria Bridge at Windsor was erected from Mr. Ordish’s design. He at once took a prominent position in the office, and his latent engineering talent was rapidly developed. He was largely engaged on railway construction in Denmark for Mr. Brounger, and in course of time was engaged with Messrs. Fox, Henderson, and Co., of Birmingham. There he assisted in working out the details of the ironwork for the Exhibition of 1851, and in superintending the erection of that building in Hyde Park. He subsequently had charge of its re-erection at Sydenham as the Crystal Palace. Mr. Ordish afterwards occupied a responsible position in the Director of Works Department of the Admiralty under Colonel Greene, the offices of which were then at Somerset House.

About the year 1856 Mr. Ordish commenced practice on his own account at 18, Great George-street, Westminster, where he continued for some years. At first he was in partnership with Mr. Dewdney, and subsequently with Mr. Le Feuvre. He was the inventor of the rigid system of suspension, which principle he first carried out in two bridges over the Moldau at Prague, and afterwards in the Albert Bridge over the Thames at Chelsea, which he designed and constructed. He also designed several other bridges on the same principle for various rivers on the Continent. He was consulted respecting the domes of the Exhibition building of 1862, which were considered to be unsafe, and he devised and put up a system of bracing which insured their stability. He worked out the details of the ironwork of the Amsterdam Crystal Palace from the designs of the architect, Mr. Outshorn, the ironwork for which was made partly, if not wholly, in England. The Amsterdam railway station roof was also designed and put up by Mr. Ordish, as well as an iron-fronted house erected in Derby for Messrs. Haywood and Co. He likewise, as engineer to the Dublin Exhibition of 1865, got out the details of the ironwork of that building, now the Albert Palace, Battersea. He was the inventor of a cast-iron railway chair in which the grip on the rail was obtained from the elasticity of the iron, a wedge-shaped serrated cast-iron key taking into serrations on the jaw, enabling the permanent set to be followed up. Although some miles of these chairs were laid and worked very satisfactorily, they never came into general use.

Amongst Mr. Ordish’s Parliamentary schemes were two which attracted considerable attention at the time, and have since continued to do so. One of these was for a high-level suspension bridge on his rigid principle over the Thames near the Tower of London, whilst the other was for an underground railway from Charing Cross to Euston to connect the South-Eastern and the North-Western systems. Mr. Ordish also worked out for Sir Charles Fox the details of the ironwork for the bridges for widening the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Metropolitan Extension, notably the bridge which carries the line over the Thames at Pimlico. Until very recently examples of Mr. Ordish’s bold and striking octagonal cast-iron columns were to be seen at the Blackfriars Station of that line, they having only just been taken down for the alterations in connection with the new St. Paul’s Station. Columns of the same design, but of dwarfed structure, are to be seen on the line near Battersea Park, and are well worthy of study and imitation for their simplicity, solidity, and elegance. Amongst the numerous other works in iron either designed by Mr. Ordish or of which he worked out the details, we may mention the Albert Hall roof, the roof over the St. Pancras Station of the Midland Railway, the St. Enoch’s Station roof, Glasgow, and the railway station roof Cape Town. The latter three roofs are of somewhat similar design and dimensions. Watson’s Hotel, Bombay, is another splendid piece of ironwork upon which he was engaged, as well as the Farringdon-street Bridge. This latter is a masterpiece of ironwork, the chief features of which are the small versed sine of the arch and the cast-iron floor plates. He was also engaged on the Buxton Sanatorium and got out the heavy ironwork for the Holloway College at Egham. In 1876 Mr. Ordish, conjointly with Mr. Perry F. Nursey, worked out a scheme for a double cast-iron tunnel railway to be laid on the bed of the English Channel between Dover and Cape Grinez.

Mr. Ordish possessed a remarkable facility for estimating by sight. He would look through a set of contract drawings sent to him for estimating, and after only a few moments’ reflection would say, “This ought to come out at so many thousand odd pounds.” Upon the quantities being taken out by his assistants and the estimate being carefully prepared, the result was invariably a remarkably close approximation to his mental estimate. Notwithstanding his great talent, Mr. Ordish never reached the front rank of the profession. Opportunities he had without number, but he does not appear to have possessed the faculty of taking advantage of them. He was for some years a j member of the Society of Engineers, of which he was president in 1860, but besides that and the Society of Arts he never joined any other professional or scientific institution, although frequently invited to do so. He had little or no taste for society, which he shunned rather than courted, having an aversion to conform to many of its accepted usages. Hence, however regrettable, it is not altogether surprising to find that, with slackening times, Mr. Ordish’s professional engagements slackened also. For the last five years he acted as engineer to Messrs. Dennett and Ingle, of Whitehall, and he was mainly occupied in their work at the time of his death. He had been ailing since the beginning of the year, and in time dropsy and heart affection developed themselves. He underwent an operation in August last, after which he had better health, and only on Saturday last he inspected some work in course of construction. On Sunday he appeared to be in fairly good health, and lay down to sleep in the afternoon, a sleep from which he never awoke, passing quietly away in his sixty-second year. His funeral is to take place to-day (Friday) at 3.30 p.m. in the old ground at Highgate Cemetery."


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 14 January 1860
  2. 'A Record of the Progress of Modern Engineering' edited by William Humber, 1863-5. Some of the drawings are reproduced in 'A History of Cast Iron in Architecture' by John Gloag and Derek Bridgwater, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1948
  3. [1] 'The Engineer' 27 April 1866
  4. [2] 'Modern Examples of Road and Railway Bridges : Illustrating the most recent practice of leading engineers in Europe and America' by William H. Maw and James Dredge, partially reprinted from 'Engineering', 1872
  5. Engineering 1886/09/17