Metcalfe & Telford IV.
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Abraham Darby's bridge across the Severn at Ironbridge, Shropshire.  Built 1775-9,
it was the first arch bridge to be constructed of cast iron.  Picture Wikipedia.

SHREWSBURY being situated in the immediate neighbourhood of the Black Country, of which coal and iron are the principal products, Telford's attention was naturally directed, at a very early period, to the employment of cast iron in bridge-building.  The strength as well as lightness of a bridge of this material, compared with one of stone and lime, is of great moment where headway is of importance, or the difficulties of defective foundations have to be encountered.  The metal can be moulded in such precise forms and so accurately fitted together as to give to the arching the greatest possible rigidity; while it defies the destructive influences of time and atmospheric corrosion with nearly as much certainty as stone itself.

    The Italians and French, who took the lead in engineering down almost to the end of last century, early detected the value of this material, and made several attempts to introduce it in bridge-building; but their efforts proved unsuccessful, chiefly because of the inability of the early founders to cast large masses of iron, and also because the metal was then more expensive than either stone or timber.  The first actual attempt to build a cast iron bridge was made at Lyons in 1755, and it proceeded so far that one of the arches was put together in the builders' yard; but the project was abandoned as too costly, and timber was eventually used.

    It was reserved for English manufacturers to triumph over the difficulties which had baffled the foreign iron-founders.  Shortly after the above ineffectual attempt had been made, the construction of a bridge over the Severn near Broseley formed the subject of discussion among the adjoining owners.  There had been a great increase in the coal, iron, brick, and pottery trades of the neighbourhood; and the old ferry between the opposite banks of the river was found altogether inadequate for the accommodation of the traffic.  The necessity for a bridge had long been felt, and the project of constructing one was actively taken up in 1776 by Mr. Abraham Darby, the principal owner of the extensive iron works at Coalbrookdale.  Mr. Pritchard, a Shrewsbury architect, prepared the design of a stone bridge of one arch, in which he proposed to introduce a key-stone of cast iron, occupying only a few feet at the crown of the arch.  This plan was, however, given up as unsuitable; and another, with the entire arch of cast iron, was designed under the superintendence of Mr. Darby.  The castings were made in the works at Coalbrookdale, and the bridge was erected at a point where the banks were of considerable height on both sides of the river.  It was opened for traffic in 1779, and continues a most serviceable structure to this day, giving the name to the town of Ironbridge, which has sprung up in its immediate vicinity.  The bridge consists of one semicircular arch, of 100 feet span, each of the great ribs consisting of two pieces only.  Mr. Robert Stephenson has said of the structure—"If we consider that the manipulation of cast iron was then completely in its infancy, a bridge of such dimensions was doubtless a bold as well as an original undertaking, and the efficiency of the details is worthy of the boldness of the conception." [p.210]


    It is a curious circumstance that the next projector of an iron bridge--and that of a very bold design—was the celebrated, or rather the notorious, Tom Paine, whose political writings Telford had so much admired.  The son of a decent Quaker of Thetford, who trained him to his own trade of a staymaker, Paine seems early to have contracted a dislike for the sect to which his father belonged.  Arrived at manhood, he gave up staymaking to embrace the wild life of a privateersman, and served in two successive adventures.  Leaving the sea, he became an exciseman, but retained his commission for only a year.  Then he became an usher in a school, during which he studied mechanics and mathematics.  Again appointed an exciseman, he was stationed at Lewes in Sussex, where he wrote poetry and acquired some local celebrity as a writer.  He was accordingly selected by his brother excisemen to prepare their petition to Government for an increase of pay, [p.211]—the document which he drew up procuring him introductions to Goldsmith and Franklin, and dismissal from his post.  Franklin persuaded him to go to America; and there the quondam staymaker, privateersman, usher, poet, and exciseman, took an active part in the revolutionary discussions of the time, besides holding the important office of Secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs.

    Paine afterwards settled for a time at Philadelphia, where he occupied himself with the study of mechanical philosophy, electricity, mineralogy, and the use of iron in bridge-building.  In 1787, when a bridge over the Schuylkill was proposed, without any river piers, as the stream was apt to be choked with ice in the spring freshets, Paine boldly offered to build an iron bridge with a single arch of 400 feet span.  In the course of the same year, he submitted his design of the proposed bridge to the Academy of Sciences at Paris; he also sent a copy of his plan to Sir Joseph Banks for submission to the Royal Society; and, encouraged by the favourable opinions of scientific men, he proceeded to Rotherham, in Yorkshire, to have his bridge cast. [p.212]  An American gentleman, named Whiteside, having advanced money to Paine on security of his property in the States, to enable the bridge to be completed, the castings were duly made, and shipped off to London, where they were put together and exhibited to the public on a bowling-green at Paddington.  The bridge was there visited by a large number of persons, and was considered to be a highly creditable work.  Suddenly Paine's attention was withdrawn from its further prosecution by the publication of Mr. Burke's celebrated 'Thoughts on the French Revolution,' which he undertook to answer.  Whiteside having in the meantime become bankrupt, Paine was arrested by his assignees, but was liberated by the assistance of two other Americans, who became bound for him.

    Paine, however, was by this time carried away by the fervour of the French Revolution, having become a member of the National Convention, as representative for Calais.  The "Friends of Man," whose cause he had espoused, treated him scurvily, imprisoning him in the Luxembourg, where he lay for eleven months.  Escaped to America, we find him in 1803 presenting to the American Congress a memoir on the construction of Iron Bridges, accompanied by several models.  It does not appear, however, that Paine ever succeeded in erecting an iron bridge.  He was a restless, speculative, unhappy being; and it would have been well for his memory if, instead of penning shallow infidelity, he had devoted himself to his original idea of improving the communications of his adopted country.  In the meantime, however, the bridge exhibited at Paddington had produced important results.  The manufacturers agreed to take it back as part of their debt, and the materials were afterwards used in the construction of the noble bridge over the Wear at Sunderland, which was erected in 1796.


    The project of constructing a bridge at this place, where the rocky banks of the Wear rise to a great height on both sides of the river, is due to Rowland Burdon, Esq., of Castle Eden, under whom Mr. T. Wilson served as engineer in carrying out his design.   The details differed in several important respects from the proposed bridge of Paine, Mr. Burdon introducing several new and original features, more particularly as regarded the framed iron panels radiating towards the centre in the form of voussoirs, for the purpose of resisting compression.  Mr. Phipps, C.E., in a report prepared by him at the instance of the late Robert Stephenson, under whose superintendence the bridge was recently repaired, observes, with respect to the original design,—"We should probably make a fair division of the honour connected with this unique bridge, by conceding to Burdon all that belongs to a careful elaboration and improvement upon the designs of another, to the boldness of taking upon himself the great responsibility of applying this idea at once on so magnificent a scale, and to his liberality and public spirit in furnishing the requisite funds [to the amount of £22,000.]; but we must not deny to Paine the credit of conceiving the construction of iron bridges of far larger span than had been made before his time, or of the important examples both as models and large constructions which he caused to be made and publicly exhibited.  In whatever shares the merit of this great work may be apportioned, it must be admitted to be one of the earliest and greatest triumphs of the art of bridge construction."  Its span exceeded that of any arch then known, being 236 feet, with a rise of 34 feet, the springing commencing at 95 feet above the bed of springing the river; and its height was such as to allow vessels of 300 tons burden to sail underneath without striking their masts.  Mr. Stephenson characterised the bridge as "a structure which, as regards its proportions and the small quantity of material employed in its construction, will probably remain unrivalled."

    The same year in which Burdon's Bridge was erected at Sunderland, Telford was building his first iron bridge over the Severn at Buildwas, at a point about midway between Shrewsbury and Bridgenorth.  An unusually high flood having swept away the old bridge in the year 1795, he was called upon, as surveyor for the county, to supply the plan of a new one.   Having carefully examined the bridge at Coalbrookdale, and appreciated its remarkable merits, he determined to build the proposed bridge at Buildwas of iron; and as the waters came down with great suddenness from the Welsh mountains, he further resolved to construct it of only one arch, so as to afford the largest possible water-way.

    He had some difficulty in inducing the Coalbrookdale iron-masters, who undertook the casting of the girders, to depart from the plan of the earlier structure; but he persisted in his design, which was eventually carried out.  It consisted of a single arch of 130 feet span, the segment of a very large circle, calculated to resist the tendency of the abutments to slide inwards, which had been a defect of the Coalbrookdale bridge; the flat arch being itself sustained and strengthened by an outer ribbed one on each side, springing lower than the former and also rising higher, somewhat after the manner of timber-trussing.  Although the span of the new bridge was 30 feet wider than the Coalbrookdale bridge, it contained less than half the quantity of iron; Buildwas bridge containing 173, whereas the other contained 378 tons.  The new structure was, besides, extremely elegant in form; and when the centres were struck, the arch and abutments stood perfectly firm, and have remained so to this day.  But the ingenious design of this bridge will be better explained by the above representation than by any description in words. [p.216]


    The bridge at Buildwas, however, was not Telford's first employment of iron in bridge-building; for, the year before its erection, we find him writing to his friend at Langholm that he had recommenced an iron aqueduct for the Shrewsbury Canal, it "on a principle entirely new," and which he was "endeavouring to establish with regard to the application of iron." [p.217]  This iron aqueduct had been cast and fixed; and it was found to effect so great a saving in masonry and earthwork, that he was afterwards induced to apply the same principle, as we have already seen, in different forms, in the magnificent aqueducts of Chirk and PontCysylltau.

    The uses of cast iron in canal construction became more obvious with every year's successive experience; and Telford was accustomed to introduce it in many cases where formerly only timber or stone had been used.  On the Ellesmere, and afterwards on the Caledonian Canal, he adopted cast iron lock-gates, which were found to answer well, being more durable than timber, and not liable like it to shrink and expand with alternate dryness and wet.  The turnbridges which he applied to his canals, in place of the old drawbridges, were also of cast iron; and in some cases even the locks were of the same material.  Thus, on a part of the Ellesmere Canal opposite Beeston Castle, in Cheshire, where a couple of locks, together rising 17 feet, having been built on a stratum of quicksand, were repeatedly undermined, the idea of constructing the entire locks of cast iron was suggested; and this unusual application of the new material was accomplished with entirely satisfactory results.

    But Telford's principal employment of cast iron was in the construction of road bridges, in which he proved himself a master.  His experience in these structures had become very extensive.  During the time that he held the office of surveyor to the county of Salop, he erected no fewer than forty-two, five of which were of iron.  Indeed, his success in iron bridge-building so much emboldened him, that in 1801, when Old London Bridge had become so rickety and inconvenient that it was found necessary to take steps to rebuild or remove it, he proposed the daring plan of a cast iron bridge of a single arch of not less than 600 feet span, the segment of a circle 1450 feet in diameter.  In preparing this design we find that he was associated with a Mr. Douglas, to whom many allusions are made in his private letters. [p.218]  The design of this bridge seems to have arisen out of a larger project for the improvement of the port of London. In a private letter of Telford's, dated the 13th May, 1800, he says:—

    "I have twice attended the Select Committee on the Port of London, Lord Hawkesbury, Chairman.  The subject has now been agitated for four years, and might have been so for many more, if Mr. Pitt had not taken the business out of the hands of the General Committee, and got it referred to a Select Committee.  Last year they recommended that a system of docks should be formed in a large bend of the river opposite Greenwich, called the Isle of Dogs, with a canal across the neck of the bend.  This part of the contemplated improvements is already commenced, and is proceeding as rapidly as the nature of the work will admit.  It will contain ship docks for large vessels, such as East and West Indiamen, whose draught of water is considerable.

    "There are now two other propositions under consideration.  One is to form another system of docks at Wapping, and the other to take down London Bridge, rebuild it of such dimensions as to admit of ships of 200 tons passing under it, and form a new pool for ships of such burden between London and Blackfriars Bridges, with a set of regular wharves on each side of the river.  This is with the view of saving lighterage and plunderage, and bringing the great mass of commerce so much nearer to the heart of the City.  This last part of the plan has been taken up in a great measure from some statements I made while in London last year, and I have been called before the Committee to explain.  I had previously prepared a set of plans and estimates for the purpose of showing how the idea might be carried out; and thus a considerable degree of interest has been excited on the subject.  It is as yet, however, very uncertain how far the plans will be carried out. It is certainly a matter of great national importance to render the port of London as perfect as possible." [p.219]

    Later in the same year he writes that his plans and propositions have been approved and recommended to be carried out, and he expects to have the execution of them.  "If they will provide the ways and means," says he, "and give me elbowroom, I see my way as plainly as mending the brig at the auld burn."  In November, 1801, he states that his view of London Bridge, as proposed by him, has been published, and much admired.  On the 14th of April, 1802, he writes, "I have got into mighty favour with the Royal folks.  I have received notes written by order of the King, the Prince of Wales, Duke of York, and Duke of Kent, about the bridge print, and in future it is to be dedicated to the King."

    The bridge in question was one of the boldest of Telford's designs.  He proposed by his one arch to provide a clear headway of 65 feet above high water.  The arch was to consist of seven cast iron ribs, in segments as large as possible, and they were to be connected by diagonal cross-bracing, disposed in such a manner that any part of the ribs and braces could be taken out and replaced without injury to the stability of the bridge or interruption to the traffic over it.  The roadway was to be 90 feet wide at the abutments and 45 feet in the centre; the width of the arch being gradually contracted towards the crown in order to lighten the weight of the structure.  The bridge was to contain 6,500 tons of iron, and the cost of the whole was to be £262,289.


    The originality of the design was greatly admired, though there were many who received with incredulity the proposal to bridge the Thames by a single arch, and it was sarcastically said of Telford that he might as well think of "setting the Thames on fire."  Before any outlay was incurred in building the bridge, the design was submitted to the consideration of the most eminent scientific and practical men of the day; after which evidence was taken at great length before a Select Committee which sat on the subject.  Among those examined on the occasion were the venerable James Watt of Birmingham, Mr. John Rennie, Professor Hutton of Woolwich, Professors Playfair and Robison of Edinburgh, Mr. Jessop, Mr. Southern, and Dr. Maskelyne.  Their evidence will still be found interesting as indicating the state at which constructive science had at that time arrived in England. [p.221]

    There was a considerable diversity of opinion among the witnesses, as might have been expected; for experience was as yet very limited as to the resistance of cast iron to extension and compression.  Some of them anticipated immense difficulty in casting pieces of metal of the necessary size and exactness, so as to secure that the radiated joints should be all straight and bearing.  Others laid down certain ingenious theories of the arch, which did not quite square with the plan proposed by the engineer.  But, as was candidly observed by Professor Playfair in concluding his report—"It is not from theoretical men that the most valuable information in such a case as the present is to be expected.  When a mechanical arrangement becomes in a certain degree complicated, it baffles the efforts of the geometer, and refuses to submit to even the most approved methods of investigation.  This holds good particularly of bridges, where the principles of mechanics, aided by all the resources of the higher geometry, have not yet gone further than to determine the equilibrium of a set of smooth wedges acting on one another by pressure only, and in such circumstances as, except in a philosophical experiment, can hardly ever be realised.  It is, therefore, from men educated in the school of daily practice and experience, and who to a knowledge of general principles have added, from the habits of their profession, a certain feeling of the justness or insufficiency of any mechanical contrivance, that the soundest opinions on a matter of this kind can be obtained."

    It would appear that the Committee came to the general conclusion that the construction of the proposed bridge was practicable and safe; for the river was contracted to the requisite width, and the preliminary works were actually begun.  Mr. Stephenson says the design was eventually abandoned, owing more immediately to the difficulty of constructing the approaches with such a head way, which would have involved the formation of extensive inclined planes from the adjoining streets, and thereby led to serious inconvenience, and the depreciation of much valuable property on both sides of the river. [p.223]

    Telford's noble design of his great iron bridge over the Thames, together with his proposed embankment of the river, being thus definitely abandoned, he fell back upon his ordinary business as an architect and engineer, in the course of which he designed and erected several stone bridges of considerable magnitude and importance.


    In the spring of 1795, after a long continued fall of snow, a sudden thaw raised a heavy flood in the Severn, which carried away many bridges—amongst others one at Bewdley, in Worcestershire,—when Telford was called upon to supply a design for a new structure. At the same time, he was required to furnish a plan for a new bridge near the town of Bridgenorth; "in short," he wrote to his friend, "I have been at it night and day." So uniform a success had heretofore attended the execution of his designs, that his reputation as a bridge-builder was universally acknowledged. "Last week," he says, "Davidson and I struck the centre of an arch of 76 feet span, and this is the third which has been thrown this summer, none of which have shrunk a quarter of an inch."


Telford's bridge over the Severn at Bewdley, built in 1798 by Shrewsbury-based
contractor John Simpson for £11,000.  Picture Wikipedia.

    Bewdley Bridge is a handsome and substantial piece of masonry.  The streets on either side of it being on low ground, land arches were provided at both ends for the passage of the flood waters; and as the Severn was navigable at the point crossed, it was considered necessary to allow considerably greater width in the river arches than had been the case in the former structure.  The arches were three in number—one of 60 feet span and two of 52 feet, the land arches being of 9 feet span.  The works were proceeded with and the bridge was completed during the summer of 1798, Telford writing to his friend in December of that year—"We have had a remarkably dry summer and autumn; after that an early fall of snow and some frost, followed by rain.  The drought of the summer was unfavourable to our canal working; but it has enabled us to raise Bewdley Bridge as if by enchantment.  We have thus built a magnificent bridge over the Severn in one season, which is no contemptible work for John Simpson [p.225] and your humble servant, amidst so many other great undertakings.  John Simpson is a treasure —a man of great talents and integrity.  I met with him here by chance, employed and recommended him, and he has now under his charge all the works of any magnitude in this great and rich district."


    Another of our engineer's early stone bridges, which may be mentioned in this place, was erected by him in 1805, over the river Dee at Tongueland in the county of Kirkcudbright.  It is a bold and picturesque bridge, situated in a lovely locality.  The river is very deep at high water there, the tide rising 20 feet.  As the banks were steep and rocky, the engineer determined to bridge the stream by a single arch of 112 feet span.  The rise being considerable, high wingwalls and deep spandrels were requisite; but the weight of the structure was much lightened by the expedient which he adopted of perforating the wings, and building a number of longitudinal walls in the spandrels, instead of filling them with earth or inferior masonry, as had until then been the ordinary practice.  The ends of these walls, connected and steadied by the insertion of tee-stones, were built so as to abut against the back of the arch-stones and the cross walls of each abutment.  Thus great strength as well as lightness was secured, and a very graceful and at the same time substantial bridge was provided for the accommodation of the district. [p.226]


Telford's bridge across the Dee at Tongland, Kirkcudbright (1806).  Picture Wikipedia.

    In his letters written about this time, Telford seems to have been very full of employment, which required him to travel about a great deal.  "I have become," said he, "a very wandering being, and am scarcely ever two days in one place, unless detained by business, which, however, occupies my time very completely."  At another time he says, "I am tossed about like a tennis ball: the other day I was in London, since that I have been in Liverpool, and in a few days I expect to be at Bristol.  Such is my life; and to tell you the truth, I think it suits my disposition."

    Another work on which Telford was engaged at this time was a project for supplying the town of Liverpool with water conveyed through pipes in the same manner as had long before been adopted in London.  He was much struck by the activity and enterprise apparent in Liverpool compared with Bristol.  "Liverpool," he said, "has taken firm root in the country by means of the canals: it is young, vigorous, and well situated.  Bristol is sinking in commercial importance: its merchants are rich and indolent, and in their projects they are always too late.  Besides, the place is badly situated.  There will probably arise another port there somewhat nearer the Severn; but Liverpool will nevertheless continue of the first commercial importance, and their water will be turned into wine.  We are making rapid progress in this country—I mean from Liverpool to Bristol, and from Wales to Birmingham.  This is an extensive and rich district, abounding in coal, lime, iron, and lead.  Agriculture too is improving, and manufactures are advancing at rapid strides towards perfection.  Think of such a mass of population, industrious, intelligent, and energetic, in continual exertion!  In short, I do not believe that any part of the world, of like dimensions, ever exceeded Great Britain, as it now is, in regard to the production of wealth and the practice of the useful arts." [p.228-1]

    Amidst all this progress, which so strikingly characterized the western districts of England, Telford also thought that there was a prospect of coming improvement for Ireland.  "There is a board of five members appointed by Parliament, to act as a board of control over all the inland navigations, &c., of Ireland.  One of the members is a particular friend of mine, and at this moment a pupil, as it were, anxious for information.  This is a noble object: the field is wide, the ground new and capable of vast improvement.  To take up and manage the water of a fine island is like a fairy tale, and, if properly conducted, it would render Ireland truly a jewel among the nations." [p.228-2]  It does not, however, appear that Telford was ever employed by the board to carry out the grand scheme which thus fired his engineering imagination.

    Mixing freely with men of all classes, our engineer seems to have made many new friends and acquaintances about this time.  While on his journeys north and south, he frequently took the opportunity of looking in upon the venerable James Watt—"a great and good man," he terms him—at his house at Heathfield, near Birmingham.  At London he says he is "often with old Brodie and Black, each the first in his profession, though they walked up together to the great city on foot, [p.228-3] more than half a century ago—Gloria!"  About the same time we find him taking interest in the projects of a deserving person, named Holwell, a coal-master in Staffordshire, and assisting him to take out a patent for boring wooden pipes; "he being a person," says Telford, "little known, and not having capital, interest, or connections, to bring the matter forward."

    Telford also kept up his literary friendships and preserved his love for poetical reading.  At Shrewsbury, one of his most intimate friends was Dr. Darwin, son of the author of the 'Botanic Garden.'  At Liverpool, he made the acquaintance of Dr. Currie, and was favoured with a sight of his manuscript of the 'Life of Burns,' then in course of publication.  Curiously enough, Dr. Currie had found among Burns's papers a copy of some verses, addressed to the poet, which Telford recognised as his own, written many years before while working as a mason at Langholm.  Their purport was to urge Burns to devote himself to the composition of poems of a serious character, such as the 'Cotter's Saturday Night.'  With Telford's permission, several extracts from his Address to Burns were published in 1800 in Currie's Life of the poet.  Another of his literary friendships, formed about the same time, was that with Thomas Campbell, then a very young man, whose 'Pleasures of Hope' had just made its appearance.  Telford, in one of his letters, says, "I will not leave a stone unturned to try to serve the author of that charming poem."  In a subsequent communication [p.230-1] he says, "The author of the 'Pleasures of Hope' has been here for some time.  I am quite delighted with him.  He is the very spirit of poetry.  On Monday I introduced him to the King's librarian, and I imagine some good may result to him from the introduction."

    In the midst of his plans of docks, canals, and bridges, he wrote letters to his friends about the peculiarities of Goethe's poems and Kotzebue's plays, Roman antiquities, Buonaparte's campaign in Egypt, and the merits of the last new book.  He confessed, however, that his leisure for reading was rapidly diminishing in consequence of the increasing professional demands upon his time; but he bought the 'Encyclopedia Britannica,' which he described as "a perfect treasure, containing everything, and always at hand."  He thus rapidly described the manner in which his time was engrossed.  "A few days since, I attended a general assembly of the canal proprietors in Shropshire.  I have to be at Chester again in a week, upon an arbitration business respecting the rebuilding of the county hall and gaol; but previous to that I must visit Liverpool, and afterwards proceed into Worcestershire.  So you see what sort of a life I have of it.  It is something like Buonaparte, when in Italy, fighting battles at fifty or a hundred miles' distance every other day.  However, plenty of employment is what every professional man is seeking after, and my various occupations now require of me great exertions, which they certainly shall have so long as life and health are spared to me." [p.230-2]

    Amidst all his engagements, Telford found time to make particular inquiry about many poor families formerly known to him in Eskdale, for some of whom he paid house-rent, while he transmitted the means of supplying others with coals, meal, and necessaries, during the severe winter months,—a practice which he continued to the close of his life.




IN an early chapter of this volume we have given a rapid survey of the state of Scotland about the middle of last century.  We found a country without roads, fields lying uncultivated, mines unexplored, and all branches of industry languishing, in the midst of an idle, miserable, and haggard population.  Fifty years passed, and the state of the Lowlands had become completely changed.  Roads had been made, canals dug, coal-mines opened up, iron-works established; manufactures were extending in all directions; and Scotch agriculture, instead of being the worst, was admitted to be the best in the island.

    "I have been perfectly astonished," wrote Romilly from Stirling, in 1793, "at the richness and high cultivation of all the tract of this calumniated country through which I have passed, and which extends quite from Edinburgh to the mountains where I now am.  It is true, however, that almost everything that one sees to admire in the way of cultivation is due to modern improvements; and now and then one observes a few acres of brown moss, contrasting admirably with the corn-fields to which they are contiguous, and affording a specimen of the dreariness and desolation which, only half a century ago, overspread a country now highly cultivated, and become a most copious source of human happiness." [p.233]

    It must, however, be admitted that the industrial progress thus described was confined almost entirely to the Lowlands, and had scarcely penetrated the mountainous regions lying towards the northwest.  The rugged nature of that part of the country interposed a formidable barrier to improvement, and the district still remained very imperfectly opened up.  The only practicable roads were those which had been made by the soldiery after the rebellions of 1715 and '45, through counties which before had been inaccessible except by dangerous footpaths across high and rugged mountains.  An old epigram in vogue at the end of last century ran thus:—

"Had you seen these roads before they were made,
 You'd lift up your hands and bless General Wade!"

    Being constructed by soldiers for military purposes, they were first known as "military roads."  One was formed along the Great Glen of Scotland, in the line of the present Caledonian Canal, connected with the Lowlands by the road through Glencoe by Tyndrum down the western banks of Loch Lomond; another, more northerly, connected Fort Augustus with Dunkeld by Blair Athol; while a third, still further to the north and east, connected Fort George with Cupar-in-Angus by Badenoch and Braemar.


General Wade's Bridge, built in 1733 to the design of architect William Adam
to carry the former military road across the Tay at Aberfeldy.  Picture Wikipedia.

    The military roads were about eight hundred miles in extent, and maintained at the public expense.  But they were laid out for purposes of military occupation rather than for the convenience of the districts which they traversed.  Hence they were comparatively little used, and the Highlanders, in passing from one place to another, for the most part continued to travel by the old cattle tracks along the mountains.  But the population were as yet so poor and so spiritless, and industry was in so backward a state all over the Highlands, that the want of more convenient communications was scarcely felt.

    Though there was plenty of good timber in certain districts, the bark was the only part that could be sent to market, on the backs of ponies, while the timber itself was left to rot upon the ground.  Agriculture was in a surprisingly backward state.  In the remoter districts only a little oats or barley was grown, the chief part of which was required for the sustenance of the cattle during winter.  The Rev. Mr. Macdougall, minister of the parishes of Lochgoilhead and Kilmorich, in Argyleshire, described the people of that part of the country, about the year 1760, as miserable beyond description.  He says, "Indolence was almost the only comfort they enjoyed.  There was scarcely any variety of wretchedness with which they were not obliged to struggle, or rather to which they were not obliged to submit.  They often felt what it was to want food. . . . To such an extremity were they frequently reduced, that they were obliged to bleed their cattle, in order to subsist some time on the blood (boiled); and even the inhabitants of the glens and valleys repaired in crowds to the shore, at the distance of three or four miles, to pick up the scanty provision which the shell-fish afforded them." [p.234]

    The plough had not yet penetrated into the Highlands; an instrument called the cas-chrom [p.235]—literally the "crooked-foot"—the use of which had been forgotten for hundreds of years in every other country in Europe, was almost the only tool employed in tillage in those parts of the Highlands which were separated by almost impassable mountains from the rest of the United Kingdom.

    The native population were by necessity peaceful.  Old feuds were restrained by the strong arm of the law, if indeed the spirit of the clans had not been completely broken by the severe repressive measures which followed the rebellion of Forty-five.  But the people had not yet learnt to bend their backs, like the Sassenach, to the stubborn soil, and they sat gloomily by their turf-fires at home, or wandered away to settle in other lands beyond the seas.  It even began to be feared that the country would soon be entirely depopulated; and it became a matter of national concern to devise methods of opening up the district so as to develop its industry and afford improved means of sustenance for its population.  The poverty of the inhabitants rendered the attempt to construct roads even had they desired them—beyond their scanty means; but the ministry of the day entertained the opinion that, by contributing a certain proportion of the necessary expense, the proprietors of Highland estates might be induced to advance the remainder; and on this principle the construction of the new roads in those districts was undertaken.

    The country lying to the west of the Great Glen was absolutely without a road of any kind.  The only district through which travellers passed was that penetrated by the great Highland road by Badenoch, between Perth and Inverness; and for a considerable time after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745, it was infested by gangs of desperate robbers.  So unsafe was the route across the Grampians, that persons who had occasion to travel it usually made their wills before setting out.  Garrons, or little Highland ponies, were then used by the gentry as well as the peasantry.  Inns were few and bad; and even when postchaises were introduced at Inverness, the expense of hiring one was thought of for weeks, perhaps months, and arrangements were usually made for sharing it among as many individuals as it would contain.  If the harness and springs of the vehicle held together, travellers thought themselves fortunate in reaching Edinburgh, jaded and weary, but safe in purse and limb, on the eighth day after leaving Inverness. [p.237]  Very few persons then travelled into the Highlands on foot, though Bewick, the father of wood-engraving, made such a journey round Loch Lomond in 1775.  He relates that his appearance excited the greatest interest at the Highland huts in which he lodged, the women curiously examining him from head to foot, having never seen an Englishman before.  The strange part of his story is, that he set out upon his journey from Cherryburn, near Newcastle, with only three guineas sewed in his waistband, and when he reached home he had still a few shillings left in his pocket!

    In 1802, Mr. Telford was called upon by the Government to make a survey of Scotland, and report as to the measures which were necessary for the improvement of the roads and bridges of that part of the kingdom, and also on the means of promoting the fisheries on the east and west coasts, with the object of better opening up the country and preventing further extensive emigration.  Previous to this time he had been employed by the British Fisheries Society—of which his friend Sir William Pulteney was Governor—to inspect the harbours at their several stations, and to devise a plan for the establishment of a fishery on the coast of Caithness.  He accordingly made an extensive tour of Scotland, examining, among other harbours, that of Annan; from which he proceeded northward by Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, returning to Shrewsbury by Edinburgh and Dumfries. [p.238-1]  He accumulated a large mass of data for his report, which was sent in to the Fishery Society, with charts and plans, in the course of the following year.

    In July, 1802, he was requested by the Lords of the Treasury, most probably in consequence of the preceding report, to make a further survey of the interior of the Highlands, the result of which he communicated in his report presented to Parliament in the following year.  Although full of important local business, "kept running," as he says, "from town to country, and from country to town, never when awake, and perhaps not always when asleep, have my Scotch surveys been absent from my mind."  He had worked very hard at his report, and hoped that it might be productive of some good.

    The report was duly presented, printed, [p.238-2] and approved; and it formed the starting-point of a system of legislation with reference to the Highlands which extended over many years, and had the effect of completely opening up that romantic but rugged district of country, and extending to its inhabitants the advantages of improved intercourse with the other parts of the kingdom.  Mr. Telford pointed out that the military roads were altogether inadequate to the requirements of the population, and that the use of them was in many places very much circumscribed by the want of bridges over some of the principal rivers.  For instance, the route from Edinburgh to Inverness, through the Central Highlands, was seriously interrupted at Dunkeld, where the Tay is broad and deep, and not always easy to be crossed by means of a boat.  The route to the same place by the east coast was in like manner broken at Fochabers, where the rapid Spey could only be crossed by a dangerous ferry.

    The difficulties encountered by gentlemen of the Bar, in travelling the north circuit about this time, are well described by Lord Cockburn in his 'Memorials.'  "Those who are born to modern travelling," he says, "can scarcely be made to understand how the previous age got on.  The state of the roads may be judged of from two or three facts.  There was no bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld, or over the Spey at Fochabers, or over the Findhorn at Forres.  Nothing but wretched pierless ferries, let to poor cottars, who rowed, or hauled, or pushed a crazy boat across, or more commonly got their wives to do it.  There was no mail-coach north of Aberdeen till, I think, after the battle of Waterloo.  What it must have been a few years before my time may be judged of from Bozzy's 'Letter to Lord Braxfield,' published in 1780.  He thinks that, besides a carriage and his own carriage-horses, every judge ought to have his Sumpter-horse, and ought not to travel faster than the waggon which carried the baggage of the circuit.  I understood from Hope that, after 1784, when he came to the Bar, he and Braxfield rode a whole north circuit; and that, from the Findhorn being in a flood, they were obliged to go up its banks for about twenty-eight miles to the bridge of Dulsie before they could cross.  I myself rode circuits when I was Advocate-Depute between 1807 and 1810.  The fashion of every Depute carrying his own shell on his back, in the form of his own carriage, is a piece of very modern antiquity." [p.240-1]

    North of Inverness, matters were, if possible, still worse.  There was no bridge over the Beauly or the Conan.  The drovers coming south swam the rivers with their cattle.  There being no roads, there was little use for carts.  In the whole county of Caithness, there was scarcely a farmer who owned a wheel-cart.  Burdens were conveyed usually on the backs of ponies, but quite as often on the backs of women. [p.240-2]  The interior of the county of Sutherland being almost inaccessible, the only track lay along the shore, among rocks and sand, and was covered by the sea at every tide.  "The people lay scattered in inaccessible straths and spots among the mountains, where they lived in family with their pigs and kyloes (cattle), in turf cabins of the most miserable description; they spoke only Gaelic, and spent the whole of their time in indolence and sloth.  Thus they had gone on from father to son, with little change, except what the introduction of illicit distillation had wrought, and making little or no export from the country beyond the few lean kyloes, which paid the rent and produced wherewithal to pay for the oatmeal imported." [p.241]

    Telford's first recommendation was, that a bridge should be thrown across the Tay at Dunkeld, to connect the improved lines of road proposed to be made on each side of the river.  He regarded this measure as of the first importance to the Central Highlands; and as the Duke of Athol was willing to pay one-half of the cost of the erection, if the Government would defray the other—the bridge to be free of toll after a certain period—it appeared to the engineer that this was a reasonable and just mode of providing for the contingency.  In the next place, he recommended a bridge over the Spey, which drained a great extent of mountainous country, and, being liable to sudden inundations, was very dangerous to cross.  Yet this ferry formed the only link of communication between the whole of the northern counties.  The site pointed out for the proposed bridge was adjacent to the town of Fochabers, and here also the Duke of Gordon and other county gentlemen were willing to provide one-half of the means for its erection.

    Mr. Telford further described in detail the roads necessary to be constructed in the north and west Highlands, with the object of opening up the western parts of the counties of Inverness and Ross, and affording a ready communication from the Clyde to the fishing lochs in the neighbourhood of the Isle of Skye.  As to the means of executing these improvements, he suggested that Government would be justified in dealing with the Highland roads and bridges as exceptional and extraordinary works, and extending the public aid towards carrying them into effect, as, but for such assistance, the country must remain, perhaps for ages to come, imperfectly opened up.  His report further embraced certain improvements in the harbours of Aberdeen and Wick, and a description of the country through which the proposed line of the Caledonian canal would necessarily pass—a canal which had long been the subject of inquiry, but had not as yet emerged from a state of mere speculation.

    The new roads, bridges, and other improvements suggested by the engineer, excited much interest in the north.  The Highland Society voted him their thanks by acclamation; the counties of Inverness and Ross followed; and he had letters of thanks and congratulation from many of the Highland chiefs.  "If they will persevere," says he, "with anything like their present zeal, they will have the satisfaction of greatly improving a country that has been too long neglected.  Things are greatly changed now in the Highlands.  Even were the chiefs to quarrel, de'il a Highlandman would stir for them.  The lairds have transferred their affections from their people to flocks of sheep, and the people have lost their veneration for the lairds.  It seems to be the natural progress of society; but it is not an altogether satisfactory change.  There were some fine features in the former patriarchal state of society; but now clanship is gone, and chiefs and people are hastening into the opposite extreme.  This seems to me to be quite wrong." [p.242]


    In the same year, Telford was elected a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, on which occasion he was proposed and supported by three professors; so that the former Edinburgh mason was rising in the world and receiving due honour in his own country.  The effect of his report was such, that in the session of 1803 a Parliamentary Commission was appointed, under whose direction a series of practical improvements was commenced, which issued in the construction of not less than 920 additional miles of roads and bridges throughout the Highlands, one-half of the cost of which was defrayed by the Government and the other half by local assessment.  But in addition to these main lines of communication, numberless county roads were formed by statute labour, under local road Acts and by other means; the land-owners of Sutherland alone constructing nearly 300 miles of district roads at their own cost.

    By the end of the session of 1803, Telford received his instructions from Mr. Vansittart as to the working survey he was forthwith required to enter upon, with a view to commencing practical operations; and he again proceeded to the Highlands to lay out the roads and plan the bridges which were most urgently needed.  The district of the Solway was, at his representation, included, with the object of improving the road from Carlisle to Portpatrick—the nearest point at which Great Britain meets the Irish coast, and where the sea passage forms only a sort of wide ferry.

    It would occupy too much space, and indeed it is altogether unnecessary, to describe in detail the operations of the Commission and of their engineer in opening up the communications of the Highlands.  Suffice it to say, that one of the first things taken in hand was the connection of the existing lines of road by means of bridges at the more important points; such as at Dunkeld over the Tay, and near Dingwall over the Conan and Orrin.  That of Dunkeld was the most important, as being situated at the entrance to the Central Highlands; and at the second meeting of the Commissioners Mr. Telford submitted his plan and estimates of the proposed bridge.  In consequence of some difference with the Duke of Athol as to his share of the expense—which proved to be greater than he had estimated—some delay occurred in beginning the work; but at length it was fairly started, and, after being about three years in hand, the structure was finished and opened for traffic in 1809.


    The bridge is a handsome one of five river and two land arches.  The span of the centre arch is go feet, of the two adjoining it 84 feet, and of the two side arches 74 feet; affording a clear waterway of 446 feet.  The total breadth of the roadway and footpaths is 28 feet 6 inches.  The cost of the structure was about £14,000, one-half of which was defrayed by the Duke of Athol.  Dunkeld bridge now forms a fine feature in a landscape not often surpassed, and which presents within a comparatively small compass a great variety of character and beauty.


    The communication by road north of Inverness was also perfected by the construction of a bridge of five arches over the Beauly, and another of the same number over the Conan, the central arch being 65 feet span; and the formerly wretched bit of road between these points having been put in good repair, the town of Dingwall was thenceforward rendered easily approachable from the south.  At the same time, a beginning was made with the construction of new roads through the districts most in need of them.  The first contracted for, was the Loch-na-Gaul road, from Fort William to Arasaig, on the western coast, nearly opposite the island of Egg.  Another was begun from Loch Oich, on the line of the Caledonian Canal, across the middle of the Highlands, through Glengarry, to Loch Hourn on the western sea.  Other roads were opened north and south; through Morvern to Loch Moidart; through Glen Morrison and Glen Sheil, and through the entire Isle of Skye; from Dingwall, eastward, to Lochcarron and Loch Torridon, quite through the county of Ross; and from Dingwall, northward, through the county of Sutherland as far as Tongue on the Pentland Frith; while another line, striking off at the head of the Dornoch Frith, proceeded along the coast in a north-easterly direction to Wick and Thurso, in the immediate neighbourhood of John o' Groats.

    There were numerous other subordinate lines of road which it is unnecessary to specify in detail: but some idea may be formed of their extent, as well as of the rugged character of the country through which they were carried, when we state that they involved the construction of no fewer than twelve hundred bridges.  Several important bridges were also erected at other points to connect existing roads, such as those at Ballater and Potarch over the Dee; at Alford over the Don; and at Craig-Ellachie over the Spey.


Telford's Craigellachie Bridge (1812-14), a cast iron arch bridge across the Spey.
Picture Wikipedia.

    The last-named bridge is a remarkably elegant structure, thrown over the Spey at a point where the river, rushing obliquely against the lofty rock of Craig-Ellachie, [p.247] has formed for itself a deep channel not exceeding fifty yards in breadth.  Only a few years before, there had not been any provision for crossing this river at its lower parts except the very dangerous ferry at Fochabers.  The Duke of Gordon had, however, erected a suspension bridge at that town, and the inconvenience was in a great measure removed.  Its utility was so generally felt, that the demand arose for a second bridge across the river; for there was not another by which it could be crossed for a distance of nearly fifty miles up Strath Spey.


    It was a difficult stream to span by a bridge at any place, in consequence of the violence with which the floods descended at particular seasons.  Sometimes, even in summer, when not a drop of rain had fallen, the flood would come down the Strath in great fury, sweeping everything before it; this remarkable phenomenon being accounted for by the prevalence of a strong south-westerly wind, which blew the loch waters from their beds into the Strath, and thus suddenly filled the valley of the Spey. [p.249-1]  The same phenomenon, similarly caused, is also frequently observed in the neighbouring river, the Findhorn, cooped up in its deep rocky bed, where the water sometimes comes down in a wave six feet high, like a liquid wall, sweeping everything before it.

    To meet such a contingency, it was deemed necessary to provide abundant waterway, and to build a bridge offering as little resistance as possible to the passage of the Highland floods.  Telford accordingly designed for the passage of the river at Craig-Ellachie a light cast-iron arch of 150 feet span, with a rise of 20 feet, the arch being composed of four ribs, each consisting of two concentric arcs forming panels, which are filled in with diagonal bars.  The roadway is 15 feet wide, and is formed of another arc of greater radius, attached to which is the iron railing; the spandrels being filled by diagonal ties, forming trellis-work.  Mr. Robert Stephenson took objection to the two dissimilar arches, as liable to subject the structure, from variations of temperature, to very unequal strains.  Nevertheless this bridge, as well as many others constructed by Mr. Telford after a similar plan, has stood perfectly well, and to this day remains a very serviceable structure.


Craigellachie Bridge. [249-2]  Picture Wikipedia.

    Its appearance is highly picturesque. The scattered pines and beech trees on the side of the impending mountain, the meadows along the valley of the Spey, and the western approach road to the bridge cut deeply into the face of the rock, combine, with the slender appearance of the iron arch, in rendering this spot one of the most remarkable in Scotland. [p.250-1]

    An iron bridge of a similar span to that at Craig-Ellachie had previously been constructed across the head of the Dornoch Frith at Bonar, near the point where the waters of the Shin join the sea.  The very severe trial which this structure sustained from the tremendous blow of an irregular mass of fir-tree logs, consolidated by ice, as well as, shortly after, from the blow of a schooner which drifted against it on the opposite side, and had her two masts knocked off by the collision, gave him every confidence in the strength of this form of construction, and he accordingly repeated it in several of his subsequent bridges, though none of them are comparable in beauty with that of Craig Ellachie. [p.250-2]

    Thus, in the course of eighteen years, 920 miles of capital roads, connected together by no fewer than 1200 bridges, were added to the road communications of the Highlands, at an expense defrayed partly by the localities immediately benefited and partly by the nation.  The effects of these twenty years' operations were such as follow the making of roads everywhere—development of industry and increase of civilisation.  In no districts were the benefits derived from them more marked than in the remote northern counties of Sutherland and Caithness.  The first stage-coaches that ran northward from Perth to Inverness were tried in 1806, and became regularly established in 1811; and by the year 1820 no fewer than forty arrived at the latter town in the course of every week, and the same number departed from it.  Others were established in various directions through the highlands, which were rendered as accessible as any English county.

    Agriculture made rapid progress.  The use of carts became practicable, and manure was no longer carried to the field on women's backs.  Sloth and idleness gradually disappeared before the energy, activity, and industry which were called into life by the improved communications.  Better built cottages took the place of the old mud biggins with holes in their roofs to let out the smoke.  The pigs and cattle were treated to a separate table.  The dunghill was turned to the outside of the house.  Tartan tatters gave place to the produce of Manchester and Glasgow looms; and very soon few young persons were to be found who could not both read and write English.

    But not less remarkable were the effects of the road-making upon the industrial habits of the people.  Before Telford went into the Highlands, they did not know how to work, having never been accustomed to labour continuously and systematically.  Let our engineer himself describe the moral influences of his Highland contracts:—"In these works," says he, "and in the Caledonian Canal, about three thousand two hundred men have been annually employed.  At first, they could scarcely work at all: they were totally unacquainted with labour; they could not use the tools.  They have since become excellent labourers, and of the above number we consider about one-fourth left us annually, taught to work.  These undertakings may, indeed, be regarded in the light of a working academy, from which eight hundred men have annually gone forth improved workmen.  They have either returned to their native districts with the advantage of having used the most perfect sort of tools and utensils (which alone cannot be estimated at less than ten per cent. on any sort of labour), or they have been usefully distributed through the other parts of the country.  Since these roads were made accessible, wheelwrights and cartwrights have been established, the plough has been introduced, and improved tools and utensils are generally used.  The plough was not previously employed; in the interior and mountainous parts they used crooked sticks, with iron on them, drawn or pushed along.  The moral habits of the great masses of the working classes are changed; they see that they may depend on their own exertions for support: this goes on silently, and is scarcely perceived until apparent by the results.  I consider these improvements among the greatest blessings ever conferred on any country.  About two hundred thousand pounds has been granted in fifteen years . It has been the means of advancing the country at least a century."

    The progress made in the Lowland districts of Scotland since the same period has been no less remarkable.  If the state of the country, as we have above described it from authentic documents, be compared with what it is now, it will be found that there are few countries which have accomplished so much within so short a period.  It is usual to cite the United States as furnishing the most extraordinary instance of social progress in modern times.  But America has had the advantage of importing its civilisation for the most part ready made, whereas that of Scotland has been entirely her own creation.  By nature America is rich, and of boundless extent; whereas Scotland is by nature poor, the greater part of her limited area consisting of sterile heath and mountain.  Little more than a century ago, Scotland was considerably in the rear of Ireland.  It was a country almost without agriculture, without mines, without fisheries, without shipping, without money, without roads.  The people were ill-fed, half barbarous, and habitually indolent.  The colliers and salters were veritable slaves, and were subject to be sold together with the estates to which they belonged.

    What do we find now?  Preedial slavery completely abolished; heritable jurisdictions at an end; the face of the country entirely changed; its agriculture acknowledged to be the first in the world its mines and fisheries productive in the highest degree; its banking a model of efficiency and public usefulness; its roads equal to the best roads in England or in Europe.  The people are active and energetic, alike in education, in trade, in manufactures, in construction, in invention.  Watt's invention of the steam-engine, and Symington's invention of the steam-boat, proved a source of wealth and power, not only to their own country, but to the world at large; while Telford, by his roads, bound England and Scotland, before separated, firmly into one, and rendered the union a source of wealth and strength to both.

    At the same time, active and powerful minds were occupied in extending the domain of knowledge,—Adam Smith in Political Economy, Reid and Dugald Stewart in Moral Philosophy, and Black and Robison in Physical Science.  And thus Scotland, instead of being one of the idlest and most backward countries in Europe, has, within the compass of little more than a lifetime, issued in one of the most active, contented, and prosperous,—exercising an amount of influence upon the literature, science, political economy, and industry of modern times, out of all proportion to the natural resources of its soil or the amount of its population.

    If we look for the causes of this extraordinary social progress, we shall probably find the principal to consist in the fact that Scotland, though originally poor as a country, was rich in parish schools, founded under the provisions of an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament in the year 1696.  It was there ordained, "that there be a school settled and established, and a schoolmaster appointed, in every parish not already provided, by advice of the heritors and minister of the parish."  Common day-schools were accordingly provided and maintained throughout the country for the education of children of all ranks and conditions.  The consequence was, that in the course of a few generations, these schools, working steadily upon the minds of the young, all of whom passed under the hands of the teachers, educated the population into a state of intelligence and aptitude greatly in advance of their material well-being; and it is in this circumstance, we apprehend, that the explanation is to be found of the rapid start forward which the whole country took, dating more particularly from the year 1745.  Agriculture was naturally the first branch of industry to exhibit signs of decided improvement; to be speedily followed by like advances in trade, commerce, and manufactures.  Indeed, from that time the country never looked back, but her progress went on at a constantly accelerated rate, issuing in results as marvellous as they have probably been unprecedented.




NO sooner were the Highland roads and bridges in full progress, than attention was directed to the improvement of the harbours round the coast.  Very little had as yet been done for them beyond what nature had effected.  Happily, there was a public fund at disposal—the accumulation of rents and profits derived from the estates forfeited at the rebellion of 1745 which was available for the purpose.  The suppression of the rebellion did good in many ways.  It broke the feudal spirit, which lingered in the Highlands long after it had ceased in every mother part of Britain; it led to the effectual opening up of the country by a system of good roads; and now the accumulated rents of the defeated Jacobite chiefs were about to be applied to the improvement of the Highland harbours for the benefit of the general population.

    The harbour of Wick was one of the first to which Mr. Telford's attention was directed.  Mr. Rennie had reported on the subject of its improvement as early as the year 1793, but his plans were not adopted because their execution was beyond the means of the locality at that time.  The place had now, however, become of considerable importance.  It was largely frequented by Dutch fishermen during the herring season; and it was hoped that, if they could be induced to form a settlement at the place, their example might exercise a beneficial influence upon the population.

    Mr. Telford reported that, by the expenditure of about £5,890, a capacious and well-protected tidal basin might be formed, capable of containing about two hundred herring busses.  The Commission adopted his plan, and voted the requisite funds for carrying out the works, which were begun in 1808.  The new station was named Pulteney Town, in compliment to Sir William Pulteney, the Governor of the Fishery Society; and the harbour was built at a cost of about £12,000, of which £8,500 was granted from the Forfeited Estates Fund.  A handsome stone bridge, erected over the River Wick in 1805, after the design of our engineer, connects these improvements with the older town: it is formed of three arches, having a clear water-way of 156 feet.

    The money was well expended, as the result proved; and Wick is now, we believe, the greatest fishing station in the world.  The place has increased from a little poverty-stricken village to a large and thriving town, which swarms during the fishing season with lowland Scotchmen, fair Northmen, broad-built Dutchmen, and kilted Highlanders.  The bay is at that time frequented by upwards of a thousand fishing-boats, and the take of herrings in some years amounts to more than a hundred thousand barrels.  The harbour has of late years been considerably improved to meet the growing requirements of the herring trade, the principal additions having been carried out, in 1823, by Mr. Bremner, [p.258] a native engineer of great ability.


    Improvements of a similar kind were carried out by the Fishery Board at other parts of the coast, and many snug and convenient harbours were provided at the principal fishing stations in the Highlands and Western Islands.  Where the local proprietors were themselves found expending money in carrying out piers and harbours, the Board assisted them with grants to enable the works to be constructed in the most substantial manner and after the most approved plans.  Thus, along that part of the bold northern coast of the mainland of Scotland which projects into the German Ocean, many old harbours were improved or new ones constructed—as at Peterhead, Frazerburgh, Banff, Cullen, Burgh Head, and Nairn.  At Fortrose, in the Murray Frith; at Dingwall, in the Cromarty Frith; at Portmaholmac, within Tarbet Ness, the remarkable headland of the Frith of Dornoch; at Kirkwall, the principal town and place of resort in the Orkney Islands, so well known from Sir Walter Scott's description of it in the 'Pirate;' at Tobermory, in the island of Mull; and at other points of the coast, piers were erected and other improvements carried out to suit the convenience of the growing traffic and trade of the country.


    The principal works were those connected with the harbours situated upon the line of coast extending from the harbour of Peterhead, in the county of Aberdeen, round to the head of the Murray Frith.  The shores there are exposed to the full force of the seas rolling in from the Northern Ocean; and safe harbours were especially needed for the protection of the shipping passing from north to south.  Wrecks had become increasingly frequent, and harbours of refuge were loudly called for.  At one part of the coast, as many as thirty wrecks had occurred within a very short time, chiefly for want of shelter.


    The situation of Peterhead peculiarly well adapted it for a haven of refuge, and the improvement of the port was early regarded as a matter of national importance.  Not far from it, on the south, are the famous Bullars or Boilers of Buchan—bold rugged rocks, some 200 feet high, against which the sea beats with great fury, boiling and churning in the deep caves and recesses with which they are perforated.  Peterhead stands on the most easterly part of the mainland of Scotland, occupying the north-east side of the bay, and being connected with the country on the northwest by an isthmus only 800 yards broad.  In Cromwell's time, the port possessed only twenty tons of boat tonnage, and its only harbour was a small basin dug out of the rock.  Even down to the close of the sixteenth century the place was but an insignificant fishing village.  It is now a town bustling with trade, having long been the principal seat of the whale fishery, 1500 men of the port being engaged in that pursuit alone; and it sends out ships of its own building to all parts of the world, its handsome and commodious harbours being accessible at all winds to vessels of almost the largest burden.


    It may be mentioned that about sixty years since, the port was formed by the island called Keith Island, situated a small distance eastward from the shore, between which and the mainland an arm of the sea formerly passed.  A causeway had, however, been formed across this channel, thus dividing it into two small bays; after which the southern one had been converted into a harbour by means of two rude piers erected along either side of it.  The north inlet remained without any pier, and being very inconvenient and exposed to the north-easterly winds, it was little used.

    The first works carried out at Peterhead were of a comparatively limited character, the old piers of the south harbour having been built by Smeaton; but improvements proceeded apace with the enterprise and wealth of the inhabitants.  Mr. Rennie, and after him Mr. Telford, fully reported as to the capabilities of the port and the best means of improving it.  Mr. Rennie recommended the deepening of the south harbour and the extension of the jetty of the west pier, at the same time cutting off all projections of rock from Keith Island on the eastward, so as to render the access more easy.  The harbour, when thus finished, would, he estimated, give about 17 feet depth at high water of spring tides.  He also proposed to open a communication across the causeway between the north and south harbours, and form a wet dock between them, 580 feet long and 225 feet wide, the water being kept in by gates at each end.  He further proposed to provide an entirely new harbour, by constructing two extensive piers for the effectual protection of the northern part of the channel, running out one from a rock north of the Green Island, about 680 feet long, and another from the Roan Head, 450 feet long, leaving an opening between them of 70 yards.  This comprehensive plan unhappily could not be carried out at the time for want of funds; but it may be said to have formed the ground-work of all that has been subsequently done for the improvement of the port of Peterhead.

    It was resolved, in the first place, to commence operations by improving the south harbour, and protecting it more effectually from south-easterly winds.  The bottom of the harbour was accordingly deepened by cutting out 30,000 cubic yards of rocky ground; and part of Mr. Rennie's design was carried out by extending the jetty of the west pier, though only for a distance of twenty yards.  These works were executed under Mr. Telford's directions; they were completed by the end of the year 1811, and proved to be of great public convenience.

    The trade of the town, however, so much increased, and the port was found of such importance as a place of refuge for vessels frequenting the north seas, that in 1816 it was determined to proceed with the formation of a harbour on the northern part of the old channel; and the inhabitants having agreed among themselves to contribute to the extent of £10,000 towards carrying out the necessary works, they applied for the grant of a like sum from the Forfeited Estates Fund, which was eventually voted for the purpose.  The plan adopted was on a more limited scale than that proposed by Mr. Rennie; but in the same direction and contrived with the same object,—so that, when completed, vessels of the largest burden employed in the Greenland fishery might be able to enter one or other of the two harbours and find safe shelter, from whatever quarter the wind might blow.

    The works were vigorously proceeded with, and had made considerable progress, when, in October, 1819, a violent hurricane from the north-east, which raged along the coast for several days, and inflicted heavy damage on many of the northern harbours, destroyed a large part of the unfinished masonry and hurled the heaviest blocks into the sea, tossing them about as if they had been pebbles.  The finished work had, however, stood well, and the foundations of the piers under low water were ascertained to have remained comparatively uninjured.  There was no help for it but to repair the damaged work, though it involved a heavy additional cost, one-half of which was borne by the Forfeited Estates Fund and the remainder by the inhabitants  Increased strength was also given to the more exposed parts of the pierwork, and the slope at the sea side of the breakwater was considerably extended. [p.265]  Those alterations in the design were carried out, together with a spacious graving-dock, as shown in the preceding plan, and they proved completely successful, enabling Peterhead to offer an amount of accommodation for shipping of a more effectual kind than was at that time to be met with along the whole eastern coast of Scotland.


    The old harbour of Frazerburgh, situated on a projecting point of the coast at the foot of Mount Kennaird, about twenty miles north of Peterhead, had become so ruinous that vessels lying within it received almost as little shelter as if they had been exposed in the open sea.  Mr. Rennie had prepared a plan for its improvement by running out a substantial north-eastern pier; and this was eventually carried out by Mr. Telford in a modified form, proving of substantial service to the trade of the port.  Since then a large and commodious new harbour has been formed at the place, partly at the public expense and partly at that of the inhabitants, rendering Frazerburgh a safe retreat for vessels of war as well as merchantmen.

    Among the other important harbour works on the north-east coast carried out by Mr. Telford under the Commissioners appointed to administer the funds of the Forfeited Estates, were those at Banff, the execution of which extended over many years; but, though costly, they did not prove of anything like the same convenience as those executed at Peterhead.  The old harbour at the end of the ridge running north and south, on which what is called the "sea town" of Banff is situated, was completed in 1775, when the place was already considered of some importance as a fishing station.


    This harbour occupies the triangular space at the north-eastern extremity of the projecting point of land, at the opposite side of which, fronting the north-west, is the little town and harbour of Macduff.  In 1816, Mr. Telford furnished the plan of a new pier and breakwater, covering the old entrance, which presented an opening to the N.N.E., with a basin occupying the intermediate space.  The inhabitants agreed to defray one half of the necessary cost, and the Commissioners the other; and the plans having been approved, the works were commenced in 1818.  They were in full progress when, unhappily, the same hurricane which in 1819 did so much injury to the works at Peterhead, also fell upon those at Banff, and carried away a large part of the unfinished pier.  This accident had the effect of interrupting the work, as well as increasing its cost; but the whole was successfully completed by the year 1822.  Although the new harbour did not prove very safe, and exhibited a tendency to become silted up with sand, it proved of use in many respects, more particularly in preventing all swell and agitation in the old harbour, which was thereby rendered the safest artificial haven in the Murray Firth.

    It is unnecessary to specify the alterations and improvements of a similar character, adapted to the respective localities, which were carried out by our engineer at Burgh Head, Nairn, Kirkwall, Tarbet, Tobermory, Portmaholmac, Dingwall (with its canal two thousand yards long, connecting the town in a complete manner with the Frith of Cromarty), Cullen, Fortrose, Ballintraed, Portree, Jura, Gourdon, Invergordon, and other places.  Down to the year 1823, the Commissioners had expended £108,530 on the improvements of these several ports, in aid of the local contributions of the inhabitants and adjoining proprietors to a considerably greater extent; the result of which was a great increase in the shipping accommodation of the coast towns, to the benefit of the local population, and of ship-owners and navigators generally.

    Mr. Telford's principal harbour works in Scotland, however, were those of Aberdeen and Dundee, which, next to Leith (the port of Edinburgh), formed the principal havens along the east coast.  The neighbourhood of Aberdeen was originally so wild and barren that Telford expressed his surprise that any class of men should ever have settled there.  An immense shoulder of the Grampian mountains extends down to the sea-coast, where it terminates in a bold, rude promontory.  The country on either side of the Dee, which flows past the town, was originally covered with innumerable granite blocks; one, called Craig Metellan, lying right in the river's mouth, and forming, with the sand, an almost effectual bar to its navigation.  Although, in ancient times, a little cultivable land lay immediately outside the town, the region beyond was as sterile as it is possible for land to be in such a latitude.  "Any wher," says an ancient writer, "after yow pass a myll without the toune, the countrey is barren lyke, the hills craigy, the plaines full of marishes and mosses, the feilds are covered with heather or peeble stops, the corne feilds mixt with thes bot few.  The air is temperat and healthful about it, and it may be that the citizens owe the acuteness of their wits thereunto and their civill inclinations; the lyke not easie to be found under northerlie climats, damped for the most pairt with air of a grosse consistence." [p.271]

    But the old inhabitants of Aberdeen and its neighbourhood were really as rough as their soil.  Judged by their records, they must have been dreadfully haunted by witches and sorcerers down to a comparatively recent period; witch-burning having been common in the town until the end of the sixteenth century.  We find that, in one year, no fewer than twenty-three women and one man were burnt; the Dean of Guild Records containing the detailed accounts of the "loads of peattis, tar barrellis," and other combustibles used in burning them.  The lairds of the Garioch, a district in the immediate neighbourhood, seem to have been still more terrible than the witches, being accustomed to enter the place and make an onslaught upon the citizens, according as local rage and thirst for spoil might incline them.  On one of such occasions, eighty of the inhabitants were killed and wounded. [p.272-1]  Down even to the middle of last century the Aberdonian notions of personal liberty seem to have been very restricted; for between 1740 and 1746 we find that persons of both sexes were kidnapped, put on board ships, and despatched to the American plantations, where they were sold for slaves.  Strangest of all, the men who carried on this slave trade were local dignitaries, one of them being a town's baillie, another the town-clerk depute.  Those kidnapped were openly "driven in flocks through the town, like herds of sheep, under the care of a keeper armed with a whip." [p.272-2]  So open was the traffic that the public workhouse was used for their reception until the ships sailed, and when that was filled, the tolbooth or common prison was made use of.  The vessels which sailed from the harbour for America in 1743 contained no fewer than sixty-nine persons; and it is supposed that, in the six years during which the Aberdeen slave trade was at its height, about six hundred were transported for sale, very few of whom ever returned. [p.272-3]

    This slave traffic was doubtless stimulated by the foreign ships beginning to frequent the port; for the inhabitants were industrious, and their plaiding, linen, and worsted stockings were in much request as articles of merchandise.  Cured salmon were also exported in large quantities.  As early as 1659, a quay was formed along the Dee towards the village of Foot Dee.  "Beyond Futty," says an old writer, "lyes the fisher-boat heavne; and after that, towards the promontorie called Sandenesse, ther is to be seen a grosse bulk of a building, vaulted and flatted above (the Blockhous they call it), begun to be budded anno 1513, for guarding the entree of the harboree from pirats and algarads; and cannon wer planted ther for that purpose, or, at least, that from thence the motions of pirats might be tymouslie foreseen.  This rough piece of work was finished anno 1542, in which yer lykewayes the mouth of the river Dee was locked with cheans of iron and masts of ships crossing the river, not to be opened bot at the citizens' pleasure." [p.273]

    After the Union, but more especially after the rebellion of 1745, the trade of Aberdeen made considerable progress.  Although Burns, in 1787, briefly described the place as a "lazy town," the inhabitants were displaying much energy in carrying out improvements in their port. [p.274]  In 1775 the foundation-stone of the new pier designed by Mr. Smeaton was laid with great ceremony, and, the works proceeding to completion, a new pier, twelve hundred feet long, terminating in a round head, was finished in less than six years.  The trade of the place was, however, as yet too small to justify anything beyond a tidal harbour, and the engineer's views were limited to that object.  He found the river meandering over an irregular space about five hundred yards in breadth; and he applied the only practicable remedy, by confining the channel as much as the limited means placed at his disposal enabled him to do, and directing the land floods so as to act upon and diminish the bar.  Opposite the north pier, on the south side of the river, Smeaton constructed a breast-wall about half the length of the pier.  Owing, however, to a departure from that engineer's plans, by which the pier was placed too far to the north, it was found that a heavy swell entered the harbour, and, to obviate this formidable inconvenience, a bulwark was projected from it, so as to occupy about one third of the channel entrance.

    The trade of the place continuing to increase, Mr. Rennie was called upon, in 1797, to examine and report upon the best means of improving the harbour, when he recommended the construction of floating docks upon the sandy flats called Foot Dee.  Nothing was done at the time, as the scheme was very costly and considered beyond the available means of the locality.  But the magistrates kept the subject in mind; and when Mr. Telford made his report on the best means of improving the harbour in 1801, he intimated that the inhabitants were ready to co-operate with the Government in rendering it capable of accommodating ships of war, as far as their circumstances would permit.

    In 1807, the south pier-head, built by Smeaton, was destroyed by a storm, and the time had arrived when something must be done, not only to improve but even to preserve the port.  The magistrates accordingly proceeded, in 1809, to rebuild the pier-head of cut granite, and at the same time they applied to Parliament for authority to carry out further improvements after the plan recommended by Mr. Telford; and the necessary powers were conferred in the following year.  The new works comprehended a large extension of the wharfage accommodation, the construction of floating and graving docks, increased means of scouring the harbour and ensuring greater depth of water on the bar across the river's mouth, and the provision of a navigable communication between the Aberdeenshire Canal and the new harbour.


    The extension of the north pier was first proceeded with, under the superintendence of John Gibb, the resident engineer; and by the year 1811 the whole length of 300 additional feet had been completed.  The beneficial effects of this extension were so apparent, that a general wish was expressed that it should be carried further; and it was eventually determined to extend the pier 780 feet beyond Smeaton's head, by which not only was much deeper water secured, but vessels were better enabled to clear the Girdleness Point.  This extension was successfully carried out by the end of the year 1812.  A strong breakwater, about 800 feet long, was also run out from the south shore, leaving a space of about 250 feet as an entrance, thereby giving greater protection to the shipping in the harbour, while the contraction of the channel, by increasing the "scour," tended to give a much greater depth of water on the bar.


    The outer head of the pier was seriously injured by the heavy storms of the two succeeding winters, which rendered it necessary to alter its formation to a very flat slope of about five to one all round the head. [p.279]  New wharves were at the same time constructed inside the harbour; a new channel for the river was excavated, which further enlarged the floating space and wharf accommodation; wet and dry docks were added; until at length the quay berthage amounted to not less than 6290 feet, or nearly a mile and a quarter in length.  By these combined improvements an additional extent of quay room was obtained of about 4000 feet; an excellent tidal harbour was formed, in which, at spring tides, the depth of water is about 15 feet; while on the bar it was increased to about 19 feet.  The prosperity of Aberdeen had meanwhile been advancing apace.  The city had been greatly beautified and enlarged: shipbuilding had made rapid progress; Aberdeen clippers became famous, and Aberdeen merchants carried on a trade with all parts of the world; manufactures of wool, cotton, flax, and iron were carried on with great success; its population rapidly increased; and, as a maritime city, Aberdeen took rank as the third in Scotland the tonnage entering the port having increased from 50,000 tons in 1800 to about 300,000 in 1860.


    Improvements of an equally important character were carried out by Mr. Telford in the port of Dundee, also situated on the east coast of Scotland, at the entrance to the Frith of Tay.  There are those still living at the place who remember its former haven, consisting of a crooked wall, affording shelter to only a few fishing-boats or smuggling vessels—its trade being then altogether paltry, scarcely deserving the name, and its population not one-fifth of what it now is.  Helped by its commodious and capacious harbour, it has become one of the most populous and thriving towns on the east coast.


    The trade of the place took a great start forward at the close of the war, and Mr. Telford was called upon to supply the plans of a new harbour.  His first design, which he submitted in 1814, was of a comparatively limited character; but it was greatly enlarged during the progress of the works.  Floating docks were added, as well as graving-docks for large vessels.  The necessary powers were obtained in 1815; the works proceeded vigorously under the Harbour Commissioners, who superseded the old obstructive corporation; and in 1825 the splendid new floating dock—750 feet long by 450 broad, having an entrance-lock 170 feet long and 40 feet wide—was opened to the shipping of all countries.


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