Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,480 pages of information and 245,913 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Thomas Rhodes

From Graces Guide
1843 winch for operating lock gates at Victoria Lock, Meelick, on the Shannon Navigation. Thomas Rhodes engineer. Photo by Brian J. Goggin

Thomas Rhodes (1789-1868)

1827 Thomas Rhodes, Builder, 48 Hermitage Street, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1843 Designed the Shannonbridge Swing Bridge

On Saturday, the 9th instant, the new bridge crossing the Shannon, in the town of Athlone. erected under the Shannon commission, was opened to the public at one o’clock, p.m., and the old bridge, erected in the days of good Queen Bess, closed for ever at three o'clock. The site of the new bridge is higher up the river, to the northward of the old ; is wholly from the designs of Thomas Rhodes, Esq., civil engineer to the commissioners, who has judiciously placed the roadway such a level as will avoid hereafter that tremendous descent into the bowels of the lower town as all who have passed the old bridge will recollect. The new bridge consists of three noble elliptic arches, each of sixty three feet span, together with a cast-iron swivel bridge, resting on heavy abutments, of forty-five feet span, and twenty four feet width of roadway ; the general width of roadway is about thirty feet, with flagged footways six feet at each side. The material is limestone of the finest color, scantling, and texture, and the style of execution of every part, and the skill with which difficulties of no ordinary character, constructing the underwater work were met and overcome by the contractor, Mr. John M'Mahon, are in the highest degree admirable. The average depth of water under the bridge is about eighteen feet, and when it is stated that the large coffer dams were driven and staunched upon a bottom of coarse open gravel, admitting water like a sieve, these difficulties will appreciated by those acquainted with practical engineering. The swivel bridge was constructed and erected by Messrs. John and Robert Mallet, iron-founders and engineers, Dublin, and its execution has met the highest approbation from the engineer and commissioners. At a few minutes before one o'clock all the workmen who had been employed upon the work (and not one of whom, it pleasant to reflect, had met with any accident during the many hazardous operations of its progress) assembled in a lengthened column of three abreast at the Shannon Commissioners’ Office, where Colonel Jones, R.E., the acting commissioner, had entertained the engineers, residents, contractors, town councillors and officers of the garrison at a dejeuner,.....'[2]

Information about aspects of Thomas Rhodes' work on the River Shannon may be found here[3].

1869 Obituary [4]

MR. THOMAS RHODES, H. Mem. R. I. A., was born on the 7th March, 1789, at Apperley Bridge, near Bradford, Yorkshire, and received his education at Calverley school.

His father, Mr. James Rhodes, was engaged in superintending the construction of the locks, gates, bridges, and other works on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, when he met with a serious accident which disabled him for life. The eldest son William, was brought up to his father’s business, that of a millwright and carpenter, when employed on the works of the Rochdale Canal.

Mr. Thomas Rhodes, the subject of this notice, was apprenticed to his brother William, when under 14 years of age. He had thus an opportunity of acquiring a practical knowledge of, and of taking an active part in, the construction of a variety of works, when the division of labour was not carried to so great an extent as at present. Having naturally a taste for mechanical drawing, he devoted himself in his leisure hours to making and copying drawings, which materially aided him in after-life. He remained with his brother for about eight years, and in 1810 was engaged for a short period on the Glasgow and Paisley Canal.

In September, 1811, he proceeded to Corpach, at the western extremity of the Caledonian Canal, to take charge of and superintend the erection of the sea lock-gates, bridges, and machinery, the timber and ironwork of which had just arrived from England; and in the course of the following year the gates were hung in their places, to the satisfaction of Messrs. Jessop and Telford, the chief Engineers. As the timber for the other gates had not arrived, Mr. Rhodes was instructed to proceed to the eastern end of the canal, near Inverness, to erect the Gates for the sea lock and the second lock. There being a difficulty m procuring timber suitable for any more wooden gates, plans were made for the use of cast iron; and after various experiments by Mr. Rhodes, the other gates throughout the canal were, with the full approval of Mr. Telford, constructed after the same pattern. The swivel bridges, dredging-vessels, hopper and other barges, were built agreeably to the plans prepared by Mr. Rhodes.

During an interval of eight months, by order of Mr. Telford, he went to the Bonar bridge, then in course of erection over the Dornach Frith, and superintended the putting in of the coffer-dams, or caissons, and the erection of the scaffolding and centering for the stone arches and the cast-iron arch of 150 feet span.

Having completed these works to the satisfaction of Mr. Telford, Mr. Rhodes left the Highlands and the Caledonian Canal in December, 1822. In the following year he was sent by Mr. Telford to take charge of the erection of the iron and woodwork of the Menai and Conway Suspension Bridges in Wales.

In 1826, these bridges being finished, Mr. Rhodes was appointed by Mr. Telford Resident Engineer of the St. Katharine's Docks, London. During the execution of these works, Mr. Rhodes was engaged on the works of the Herne Bay Pier, reported on the Graving Dock near the Commercial Dock, London, made plans, specifications, and estimates for Belfast Harbour, a suspension bridge at Clifton, the Llanelly Railway and Docks, the London and Dover Road, and a new bridge across the Lagan at Belfast.

In 1831 he surveyed the River Shannon and its tributaries, for the Commissioners of Public Works, Ireland.

In 1833, he made plans, specifications, and estimates for the improvement of the River Ouze, which comprised locks at Naburn and Linton, self-acting wasteboard, jetties, slips for repairing vessels, and dredging vessels for deepening the channel of the river, and was likewise Engineer for the York Waterworks. The designs and estimates for the ship canal and floating dock, the New Bridge and waterworks at Belfast were also made at this time.

In 1834 he was engaged by the Exchequer Loan Commissioners to report on the Hartlepool Dock and Railway. He prepared a report and estimate for the completion of the Clarence Railway, of which he was afterwards the Resident Engineer, and he reported on the Ulster Canal.

In 1835 he was appointed Commissioner for the improvement of the River Shannon; was engaged upon the harbour of Berwick-upon-Tweed; surveyed the River Derwent, and also a branch canal from the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal; he was Engineer for the Commissioners for the Limerick bridge and docks; prepared plans, specifications, and estimates for the Byer's Green Branch Railway, in Durham, and for the Stockton and Hartlepool Union Railway and Docks; and surveyed the River Severn, from Stourport to Gloucester, and made plans, specifications, and estimates for its improvement.

In 1839 Mr. Rhodes was engaged as principal Engineer to the Shannon Commissioners, to carry out the improvement of that navigation, involving works of considerable magnitude, comprising the large weir, &C., at Killaloe, Portumna Bridge, the weir, lock, and gates at Mellick, Banagher Bridge, the Canal, Shannon Bridge, dredging and deepening the shallows, lock and weir at Roosky, Athlone, Lanesborough and Jamestown Bridges, with many other works of importance. At this period surveys were made of Loughs Neagh, Erne, and Corrib, also of the rivers Upper and Lower Bann, the Blackwater and Barrow, the coast of Kerry, for sites for piers and harbours, and various other works for the Commissioners of Public Works, Ireland.

In 1849 Mr. Rhodes was offered, by Messrs. Walker and Burges, the appointment of Resident Engineer of the St. Catherine Harbour Works, Jersey, and of the Harbour of Refuge, Alderney ; and thinking that change of air would benefit his health, he accepted the appointment, and was stationed in Alderney, where he remained until 1860, hen he finally retired from active life.

Mr. Rhodes was a very old member of The Institution of Civil Engineers: having been elected an Associate on the 27th of February, 1817, and he was transferred to the class of Members in the following year. His provincial engagements prevented his taking a very active personal interest in the Society, but whenever he was in London he always attended the meetings. It has been said by some of his contemporaries, that had it not been for his unobtrusive and retiring disposition, he might have taken a more prominent position in the profession, for which he possessed the highest qualifications.

Mr. Rhodes had been ailing for some months, when he suddenly expired on the 6th of June, 1868, in his eightieth year, at Paington, South Devon, deeply regretted by a large circle of relatives and friends, by whom he was deservedly beloved, for his urbanity of manner and kindness of heart, which had endeared him to every one with whom he was associated.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1827 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent - Thursday 14 November 1844
  3. [1] Irish Waterways History website - A River Shannon Lock - Athlone
  4. 1869 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries