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British Industrial History

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Thomas Telford

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1930WilmoreTelford.jpg
1934. Lanes' Portrait of Thomas Telford.
1820. Thomas Telford gate at the Tullie House Museum .

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Thomas Telford (1757-1834) was a stonemason, architect and civil engineer and a noted road, bridge and canal builder.

1757 August 9th. Born at Glendenning farm in Westerkirk, Dumfries, Scotland. He was the second son (the first of the same name having died in infancy), of John Telford, a shepherd, and his wife, Janet. Four months after his birth his father died and the boy was raised by his mother.

Telford began his career as a mason and educated himself to become an architect.

1786 He was appointed surveyor of public works for Shropshire and this involved the construction of buildings, and bridges - which included three over the River Severn, at Montford, Buildwas, and Bewdley, the second being of cast iron.

1796 When he designed Buildwas Bridge, probably the second major iron bridge to be completed in Britain, he took a different approach from that used for the iron bridge at Coalbrookdale - he followed the principles of timber rather than masonry construction, thereby achieving a bridge of half the weight of that at Coalbrookdale with a much greater span.

Telford was the first president of the Institution of Civil Engineers (founded 1818).

1793 Telford became agent and engineer to the Ellesmere Canal Co. His two great aqueducts, which carry this canal over the Ceiriog and Dee valleys in Wales at Chirk and Pont Cysylltau, employed the use of troughs of cast-iron plates fixed in the masonry. These brought him national fame.

1803 He was employed by the government in the development of the Scottish Highlands. His responsibilities included: the Caledonian Canal; harbour works at Aberdeen, Dundee, and elsewhere; and the building of more than 900 miles of roads, including many bridges. After that, and in the course of improving the roads from Chester and Shrewsbury to Holyhead, he built his two famous suspension bridges over the River Conwy and the Menai Strait in Wales.

From 1808 Telford acted as consulting engineer for the 114 mile eastwards extension of the Göta Canal in Sweden; initially the Swedish engineer Samuel Bagge supervised operations; later he was succeeded by Lagerheim.

From about 1811 Telford relied on Thomas Rhodes as his representative and assistant on many projects.

There were 2 John Wilsons who worked as managing overseers for Telford. One John Wilson worked on the Caledonian Canal, the Göta Canal and the Glencorse dam; his descendants were prominent in civil engineering for several generations[1]. The other John Wilson also worked on the Caledonian Canal and other Telford projects.

Telford was then employed in improving and building canals to meet the threat of railway competition; he was involved in work on 33 canals, including a new canal from Wolverhampton to Nantwich and a new tunnel at Harecastle, Staffordshire, on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Among Telford's other works were the St. Katharine's Dock, London; roads in the Scottish Lowlands; and the bridges over the Severn at Tewkesbury and Gloucester.

1834 Thomas Telford died in London on 2 September and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

1843 Seeking next of kin. '...next of kin of Thomas Telford, late of Abingdon-street, Westminster, Civil Engineer, and formerly of Westerkirk, in the county of Dumfries, in Scotland (who died on the 2d September 1834), living at the time of his death, and, if any of such next of kin are since dead...'[2]


1834 Obituary [3] [4]

Same day (2nd), at his house, in Abingdon-street, London, in the 79th year of his age, Mr. Telford, civil engineer. Mr. T. was a native of Langholm, Dumfriesshire, which he left at early age. His gradual rise from the stonemasons and builders yard to the top of his profession in his own country, or, we may say, in the world, is be ascribed not more to bis genius, his consummate ability, and persevering industry, than to his plain, honest, straightforward dealing, and the integrity and candour which marked his character throughout life.


Some of Telford's notable achievements include[5]:

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Sources of Information

  1. Article on the Wilsons, 1982 [1]
  2. The London Gazette Publication date:20 June 1843 Issue:20235 Page:2075
  3. Yorkshire Gazette - Saturday 06 September 1834
  4. Carlisle Journal - Saturday 06 September 1834
  5. Engineering Timelines [2]