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William Baker

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William Baker (1817-1878)

Engineer in Chief of the London and North Western Railway. [1]

1848 Joined Inst Civil Engineers, of 28 Waterloo Street, Birmingham

1857 Of 28 Waterloo Street, Birmingham[2]

1878 December 20th. Died.


1878 Obituary [3]



1879 Obituary [4]

MR. WILLIAM BAKER was the son of an officer in the service of the East India Company, and was born on the 19th of May, 1817; he was educated partly at a private school and partly under a private tutor.

Having decided to adopt the profession of a Civil Engineer, he was, in 1834, articled for five years to the late Mr. George W. Buck (the eminent engineer, well known for his able mathematical treatise on skew bridges), who acted on behalf of the late Mr. Robert Stephenson, in charge of the construction of a portion of the London and Birmingham railway between London and Tring.

Upon the opening of that section of the line, in October 1837, Mr. Baker accompanied Mr. Buck to Manchester, and under his supervision took charge, at the age of twenty-one, of the construction of a portion of the Manchester and Birmingham railway, upon which he was employed until 1842.

Subsequently he became Engineer to the Manchester, South Junction, and Altrincham railway, and at the same time was engaged on the works of the Shrewsbury and Birmingham and Shropshire Union railways, which were opened in the year 1849, after which Mr. Baker was appointed Engineer to the Stour Valley railway between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Whilst in charge of that line he was appointed, in 1852, by the London and North Western Railway Company, Engineer upon the southern division of their system, in the place of the late Mr. R. B. Dockray, M. Inst. C.E., in which capacity he remained up to the death of Mr. Robert Stephenson, in October 1859.

The North Western Railway Company, at this time contemplating large extensions of their system, and finding that an Engineer of recognised ability, possessing an intimate knowledge of their undertaking, and whose time should be wholly devoted to their interests, was of the utmost importances, elected Mr. Baker to fill the office of Chief Engineer.

The amalgamation of the London and Birmingham, Manchester and Birmingham, and Grand Junction railways took place in 1846. It will thus be seen that Mr. Baker's previous experience highly qualified him for the position to which he was raised, as, from the first period of entering upon his career in 1834, he had the opportunity of observing the growth of the London and North Western Company, and that he had been practically employed upon a large portion of it.

Within the limits of this memoir it would be impossible to describe the variety and character of the numerous engineering works carried out under Mr. Baker’s immediate and able supervision; but all who are acquainted with the line with which he was so long and closely connected, will admit that the great lattice-girder bridge carrying the railway over the River Mersey at Runcorn, is a lasting monument to his genius and indomitable perseverance in overcoming difficulties of no ordinary character.

It is also worthy of record that he wholly constructed, or remodelled and extended, the great central stations of the North Western Company in London, Liverpool, and Manchester, as well as the stations in Birmingham, Preston, Bolton, Crewe, Warrington, Stafford, and other places, besides widening the main lines for a length of 100 miles, and constructing a new harbour at Holyhead. In short, it may perhaps be asserted that scarcely any Engineer ever carried out a greater extent of railway works, or controlled the expenditure of a larger sum of money, than Mr. Baker.

In addition to the eminence to which he attained as a practical Engineer, he was for many years recognised as a most valuable witness in support of the numerous schemes proposed by the company in Parliament, and his evidence on all occasions was received with due regard to the extensive knowledge upon which it was based. So great was the confidence of the directors in Mr. Baker’s high character and unswerving integrity, that for a period of nearly twenty years he was constituted their sole arbitrator in all contract works, and in the many cases in which he exercised that function his decisions were held as just and equitable.

In addition to holding the office of Chief Engineer to the London and North Western Railway Company, he acted in a consultative capacity as Engineer to the following railways, in which that company is largely interested, namely, the West London Extension railway, connecting the lines north and south of the Thames on the west side of London, which he constructed in the years 1859-63; also to the North London railway, the City branch of which, including the new station at Broad Street, was carried out under his superintendence in 1863-66.

He was also associated, as Engineer, with all railways undertaken jointly with the North Western Company, and was Engineer in charge of the construction of the Dundalk, Newry, and Greenore railways in Ireland, and the North Wall Extension railway and station in Dublin. He was likewise one of the consulting Engineers for the International Exhibition of 1862.

Mr. Baker possessed a singularly retentive memory, was methodical and exact in all things, fearless in the expression of his opinion, matured in the knowledge of men and business, generous in the exercise of the large influence he possessed, and cordial and considerate to his large staff, in whom he placed the greatest confidence, and who held him in the highest esteem. His high reputation, honourable character, and gentlemanly bearing will long be held in remembrance, not only by those members of the profession to which he was so ardently attached, but by everyone who enjoyed his acquaintance.

It was observed by those immediately around him that early in the year 1877 his health began to show signs of yielding ; but his active mind and vigorous habits sustained him through the parliamentary campaign of 1878, after which he was compelled to give way to the entreaties of his advisers and take rest. Gradually, however, his strength failed, and after being confined to his house for nearly three months, he died on the 20th of December, 1878, of Bright’s disease.

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Engineers on the 7th of March, 1848, and served as a Member of Council for the last year of his life, having been re-elected to that office three days before his death.


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