Metcalfe & Telford VI.
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First President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Engraved portrait of from
 Atlas to the Life of Thomas Telford—Civil Engineer (1838).

IT will have been observed, from the preceding narrative, how much had already been accomplished by skill and industry towards opening up the material resources of the kingdom.  The stages of improvement which we have recorded indeed exhibit a measure of the vital energy which has from time to time existed in the nation.  In the earlier periods of engineering history, the war of man was with nature.  The sea was held back by embankments.  The Thames, instead of being allowed to overspread the wide marshes on either bank, was confined within limited bounds, by which the navigable depth of its channel was increased, at the same time that a wide extent of land was rendered available for agriculture.

    In those early days, the great object was to render the land more habitable, comfortable, and productive.  Marshes were reclaimed, and wastes subdued.  But so long as the country remained comparatively closed against communication, and intercourse was restricted by the want of bridges and roads, improvement was extremely slow.  For, while roads are the consequence of civilisation, they are also among its most influential causes.  We have seen even the blind Metcalf acting as an effective instrument of progress in the northern counties by the formation of long lines of road.  Brindley and the Duke of Bridgewater carried on the work in the same districts, and conferred upon the north and north-west of England the blessings of cheap and effective water communication.  Smeaton followed and carried out similar undertakings in still remoter places, joining the east and west coasts of Scotland by the Forth and Clyde Canal, and building bridges in the far north.  Rennie made harbours, built bridges, and hewed out docks for shipping, the increase in which had kept pace with the growth of our home and foreign trade.  He was followed by Telford, whose long and busy life, as we have seen, was occupied in building bridges and making roads in all directions, in districts of the country formerly inaccessible, and therefore comparatively barbarous.  At length the wildest districts of the Highlands and the most rugged mountain valleys of North Wales were rendered as easy of access as the comparatively level counties in the immediate neighbourhood of the metropolis.

    During all this while, the wealth and industry of the country had been advancing with rapid strides.  London had grown in population and importance.  Many improvements had been effected in the river, but the dock accommodation was still found insufficient; and, as the recognised head of his profession, Mr. Telford, though now grown old and fast becoming infirm, was called upon to supply the requisite plans.  He had been engaged upon great works for upwards of thirty years, previous to which he had led the life of a working mason.  But he had been a steady, temperate man all his life; and though nearly seventy, when consulted as to the proposed new docks, his mind was as able to deal with the subject in all its bearings as it had ever been; and he undertook the work.

    In 1824 a new Company was formed to provide a dock nearer to the heart of the City than any of the existing ones.  The site selected was the space between the Tower and the London Docks, which included the property of St. Katherine's Hospital.  The whole extent of land available was only twenty-seven acres of a very irregular figure, so that when the quays and warehouses were laid out, it was found that only about ten acres remained for the docks; but these, from the nature of the ground, presented an unusual amount of quay room.  The necessary Act was obtained in 1825; the works were begun in the following year; and on the 25th of October, 1828, the new docks were completed and opened for business.


    The St. Katherine Docks communicate with the river by means of an entrance tide-lock, 180 feet long and 45 feet wide, with three pairs of gates, admitting either one very large or two small vessels at a time.  The lock-entrance and the sills under the two middle lock-gates were fixed at the depth of ten feet under the level of low water of ordinary spring tides.  The formation of these dock-entrances was a work of much difficulty, demanding great skill on the part of the engineer.  It was necessary to excavate the ground to a great depth below low water for the purpose of getting in the foundations, and the coffer-dams were therefore of great strength, to enable them, when pumped out by the steam-engine, to resist the lateral pressure of forty feet of water at high tide.  The difficulty was, however, effectually overcome, and the wharf walls, locks, sills and bridges of the St. Katherine Docks are generally regarded as a masterpiece of harbour construction.  Alluding to the rapidity with which the works were completed, Mr. Telford says: "Seldom, indeed never within my knowledge, has there been an instance of an undertaking of this magnitude, in a very confined situation, having been perfected in so short a time; but, as a practical engineer, responsible for the success of difficult operations, I must be allowed to protest against such haste, pregnant as it was, and ever will be, with risks, which, in more instances than one, severely taxed all my experience and skill, and dangerously involved the reputation of the directors as well as of their engineer."


St. Katherine's Docks [p.351].
© Copyright Kris and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

    Among the remaining bridges executed by Mr. Telford, towards the close of his professional career, may be mentioned those of Tewkesbury and Gloucester.  The former town is situated on the Severn, at its confluence with the river Avon, about eleven miles above Gloucester.  The surrounding district was rich and populous; but being intersected by a large river, without a bridge, the inhabitants applied to Parliament for powers to provide so necessary a convenience.  The design first proposed by a local architect was a bridge of three arches; but Mr. Telford, when called upon to advise the trustees, recommended that, in order to interrupt the navigation as little as possible, the river should be spanned by a single arch; and he submitted a design of such a character, which was approved and subsequently erected.  It was finished and opened in April, 1826.

    This is one of the largest as well as most graceful of Mr. Telford's numerous cast iron bridges.  It has a single span of 170 feet, with a rise of only 17 feet, consisting of six ribs of about three feet three inches deep, the spandrels being filled in with light diagonal work.  The narrow Gothic arches in the masonry of the abutments give the bridge a very light and graceful appearance, at the same time that they afford an enlarged passage for the high river floods.


Telford's Mythe Bridge (1826) across the River Severn at Tewkesbury.
© Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Plan of the Mythe Bridge, from "Transactions of the Institution of Civil Engineers", published in 1838.  Picture Wikipedia.

    The bridge at Gloucester consists of one large stone arch of 150 feet span.  It replaced a structure of great antiquity, of eight arches, which had stood for about 600 years.  The roadway over it was very narrow, and the number of piers in the river and the small dimensions of the arches offered considerable obstruction to the navigation.  To give the largest amount of waterway, and at the same time reduce the gradient of the road over the bridge to the greatest extent, Mr. Telford adopted the following expedient.  He made the general body of the arch an ellipse, 150 feet on the chord-line and 35 feet rise, while the voussoirs, or external archstones, being in the form of a segment, have the same chord, with only 13 feet rise.  "This complex form," says Mr. Telford, "converts each side of the vault of the arch into the shape of the entrance of a pipe, to suit the contracted passage of a fluid, thus lessening the flat surface opposed to the current of the river whenever the tide or upland flood rises above the springing of the middle of the ellipse, that being at four feet above low water, whereas the flood of 1770 rose twenty feet above low water of an ordinary spring-tide, which, when there is no upland flood, rises only eight or nine feet." [p.353]  The bridge was finished and opened in 1828.


    The last structures erected after our engineer's designs were at Edinburgh and Glasgow: his Dean Bridge at the former place, and his Jamaica Street Bridge at the latter, being regarded as among his most successful works.  Since his employment as a journeyman mason at the building of the houses in Princes Street, Edinburgh, the New Town had spread in all directions.  At each visit to it on his way to or from the Caledonian Canal or the northern harbours, he had been no less surprised than delighted at the architectural improvements which he found going forward.  A new quarter had risen up during his lifetime, and had extended northward and westward in long lines of magnificent buildings of freestone, until in 1829 its further progress was checked by the deep ravine running along the back of the New Town, in the bottom of which runs the little Water of Leith.  It was determined to throw a stone bridge across this stream, and Telford was called upon to supply the design.  The point of crossing the valley was immediately behind Moray Place, which stands almost upon its verge, the sides being bold, rocky, and finely wooded.  The situation was well adapted for a picturesque structure, such as Telford was well able to supply.  The depth of the ravine to be spanned involved great height in the piers, the roadway being 106 feet above the level of the stream.  The bridge was of four arches of 90 feet span each, and its total length 447 feet; the breadth between the parapets for the purposes of the roadway and footpaths being 39 feet. [354]  It was completed and opened in December, 1831.


Dean Bridge, Edinburgh.
© Copyright Dr Duncan Pepper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

    But the most important, as it was the last, of Mr. Telford's stone bridges was that erected across the Clyde at the Broomielaw, Glasgow.  Little more than fifty years since, the banks of the river at that place were literally covered with broom—and hence its name—while the stream was scarcely deep enough to float a herring-buss.  Now, the Broomielaw is a quay frequented by ships of the largest burden, and bustling with trade and commerce.  Skill and enterprise have deepened the Clyde, dredged away its shoals, built quays and wharves along its banks, and rendered it one of the busiest streams in the world.  It has become a great river thoroughfare, worked by steam.  On its waters the first steamboat ever constructed for purposes of traffic in Europe was launched by Henry Bell in 1812; and the Clyde boats to this day enjoy the highest prestige.

    The deepening of the river at the Broomielaw had led to a gradual undermining of the foundations of the old bridge, which was situated close to the principal landing-place.  A little above it, was an ancient overfall weir, which had also contributed to scour away the foundations of the piers.  Besides, the bridge was felt to be narrow, inconvenient, and ill-adapted for accommodating the immense traffic passing across the Clyde at that point.  It was, therefore, determined to take down the old structure, and build a new one; and Mr. Telford was called upon to supply the design.  The foundation was laid with great ceremony on the 18th of March, 1833, and the new bridge was completed and opened on the 1st of January, 1836, rather more than a year after the engineer's death.  It is a very fine work, consisting of seven arches, segments of circles, the central arch being 58 feet 6 inches; the span of the adjoining arches diminishing to 57 feet 9 inches, 55 feet 6 inches, and 52 feet respectively.  It is 560 feet in length, with an open waterway of 389 feet, and its total width of carriageway and footpath is 60 feet, or wider, at the time it was built, than any river bridge in the kingdom. [p.355]

    Like most previous engineers of eminence—like Perry, Brindley, Smeaton, and Rennie—Mr. Telford was in the course of his life extensively employed in the drainage of the Fen districts.  He had been jointly concerned with Mr. Rennie in carrying out the important works of the Eau Brink Cut, and at Mr. Rennie's death he succeeded to much of his practice as consulting engineer.


    It was principally in designing and carrying out the drainage of the North Level that Mr. Telford distinguished himself in Fen drainage.  The North Level includes all that part of the Great Bedford Level situated between Morton's Learn and the river Welland, comprising about 48,000 acres of land.  The river Nene, which brings down from the interior the rainfall of almost the entire county of Northampton, flows through nearly the centre of the district.  In some places the stream is confined by embankments, in others it flows along artificial cuts, until it enters the great estuary of the Wash, about five miles below Wisbeach.  This town is situated on another river which flows through the Level, called the Old Nene.  Below the point of junction of these rivers with the Wash, and still more to seaward, was South Holland Sluice, through which the waters of the South Holland Drain entered the estuary.  At that point a great mass of silt had accumulated, which tended to choke up the mouths of the rivers further inland, rendering their navigation difficult and precarious, and seriously interrupting the drainage of the whole lowland district traversed by both the Old and New Nene.  Indeed the sands were accumulating at such a rate, that the outfall of the Wisbeach River threatened to become completely destroyed.

    Such being the state of things, it was determined to take the opinion of some eminent engineer, and Mr. Rennie was employed to survey the district and recommend a measure for the remedy of these great evils.  He performed this service in his usually careful and masterly manner; but as the method which he proposed, complete though it was, would have seriously interfered with the trade of Wisbeach, by leaving it out of the line of navigation and drainage which he proposed to open up, the corporation of that town determined to employ another engineer; and Mr. Telford was selected to examine and report upon the whole subject, keeping in view the improvement of the river immediately adjacent to the town of Wisbeach.

    Mr. Telford confirmed Mr. Rennie's views to a large extent, more especially with reference to the construction of an entirely new outfall, by making an artificial channel from Kindersley's Cut to Crab-Hole Eye anchorage, by which a level lower by nearly twelve feet would be secured for the outfall waters; but he preferred leaving the river open to the tide as high as Wisbeach, rather than place a lock with draw-doors at Lutton Leam Sluice, as had been proposed by Mr. Rennie.  He also suggested that the acute angle at the Horseshoe he cut off and the river deepened up to the bridge at Wisbeach, making a new cut along the bank on the south side of the town, which should join the river again immediately above it, thereby converting the intermediate space, by draw-doors and the usual contrivances, into a floating dock.  Though this plan was approved by the parties interested in the drainage, to Telford's great mortification it was opposed by the corporation of Wisbeach, and like so many other excellent schemes for the improvement of the Fen districts, it eventually fell to the ground.

    The cutting of a new outfall for the river Nene, however, could not much longer be delayed without great danger to the reclaimed lands of the North Level, which, but for some relief of the kind, must shortly have become submerged and reduced to their original waste condition.  The subject was revived in 1822, and Mr. Telford was again called upon, in conjunction with Sir John Rennie, whose father had died in the preceding year, to submit a plan of a new Nene Outfall; but it was not until the year 1827 that the necessary Act was obtained, and then only with great difficulty and cost, in consequence of the opposition of the town of Wisbeach.  The works consisted principally of a deep cut or canal, about six miles in length, penetrating far through the sandbanks into the deep waters of the Wash.  They were begun in 1828, and brought to completion in 1830, with the most satisfactory results.  A greatly improved outfall was secured by thus carrying the mouths of the rivers out to sea, and the drainage of the important agricultural districts through which the Nene flows was greatly benefited; while at the same time nearly 6,000 acres of valuable corn-growing land were added to the county of Lincoln.

    But the opening of the Nene Outfall was only the first of a series of improvements which eventually included the whole of the valuable lands of the North Level, in the district situated between the Nene and the Welland.  The opening at Gunthorpe Sluice, which was the outfall for the waters of the Holland Drain, was not less than eleven feet three inches above low water at Crab-Hole; and it was therefore obvious that by lowering this opening a vastly improved drainage of the whole of the level district, extending from twenty to thirty miles inland, for which that sluice was the artificial outlet, would immediately be secured.  Urged by Mr. Telford, an Act for the purpose of carrying out the requisite improvement was obtained in 1830, and the excavations having been begun shortly after, were completed in 1834.

    A new cut was made from Clow's Cross to Gunthorpe Sluice, in place of the winding course of the old Shire Drain; besides which, a bridge was erected at Cross Keys, or Sutton Wash, and an embankment was made across the Salt Marshes, forming a high road, which, with the bridges previously erected at Fossdyke and Lynn, effectually connected the counties of Norfolk and Lincoln.  The result of the improved outfall was what the engineer had predicted.  A thorough natural drainage was secured for an extensive district, embracing nearly a hundred thousand acres of fertile land, which had before been very ineffectually though expensively cleared of the surplus water by means of wind-mills and steam-engines.  The productiveness of the soil was greatly increased, and the health and comfort of the inhabitants promoted to an extent that surpassed all previous expectation.

    The whole of the new cuts were easily navigable, being from 140 to 200 feet wide at bottom, whereas the old outlets had been variable and were often choked with shifting sand.  The district was thus effectually opened up for navigation, and a convenient transit afforded for coals and other articles of consumption.  Wisbeach became accessible to vessels of much larger burden, and in the course of a few years after the construction of the Nene Outfall, the trade of the port had more than doubled.  Mr. Telford himself, towards the close of his life, spoke with natural pride of the improvements which he had thus been in so great a measure instrumental in carrying out, and which had so materially promoted the comfort, prosperity, and welfare of a very extensive district. [p.362]

    We may mention, as a remarkable effect of the opening of the new outfall, that in a few hours the lowering of the waters was felt throughout the whole of the Fen level.  The sluggish and stagnant drains, cuts, and learns in far distant places, began actually to flow; and the sensation created was such, that at Thorney, near Peterborough, some fifteen miles from the sea, the intelligence penetrated even to the congregation then sitting in church—for it was Sunday morning—that "the waters were running!" when immediately the whole flocked out, parson and all, to see the great sight, and acknowledge the blessings of science.  A humble Fen poet of the last century thus quaintly predicted the moral results likely to arise from the improved drainage of his native district:—

"With a change of elements suddenly
 There shall a change of men and manners be;
 Hearts thick and tough as hides shall feel remorse,
 And souls of sedge shall understand discourse;
 New hands shall learn to work, forget to steal,
 New legs shall go to church, new knees to kneel."

    The prophecy has indeed been fulfilled.  The barbarous race of Fen-men has disappeared before the skill of the engineer.  As the land has been drained, the half-starved fowlers and fen-roamers have subsided into the ranks of steady industry—become farmers, traders, and labourers.  The plough has passed over the bed of Holland Fen, and the agriculturist reaps his increase more than a hundred fold.  Wide watery wastes, formerly abounding in fish, are now covered with waving crops of corn every summer.  Sheep graze on the dry bottom of Whittlesea Mere, and kine low where not many years since the silence of the waste was only disturbed by the croaking of frogs and the screaming of wild fowl.  All this has been the result of the science of the engineer, the enterprise of the landowner, and the industry of our peaceful army of skilled labourers. [p.364]




Robert Southey (1774-1843):
English poet and author.  Poet Laureate 1813-43.
Picture Wikipedia.

WHILE Telford's Highland works were in full progress, he persuaded his friend Southey, the Poet Laureate, to accompany him on one of his visits of inspection, as far north as the county of Sutherland, in the autumn of 1819.  Mr. Southey, as was his custom, made careful notes of the tour, which have been preserved, [p.365-1] and consist in a great measure of an interesting résumé of the engineer's operations in harbour-making, road-making, and canal-making north of the Tweed.

    Southey reached Edinburgh by the Carlisle mail about the middle of August, and was there joined by Mr. Telford, and Mr. and Mrs. Rickman, [p.365-2] who were to accompany him on the journey.  They first proceeded to Linlithgow, Bannockburn, [p.365-3] Stirling, Callender, the Trosachs, and round by the head of Loch Earn to Killin, Kenmore, and by Aberfeldy to Dunkeld.  At the latter place, the poet admired Telford's beautiful bridge, which forms a fine feature in the foreground of the incomparable picture which the scenery of Dunkeld always presents in whatever aspect it is viewed.


Telford's bridge across the Tay, Dunkeld.
© Copyright Elliott Simpson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

    From Dunkeld the party proceeded to Dundee, along the left bank of the Firth of Tay.  The works connected with the new harbour were in active progress, and the engineer lost no time in taking his friend to see them.  Southey's account is as follows:—

    "Before breakfast I went with Mr. Telford to the harbour, to look at his works, which are of great magnitude and importance: a huge floating dock, and the finest graving dock I ever saw.  The town expends £70,000 on these improvements, which will be completed in another year.  What they take from the excavations serves to raise ground which was formerly covered by the tide, but will now be of the greatest value for wharfs, yards, &c.  The local authorities originally proposed to build fifteen piers, but Telford assured them that three would be sufficient; and, in telling me this, he said the creation of fifteen new Scotch peers was too strong a measure. . .

    "Telford's is a happy life; everywhere making roads, building bridges, forming canals, and creating harbours—works of sure, solid, permanent utility; everywhere employing a great number of persons, selecting the most meritorious, and putting them forward in the world in his own way."

    After the inspection at Dundee was over, the party proceeded on their journey northward, along the east coast:—

    "Near Gourdon or Bervie harbour, which is about a mile and a half on this side the town, we met Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Gibbs, two of Mr. Telford's aides-de-camp, who had come thus far to meet him.  The former he calls his 'Tartar,' from his cast of countenance, which is very much like a Tartar's, as well as from his Tartar-like mode of life; for, in his office of overseer of the roads, which are under the management of the Commissioners, he travels on horseback not less than 6,000 miles a year.  Mr. Telford found him in the situation of a working mason, who could scarcely read or write; but noticing him for his good conduct, his activity, and his firm steady character, he has brought him forward; and Mitchell now holds a post of respectability and importance, and performs his business with excellent ability."

    After inspecting the little harbour of Bervie, one of the first works of the kind executed by Telford for the Commissioners, the party proceeded by Stonehaven, and from thence along the coast to Aberdeen.  Here the harbour works were visited and admired:—

    "The quay," says Southey, "is very fine; and Telford has carried out his pier 900 feet beyond the point where Smeaton's terminated.  This great work, which has cost £100,000, protects the entrance of the harbour from the whole force of the North Sea.  A ship was entering it at the time of our visit, the 'Prince of Waterloo.'  She had been to America; had discharged her cargo at London; and we now saw her reach her own port in safety—a joyous and delightful sight."

    The next point reached was Banff, along the Don and the line of the Inverury Canal:—

    "The approach to Banff is very fine," [p.367] says Southey, "by the Earl of Fife's grounds, where the trees are surprisingly grown, considering how near they are to the North Sea; Duff House—a square, odd, and not unhandsome pile, built by Adams (one of the Adelphi brothers), some forty years ago; a good bridge of seven arches by Smeaton; the open sea, not as we had hitherto seen it, grey under a leaden sky, but bright and blue in the sunshine; Banff on the left of the bay; the River Doveran almost lost amid banks of shingle, where it enters the sea; a white and tolerably high shore extending eastwards; a kirk, with a high spire which serves as a seamark; and, on the point, about a mile to the east, the town of Macduff.  At Banff, we at once went to the pier, about half finished, on which £15,000 will be expended, to the great benefit of this clean, cheerful, and active little town.  The pier was a busy scene; hand-carts going to and fro over the railroads, cranes at work charging and discharging, plenty of workmen, and fine masses of red granite from the Peterhead quarries.  The quay was almost covered with barrels of herrings, which women were busily employed in salting and packing."

    The next visit was paid to the harbour works at Cullen, which were sufficiently advanced to afford improved shelter for the fishing vessels of the little port:—

    "When I stood upon the pier at low water," says Southey, "seeing the tremendous rocks with which the whole shore is bristled, and the open sea to which the place is exposed, it was with a proud feeling that I saw the first talents in the world employed by the British Government in works of such unostentatious, but great, immediate, palpable, and permanent utility.  Already their excellent effects are felt.  The fishing vessels were just coming in, having caught about 300 barrels of herrings during the night. . .

    "However the Forfeited Estates Fund may have been misapplied in past times, the remainder could not be better invested than in these great improvements.  Wherever a pier is needed, if the people or the proprietors of the place will raise one-half the necessary funds, Government supplies the other half.  On these terms, £20,000 are expending at Peterhead, and £14,000 at Frazerburgh; and the works which we visited at Bervie and Banff, and many other such along this coast, would never have been undertaken without such aid; public liberality thus inducing private persons to tax themselves heavily, and expend with a good will much larger sums than could have been drawn from them by taxation."

    From Cullen, the travellers proceeded in gigs to Fochabers, thence by Craigellachie Bridge, which Southey greatly admired, along Speyside, to Ballindalloch and Inverallen, where Telford's new road was in course of construction across the moors towards Forres.  The country for the greater part of the way was a wild waste, nothing but mountains and heather to be seen; yet the road was as perfectly made and maintained as if it had lain through a very Goschen.  The next stages were to Nairn and Inverness, from whence they proceeded to view the important works constructed at the crossing of the River Beauly:—

    "At Lovat Bridge," says Southey, "we turned aside and went four miles up the river, along the Strathglass road—one of the new works, and one of the most remarkable, because of the difficulty of constructing it, and also because of the fine scenery which it commands. . . .

    "Lovat Bridge, by which we returned, is a plain, handsome structure of five arches, two of 40 feet span, two of 50, and the centre one of 6o.  The curve is as little as possible.  I learnt in Spain to admire straight bridges; but Mr. Telford thinks there always ought to be some curve to enable the rain water to run off, and because he would have the outline look like the segment of a large circle, resting on the abutments.  A double line over the arches gives a finish to the bridge, and perhaps looks as well, or almost as well, as balustrades, for not a sixpence has been allowed for ornament on these works.  The sides are protected by water-wings, which are embankments of stone, to prevent the floods from extending on either side, and attacking the flanks of the bridge."

    Nine miles further north, they arrived at Dingwall, near which a bridge similar to that at Beauly, though wider, had been constructed over the Conan.  From thence they proceeded to Invergordon, to Ballintraed (where another pier for fishing boats was in progress), to Tain, and thence to Bonar Bridge, over the Sheir, twenty-four miles above the entrance to the Dornoch Frith, where an iron bridge, after the same model as that of Craigellachie, had been erected.  This bridge is of great importance, connecting as it does the whole of the road traffic of the northern counties with the south.  Southey speaks of it as

    "A work of such paramount utility that it is not possible to look at it without delight.  A remarkable anecdote," he continues, "was told me concerning it.  An inhabitant of Sutherland, whose father was drowned at the Mickle Ferry (some miles below the bridge) in 1809, could never bear to set foot in a ferry-boat after the catastrophe, and was consequently cut off from communication with the south until this bridge was built.  He then set out on a journey.  'As I went along the road by the side of the water,' said he, 'I could see no bridge.  At last I came in sight of something like a spider's web in the air.  If this be it, thought I, it will never do!  But, presently, I came upon it; and oh! it is the finest thing that ever was made by God or man!'"

    Sixteen miles north-east of Bonar Bridge, Southey crossed Fleet Mound, another ingenious work of his friend Telford, but of an altogether different character.  It was thrown across the River Fleet, at the point at which it ran into the estuary or little land-locked bay outside, known as Loch Fleet.  At this point there had formerly been a ford; but as the tide ran far inland, it could only be crossed at low water, and travellers had often to wait for hours before they could proceed on their journey.  The embouchure being too wide for a bridge, Telford formed an embankment across it, 990 yards in length, providing four flood-gates, each 12 feet wide, at its north end, for the egress of the inland waters.  These gates opened outwards, and they were so hung as to shut with the rising of the tide.  The holding back of the sea from the land inside the mound by this means, had the effect of reclaiming a considerable extent of fertile carse land, which, at the time of Southey's visit,—though the work had only been completed the year before,—was already under profitable cultivation.  The principal use of the mound, however, was in giving support to the fine broad road which ran along its summit, and thus completed the communication with the country to the north.  Southey speaks in terms of high admiration of "the simplicity, the beauty, and utility of this great work."

    This was the furthest limit of their journey, and the travellers retraced their steps southward, halting at Clashmore Inn:—

    "At breakfast," says Southey, "was a handsome set of Worcester china.  Upon noticing it to Mr. Telford, he told me that before these roads were made, he fell in with some people from Worcestershire near the Ord of Caithness, on their way northward with a cart load of crockery, which they got over the mountains as best they could; and, when they had sold all their ware, they laid out the money in black cattle, which they then drove to the south."

    The rest of Southey's journal is mainly occupied with a description of the scenery of the Caledonian Canal, and the principal difficulties encountered in the execution of the works, which were still in active progress.  He was greatly struck with the flight of locks at the south end of the Canal, where it enters Loch Ell near Corpach:—

    "There being no pier yet formed," he says, "we were carried to and from the boats on men's shoulders.  We landed close to the sea shore.  A sloop was lying in the fine basin above, and the canal was full as far as the Staircase, a name given to the eight successive locks.  Six of these were full and overflowing; and then we drew near enough to see persons walking over the lock-gates.  It had more the effect of a scene in a pantomime than of anything in real life.  The rise from lock to lock is eight feet,—sixty-four, therefore, in all.  The length of the locks, including the gates and abutments at both ends, is 500 yards;—the greatest piece of such masonry in the world, and the greatest work of the kind beyond all comparison.

    "A panorama painted from this place would include the highest mountain in Great Britain, and its greatest work of art.  That work is one of which the magnitude and importance become apparent, when considered in relation to natural objects.  The Pyramids would appear insignificant in such a situation, for in them we should perceive only a vain attempt to vie with greater things.  But here we see the powers of nature brought to act upon a great scale, in subservience to the purposes of men; one river created, another (and that a huge mountain-stream) shouldered out of its place, and art and order assuming a character of sublimity.  Sometimes a beck is conducted under the canal, and passages called culverts serve as a roadway for men and beasts.  We walked through one of these, just lofty enough for a man of my stature to pass through with his hat on.  It had a very singular effect to see persons emerging from this dark, long, narrow vault.

    "Sometimes a brook is taken in; a cesspool is then made to receive what gravel it may bring down after it has passed this pool, the water flowing through three or four little arches, and then over a paved bed and wall of masonry into the canal.  These are called in-takes, and opposite them an outlet is sometimes made for the waters of the canal, if they should be above their proper level; or when the cross-stream may bring down a rush.  These outlets consist of two inclined planes of masonry, one rising from the canal with a pavement or waste weir between them; and when the cross-stream comes down like a torrent, instead of mingling with the canal, it passes straight across.  But these channels would be insufficient for carrying off the whole surplus waters in time of floods. At one place, therefore, there are three sluices by which the whole canal from the Staircase to the Regulating Lock (about six miles) can be lowered a foot in an hour.

    "The sluices were opened that we might see their effect.  We went down the bank, and made our way round some wet ground till we got in front of the strong arch into which they open.  The arch is about 25 feet high, of great strength, and built upon the rock. What would the Bourbons have given for such a cascade at Versailles?  The rush and the spray, and the force of the water, reminded me more of the Reichenbach than of any other fall.  That three small sluices, each only 4 feet by 3 feet, should produce an effect which brought the mightiest of the Swiss waterfalls to my recollection, may appear incredible, or at least like an enormous exaggeration.  But the prodigious velocity with which the water is forced out, by the pressure above, explains the apparent wonder.  And yet I beheld it only in half its strength; the depth above being at this time ten feet, which will be twenty when the canal is completed.  In a few minutes a river was formed of no inconsiderable breadth, which ran like a torrent into the Lochy.

"On this part of the canal everything is completed, except that the iron bridges for it, which are now on their way, are supplied by temporary ones. When the middle part shall be finished, the Lochy, which at present flows in its own channel above the Regulating Lock, will be dammed there, and made to join the Speyne by a new cut from the lake. The cut is made, and a fine bridge built over it. We went into the cut and under the bridge, which is very near the intended point of junction. The string-courses were encrusted with stalactites in a manner singularly beautiful. Under the arches a strong mound of solid masonry is built to keep the water in dry seasons at a certain height; but in that mound a' gap is left for the salmon, and a way made through the rocks from the Speyne to this gap, which they will soon find out."

    Arrived at Dumbarton, Southey took leave of John Mitchell, who had accompanied him throughout the tour, and for whom he seems to have entertained the highest admiration:—

    "He is indeed," says Southey, " a remarkable man, and well deserving to be remembered.  Mr. Telford found him a working mason, who could scarcely read or write.  But his good sense, his excellent conduct, his steadiness and perseverance have been such, that he has been gradually raised to be Inspector of all these Highland roads which we have visited, and all of which are under the Commissioners' care—an office requiring a rare union of qualities, among others inflexible integrity, a fearless temper, and an indefatigable frame.  Perhaps no man ever possessed these requisites in greater perfection than John Mitchell.   Were but his figure less Tartarish and more gaunt, he would be the very 'Talus' of Spenser.  Neither frown nor favour, in the course of fifteen years, have ever made him swerve from the fair performance of his duty, though the lairds with whom he has to deal have omitted no means of making him enter into their views, and to do things or leave them undone, as might suit their humour or interest.  They have attempted to cajole and to intimidate him alike in vain.  They have repeatedly preferred complaints against him in the hope of getting him removed from his office, and a more flexible person appointed in his stead; and they have not unfrequently threatened him with personal violence.  Even his life has been menaced.  But Mitchell holds right on.  In the midst of his most laborious life, he has laboured to improve himself with such success, that he has become a good accountant, makes his estimates with facility, and carries on his official correspondence in an able and highly intelligent manner.  In the execution of his office he travelled last year not less than 8,800 miles, and every year he travels nearly as much.  Nor has this life, and the exposure to all winds and weathers, and the temptations either of company or of solicitude at the houses at which he puts up, led him into any irregularities.  Neither has his elevation in the slightest degree inflated him.  He is still the same temperate, industrious, modest, unassuming man, as when his good qualities first attracted Mr. Telford's notice."

    Southey concludes his journal at Longtown, a little town just across the Scotch Border, in the following words:—

    "Here we left Mr. Telford, who takes the mail for Edinburgh.  This parting company, after the thorough intimacy which a long journey produces between fellow-travellers who like each other, is a melancholy thing.  A man more heartily to be liked, more worthy to be esteemed and admired, I have never fallen in with; and therefore it is painful to think how little likely it is that I shall ever see much of him again,—how certain that I shall never see so much.  Yet I trust that he will not forget his promise of one day making Keswick in his way to and from Scotland."

    Before leaving the subject of Telford's public works in the Highlands, it may be mentioned that 875 miles of new roads were planned by him, and executed under his superintendence, at an expense of £454,189, of which about one-half was granted by Parliament, and the remainder was raised by the localities benefited.  Besides the new roads, 255 miles of the old military roads were taken in charge by him, and in many cases reconstructed and greatly improved.  The bridges erected in connexion with these roads were no fewer than twelve hundred.  Telford also between the year 1823 and the close of his life, built forty-two Highland churches in districts formerly unprovided with them, and capable of accommodating some 22,000 persons.

    Down to the year 1854, the Parliamentary grant of £5,000 a year charged upon the Consolidated Fund to meet assessments and tolls of the Highland roads, amounting to about £7,500 a year, was transferred to the annual Estimates, when it became the subject of annual revision; and a few years since the grant was suddenly extinguished by an adverse vote of the House of Commons.  The Board of Commissioners had, therefore, nothing left but to deliver over the roads to the several local authorities, and the harbours to the proprietors of the adjacent lands, and to present to Parliament a final account of their work and its results.  Reviewing the whole, they say that the operations of the Commission have been most beneficial to the country concerned.  They "found it barren and uncultivated, inhabited by heritors without capital or enterprise, and by a poor and ill-employed peasantry, and destitute of trade, shipping, and manufactures.  They leave it with wealthy proprietors, a profitable agriculture, a thriving population, and active industry; furnishing now its fair proportion of taxes to the national exchequer, and helping by its improved agriculture to meet the ever-increasing wants of the populous south."




WHEN Mr. Telford had occasion to visit London on business during the early period of his career, his quarters were at the Salopian Coffee House, now the Ship Hotel, at Charing Cross.  It is probable that his Shropshire connections led him in the first instance to the 'Salopian;' but the situation being near to the Houses of Parliament, and in many respects convenient for the purposes of his business, he continued to live there for no less a period than twenty-one years.  During that time the Salopian became a favourite resort of engineers and not only Telford's provincial associates, but numerous visitors from abroad (where his works attracted even more attention than they did in England) took their quarters there.  Several apartments were specially reserved for Telford's exclusive use, and he could always readily command any additional accommodation for purposes of business or hospitality.

    The successive landlords of the Salopian came to regard the engineer as a fixture, and even bought and sold him from time to time with the goodwill of the business.  When he at length resolved, on the persuasion of his friends, to take a house of his own, and gave notice of his intention of leaving, the landlord, who had but recently entered into possession, almost stood aghast.  "What! leave the house!" said he; "Why, Sir, I have just paid £750 for you!"  On explanation it appeared that this price had actually been paid by him to the outgoing landlord, on the assumption that Mr. Telford was a fixture of the hotel; the previous tenant having paid £450 for him; the increase in the price marking very significantly the growing importance of the engineer's position.  There was, however, no help for the disconsolate landlord, and Telford left the Salopian to take possession of his new house at 24, Abingdon Street.  Labelye, the engineer of Westminster Bridge, had formerly occupied the dwelling; and, at a subsequent period, Sir William Chambers, the architect of Somerset House.  Telford used to take much pleasure in pointing out to his visitors the painting of Westminster Bridge, impanelled in the wall over the parlour mantelpiece, made for Labelye by an Italian artist whilst the bridge works were in progress.  In that house Telford continued to live until the close of his life.

    One of the subjects in which he took much interest during his later years was the establish-men of the Institute of Civil Engineers.  In 1818 a Society had been formed, consisting principally of young men educated to civil and mechanical engineering, who occasionally met to discuss matters of interest relating to their profession.  As early as the time of Smeaton, a social meeting of engineers was occasionally held at an inn in Holborn, which was discontinued in 1792, in consequence of some personal differences amongst the members.  It was revived in the following year, under the auspices of Mr. Jessop, Mr. Naylor, Mr. Rennie, and Mr. Whitworth, and joined by other gentlemen of scientific distinction.  They were accustomed to dine together every fortnight at the Crown and Anchor in the Strand, spending the evening in conversation on engineering subjects.  But as the numbers and importance of the profession increased, the desire began to be felt, especially among the junior members of the profession, for an institution of a more enlarged character.  Hence the movement above alluded to, which led to an invitation being given to Mr. Telford to accept the office of President of the proposed Engineers' Institute.  To this he consented, and entered upon the duties of the office on the 21st of March, 1820. [p.379-1]

    During the remainder of his life, Mr. Telford continued to watch over the progress of the Society, which gradually grew in importance and usefulness.  He supplied it with the nucleus of a reference library, now become of great value to its members.  He established the practice of recording the proceedings, [p.379-2] minutes of discussions, and substance of the papers read, which has led to the accumulation, in the printed records of the Institute, of a vast body of information as to engineering practice.  In 1828 he exerted himself strenuously and successfully in obtaining a Charter of Incorporation for the Society; and finally, at his death, he left the Institute their first bequest of £2,000, together with many valuable books, and a large collection of documents which had been subservient to his own professional labours.

    In the distinguished position which he occupied, it was natural that Mr. Telford should be called upon, as he often was, towards the close of his life, to give his opinion and advice as to projects of public importance.  Where strongly conflicting opinions were entertained on any subject, his help was occasionally found most valuable; for he possessed great tact and suavity of manner, which often enabled him to reconcile opposing interests when they stood in the way of important enterprises.

    In 1828 he was appointed one of the commissioners to investigate the subject of the supply of water to the metropolis, in conjunction with Dr. Roget and Professor Brande, and the result was the very able report published in that year.  Only a few months before his death, in 1834, he prepared and sent in an elaborate separate report, containing many excellent practical suggestions, which had the effect of stimulating the efforts of the water companies, and eventually leading to great improvements.

    On the subject of roads, Telford continued to be the very highest authority, his friend Southey jocularly styling him the "Colossus of Roads."  The Russian Government frequently consulted him with reference to the new roads with which that great empire was being opened up.  The Polish road from Warsaw to Briesc, on the Russian frontier, 120 miles in length, was constructed after his plans, and it remains, we believe, the finest road in the Russian dominions to this day.


    He was consulted by the Austrian Government on the subject of bridges as well as roads.  Count Széchenyi recounts the very agreeable and instructive interview which he had with Telford when he called to consult him as to the bridge proposed to be erected across the Danube, between the towns of Buda and Pesth.  On a suspension bridge being suggested by the English engineer, the Count, with surprise, asked if such an erection was possible under the circumstances he had described?  "We do not consider anything to be impossible," replied Telford; "impossibilities exist chiefly in the prejudices of mankind, to which some are slaves, and from which few are able to emancipate themselves and enter on the path of truth."  But supposing a suspension bridge were not deemed advisable under the circumstances, and it were considered necessary altogether to avoid motion, "then," said he, "I should recommend you to erect a cast iron bridge of three spans, each 400 feet; such a bridge will have no motion, and though half the world lay a wreck, it would still stand." [p.382]  A suspension bridge was eventually resolved upon.  It was constructed by one of Mr. Telford's ablest pupils, Mr. Tierney Clark, between the years 1839 and 1850, and is justly regarded as one of the greatest triumphs of English engineering, the Buda-Pesch people proudly declaring it to be "the eighth wonder of the world."

    At a time when speculation was very rife—in the year 1825—Mr. Telford was consulted respecting a grand scheme for cutting a canal across the Isthmus of Darien; and about the same time he was employed to resurvey the line for a ship canal—which had before occupied the attention of Whitworth and Rennie between Bristol and the English Channel.  But although he gave great attention to this latter project, and prepared numerous plans and reports upon it, and although an Act was actually passed enabling it to be carried out, the scheme was eventually abandoned, like the preceding ones with the same object, for want of the requisite funds.

    Our engineer had a perfect detestation of speculative jobbing in all its forms, though on one occasion he could not help being used as an instrument by schemers.  A public company was got up at Liverpool, in 1827, to form a broad and deep ship canal, of about seven miles in length, from opposite Liverpool to near Helbre Isle, in the estuary of the Dee; its object being to enable the shipping of the port to avoid the variable shoals and sand-banks which obstruct the entrance to the Mersey.  Mr. Telford entered on the project with great zeal, and his name was widely quoted in its support.  It appeared, however, that one of its principal promoters, who had secured the right of pre-emption of the land on which the only possible entrance to the canal could be formed on the northern side, suddenly closed with the corporation of Liverpool, who were opposed to the plan, and "sold" his partners as well as the engineer for a large sum of money.  Telford, disgusted at being made the instrument of an apparent fraud upon the public, destroyed all the documents relating to the scheme, and never afterwards spoke of it except in terms of extreme indignation.

    About the same time, the formation of locomotive railways was extensively discussed, and schemes were set on foot to construct them between several of the larger towns.  But Mr. Telford was now about seventy years old; and, desirous of limiting the range of his business rather than extending it, he declined to enter upon this new branch of engineering.  Yet, in his younger days, he had surveyed numerous lines of railway—amongst others, one as early as the year 1805, from Glasgow to Berwick, down the vale of the Tweed.  A line from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Carlisle was also surveyed and reported on by him some years later; and the Stratford and Moreton Railway was actually constructed under his direction.  He made use of railways in all his large works of masonry, for the purpose of facilitating the haulage of materials to the points at which they were required to be deposited or used.  There is a paper of his on the Inland Navigation of the County of Salop, contained in 'The Agricultural Survey of Shropshire,' in which he speaks of the judicious use of railways, and recommends that in all future surveys "it be an instruction to the engineers that they do examine the county with a view of introducing iron railways wherever difficulties may occur with regard to the making of navigable canals."  When the project of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was started, we are informed that he was offered the appointment of engineer; but he declined, partly because of his advanced age, but also out of a feeling of duty to his employers, the Canal Companies, stating that he could not lend his name to a scheme which, if carried out, must so materially affect their interests.

    Towards the close of his life, he was afflicted by deafness, which made him feel exceedingly uncomfortable in mixed society.  Thanks to a healthy constitution, unimpaired by excess and invigorated by active occupation, his working powers had lasted longer than those of most men.  He was still cheerful, clear-headed, and skilful in the arts of his profession, and felt the same pleasure in useful work that he had ever done.  It was, therefore, with difficulty that he could reconcile himself to the idea of retiring from the field of honourable labour, which he had so long occupied, into a state of comparative inactivity.  But he was not a man who could be idle, and he determined, like his great predecessor Smeaton, to occupy the remaining years of his life in arranging his engineering papers for publication.  Vigorous though he had been, he felt that the time was shortly approaching when the wheels of life must stand still altogether.  Writing to a friend at Langholm, he said, "Having now been occupied for about seventy-five years in incessant exertion, I have for some time past arranged to decline the contest; but the numerous works in which I am engaged have hitherto prevented my succeeding.  In the mean time I occasionally amuse myself with setting down in what manner a long life has been laboriously, and I hope usefully, employed."  And again, a little later, he writes: "During the last twelve months I have had several rubs; at seventy-seven they tell more seriously than formerly, and call for less exertion and require greater precautions.  I fancy that few of my age belonging to the valley of the Esk remain in the land of the living." [p.385]

    One of the last works on which Mr. Telford was professionally consulted was at the instance of the Duke of Wellington—not many years younger than himself, but of equally vigorous intellectual powers—as to the improvement of Dover Harbour, then falling rapidly to decay.  The long-continued south-westerly gales of 1833-4 had the effect of rolling an immense quantity of shingle up Channel towards that port, at the entrance to which it became deposited in unusual quantities, so as to render it at times altogether inaccessible.  The Duke, as a military man, took a more than ordinary interest in the improvement of Dover, as the military and naval station nearest to the French coast; and it fell to him as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports to watch over the preservation of the harbour, situated at a point in the English Channel which he regarded as of great strategic importance in the event of a continental war.  He therefore desired Mr. Telford to visit the place and give his opinion as to the most advisable mode of procedure with a view to improving the harbour.  The result was a report, in which the engineer recommended a plan of sluicing, similar to that adopted by Mr. Smeaton at Ramsgate, which was afterwards carried out with considerable success by Mr. James Walker, C.E.

    This was his last piece of professional work.  A few months later he was laid up by bilious derangement of a serious character, which recurred with increased violence towards the close of the year; and on the 2nd of September, 1834, Thomas Telford closed his useful and honoured career, at the advanced age of seventy-seven.  With that absence of ostentation which characterised him through life, he directed that his remains should be laid, without ceremony, in the burial ground of the parish church of St. Margaret's, Westminster.  But the members of the Institute of Civil Engineers, who justly deemed him their benefactor and chief ornament, urged upon his executors the propriety of interring him in Westminster Abbey.  He was buried there accordingly, near the middle of the nave; where the letters, "Thomas Telford, 1834," mark the place beneath which he lies. [p.386]  The adjoining stone bears the inscription, "Robert Stephenson, 1859," that engineer having during his life expressed the wish that his body should be laid near that of Telford; and the son of the Killingworth engineman thus sleeps by the side of the son of the Eskdale shepherd.


    It was a long, a successful, and a useful life which thus ended.  Every step in his upward career, from the poor peasant's hut in Eskdale to Westminster Abbey, was nobly and valorously won.  The man was diligent and conscientious; whether as a working mason hewing stone blocks at Somerset House, as a foreman of builders at Portsmouth, as a road surveyor at Shrewsbury, or as an engineer of bridges, canals, docks, and harbours.  The success which followed his efforts was thoroughly well-deserved.  He was laborious, pains-taking, and skilful; but, what was better, he was honest and upright.  He was a most reliable man; and hence he came to be extensively trusted.  Whatever he undertook, he endeavoured to excel in.  He would be a first-rate hewer, and he became one.  He was himself accustomed to attribute much of his success to the thorough way in which he had mastered the humble beginnings of this trade.  He was even of opinion that the course of manual training he had undergone, and the drudgery, as some would call it, of daily labour—first as an apprentice, and afterwards as a journeyman mason—had been of greater service to him than if he had passed through the curriculum of a University.

    Writing to his friend, Miss Malcolm, respecting a young man who desired to enter the engineering profession, he in the first place endeavoured to dissuade the lady from encouraging the ambition of her protégé, the profession being overstocked, and offering very few prizes in proportion to the large number of blanks.  "But," he added, "if civil engineering, notwithstanding these discouragements, is still preferred, I may point out that the way in which both Mr. Rennie and myself proceeded, was to serve a regular apprenticeship to some practical employment—he to a millwright, and I to a general house-builder.  In this way we secured the means, by hard labour, of earning a subsistence; and, in time, we obtained by good conduct the confidence of our employers and the public; eventually rising into the rank of what is called Civil Engineering.  This is the true way of acquiring practical skill, a thorough knowledge of the materials employed in construction, and last, but not least, a perfect knowledge of the habits and dispositions of the workmen who carry out our designs.  This course, although forbidding to many a young person, who believes it possible to find a short and rapid path to distinction, is proved to be otherwise by the two examples I have cited.  For my own part, I may truly aver that 'steep is the ascent, and slippery is the way.'" [p.389]

    That Mr. Telford was enabled to continue to so advanced an age employed on laborious and anxious work, was no doubt attributable in a great measure to the cheerfulness of his nature.  He was, indeed, a most happy-minded man.  It will be remembered that, when a boy, he had been known in his valley as "Laughing Tam."  The same disposition continued to characterise him in his old age.  He was playful and jocular, and rejoiced in the society of children and young people, especially when well-informed and modest.  But when they pretended to acquirements they did not possess, he was quick to detect and see through them.  One day a youth expatiated to him in very large terms about a friend of his, who had done this and that, and made so and so, and could do all manner of wonderful things.  Telford listened with great attention, and when the youth had done, he quietly asked, with a twinkle in his eye, "Pray, can your friend lay eggs?"

    When in society he gave himself up to it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  He did not sit apart, a moody and abstracted "lion;" nor desire to be regarded as "the great engineer," pondering new Menai Bridges; but he appeared in his natural character of a simple, intelligent, cheerful companion; as ready to laugh at his own jokes as at other people's; and he was as communicative to a child as to any philosopher of the party.

    Robert Southey, than whom there was no better judge of a loveable man, said of him, "I would go a long way for the sake of seeing Telford and spending a few days in his company."  Southey, as we have seen, had the best opportunities of knowing him well; for a long journey together extending over many weeks, is, probably, better than anything else, calculated to bring out the weak as well as the strong points of a friend: indeed, many friendships have completely broken down under the severe test of a single week's tour.  But Southey on that occasion firmly cemented a friendship which lasted until Telford's death.  On one occasion the latter called at the poet's house, in company with Sir Henry Parnell, when engaged upon the survey of one of his northern roads.  Unhappily Southey was absent at the time; and, writing about the circumstance to a correspondent, he said, "This was a mortification to me, inasmuch as I owe Telford every kind of friendly attention, and like him heartily."

    Campbell, the poet, was another early friend of our engineer; and the attachment seems to have been mutual.  Writing to Dr. Currie, of Liverpool, in 1802, Campbell says: "I have become acquainted with Telford the engineer, 'a fellow of infinite humour,' and of strong enterprising mind.  He has almost made me a bridge-builder already; at least he has inspired me with new sensations of interest in the improvement and ornament of our country.  Have you seen his plan of London Bridge? or his scheme for a new canal in the North Highlands, which will unite, if put in effect, our Eastern and Atlantic commerce, and render Scotland the very emporium of navigation?  Telford is a most useful cicerone in London.  He is so universally acquainted, and so popular in his manners, that he can introduce one to all kinds of novelty, and all descriptions of interesting society."  Shortly after, Campbell named his first son after Telford, who stood godfather for the boy.  Indeed, for many years, Telford played the part of Mentor to the young and impulsive poet, advising him about his course in life, trying to keep him steady, and holding him aloof as much as possible from the seductive allurements of the capital.  But it was a difficult task, and Telford's numerous engagements necessarily left the poet at many seasons very much to himself.  It appears that they were living together at the Salopian when Campbell composed the first draft of his poem of Hohenlinden; and several important emendations made in it by Telford were adopted by Campbell.  Although the two friends pursued different roads in life, and for many years saw little of each other, they often met again, especially after Telford took up his abode at his house in Abingdon Street, where Campbell was a frequent and always a welcome guest.

    When engaged upon his surveys, our engineer was the same simple, cheerful, laborious man.  While at work, he gave his whole mind to the subject in hand, thinking of nothing else for the time; dismissing it at the close of each day's work, but ready to take it up afresh with the next day's duties.  This was a great advantage to him as respected the prolongation of his working faculty.  He did not take his anxieties to bed with him, as many do, and rise up with them in the morning; but he laid down the load at the end of each day, and resumed it all the more cheerfully when refreshed and invigorated by natural rest.  It was only while the engrossing anxieties connected with the suspension of the chains of Menai Bridge were weighing heavily upon his mind, that he could not sleep; and then, age having stolen upon him, he felt the strain almost more than he could bear.  But that great anxiety once fairly over, his spirits speedily resumed their wonted elasticity.

    When engaged upon the construction of the Carlisle and Glasgow road, he was very fond of getting a few of the "navvy men," as he called them, to join him at an ordinary at the Hamilton Arms Hotel, Lanarkshire, each paying his own expenses.  On such occasions Telford would say that, though he could not drink, yet he would carve and draw corks for them.  One of the rules he laid down was that no business was to be introduced from the moment they sat down to dinner.  All at once, from being the plodding, hard-working engineer, with responsibility and thought in every feature, Telford unbended and relaxed, and became the merriest and drollest of the party.  He possessed a great fund of anecdote available for such occasions, had an extraordinary memory for facts relating to persons and families, and the wonder to many of his auditors was, how in all the world a man living in London should know so much better about their locality and many of its oddities than they did themselves.

    In his leisure hours at home, which were but few, he occupied himself a good deal in the perusal of miscellaneous literature, never losing his taste for poetry.  He continued to indulge in the occasional composition of verses until a comparatively late period of his life; one of his most successful efforts being a translation of the 'Ode to May,' from Buchanan's Latin poems, executed in a very tender and graceful manner.  That he might be enabled to peruse engineering works in French and German, he prosecuted the study of those languages, and with such success that he was shortly able to read them with comparative ease.  He occasionally occupied himself in literary composition on subjects connected with his profession.  Thus he wrote for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, conducted by his friend Sir David (then Dr.) Brewster, the elaborate and able articles on Architecture, Bridge-building, and Canal-making.  Besides his contributions to that work, he advanced a considerable sum of money to aid in its publication, which remained a debt due to his estate at the period of his death.

    Notwithstanding the pains that Telford took in the course of his life to acquire a knowledge of the elements of natural science, it is somewhat remarkable to find him holding acquirements in mathematics so cheap.  But probably this is to be accounted for by the circumstance of his education being entirely practical, and mainly self-acquired.  When a young man was on one occasion recommended to him as a pupil because of his proficiency in mathematics, the engineer expressed the opinion that such acquirements were no recommendation.  Like Smeaton, he held that deductions drawn from theory were never to be trusted and he placed his reliance mainly on observation, experience, and carefully-conducted experiments.  He was also, like most men of strong practical sagacity, quick in mother wit, and arrived rapidly at conclusions, guided by a sort of intellectual instinct which can neither be defined nor described. [p.394]

    Although occupied as a leading engineer for nearly forty years having certified contractors' bills during that time amounting to several millions sterling—he died in comparatively moderate circumstances.  Eminent constructive ability was not very highly remunerated in Telford's time, and he was satisfied with a rate of pay which even the smallest "M.I.C.E." would now refuse to accept.  Telford's charges were, however, perhaps too low; and a deputation of members of the profession on one occasion formally expostulated with him on the subject.

    Although he could not be said to have an indifference for money, he yet estimated it as a thing worth infinitely less than character; and every penny that he earned was honestly come by.  He had no wife, [p.395-1] nor family, nor near relations to provide for,—only himself in his old age.  Not being thought rich, he was saved the annoyance of being haunted by toadies or pestered by parasites.  His wants were few, and his household expenses small; and though he entertained many visitors and friends, it was in a quiet way and on a moderate scale.  The small regard he had for personal dignity may be inferred from the fact, that to the last he continued the practice, which he had learnt when a working mason, of darning his own stockings. [p.395-2]

    Telford nevertheless had the highest idea of the dignity of his profession; not because of the money it would produce, but of the great things it was calculated to accomplish.  In his most confidential letters we find him often expatiating on the noble works he was engaged in designing or constructing, and the national good they were calculated to produce, but never on the pecuniary advantages he himself was to derive from them.  He doubtless prized, and prized highly, the reputation they would bring him; and, above all, there seemed to be uppermost in his mind, especially in the earlier part of his career, while many of his schoolfellows were still alive, the thought of "What will they say of this in Eskdale?" but as for the money results to himself, Telford seemed, to the close of his life, to regard them as of comparatively small moment.

    During the twenty-one years that he acted as principal engineer for the Caledonian Canal, we find from the Parliamentary returns that the amount paid to him for his reports, detailed plans, and superintendence, was exactly £237 a year.  Where he conceived any works to be of great public importance, and he found them to be promoted by public-spirited persons at their own expense, he refused to receive any payment for his labour, or even repayment of the expenses incurred by him.  Thus, while employed by the Government in the improvement of the Highland roads, he persuaded himself that he ought at the same time to promote the similar patriotic objects of the British Fisheries Society, which were carried out by voluntary subscription; and for many years he acted as their engineer, refusing to accept any remuneration whatever for his trouble. [p.397]

    Telford held the sordid money-grubber in perfect detestation.  He was of opinion that the adulation paid to mere money was one of the greatest dangers with which modern society was threatened.  "I admire commercial enterprise," he would say; "it is the vigorous outgrowth of our industrial life: I admire everything that gives it free scope, as, wherever it goes, activity, energy, intelligence—all that we call civilisation—accompany it; but I hold that the aim and end of all ought not to be a mere bag of money, but something far higher and far better."

    Writing once to his Langholm correspondent about an old schoolfellow, who had grown rich by scraping, Telford said: "Poor Bob L――!  His industry and sagacity were more than counter-balanced by his childish vanity and silly avarice, which rendered his friendship dangerous, and his conversation tiresome.  He was like a man in London, whose lips, while walking by himself along the streets, were constantly ejaculating 'Money!  Money!'  But peace to Bob's memory: I need scarcely add, confusion to his thousands!"  Telford was himself most careful in resisting the temptations to which men in his position are frequently exposed; but he was preserved by his honest pride, not less than by the purity of his character.  He invariably refused to receive anything in the shape of presents or testimonials from persons employed under him.  He would not have even the shadow of an obligation stand in the way of his duty to those who employed him to watch over and protect their interests.  During the many years that he was employed on public works, no one could ever charge him in the remotest degree with entering into a collusion with contractors.  He looked upon such arrangements as degrading and infamous, and considered that they meant nothing less than an inducement to "scamping," which he would never tolerate.

    His inspection of work was most rigid.  The security of his structures was not a question of money, but of character.  As human life depended upon their stability, not a point was neglected that could ensure it.  Hence, in his selection of resident engineers and inspectors of works, he exercised the greatest possible precautions; and here his observation of character proved of essential value.  Mr. Hughes says he never allowed any but his most experienced and confidential assistants to have anything to do with exploring the foundations of buildings he was about to erect.  His scrutiny into the qualifications of those employed about such structures extended to the subordinate overseers, and even to the workmen, insomuch that men whose general habits had before passed unnoticed, and whose characters had never been inquired into, did not escape his observation when set to work in operations connected with foundations. [p.399]  If he detected a man who gave evidences of unsteadiness, inaccuracy, or carelessness, he would reprimand the overseer for employing such a person, and order him to be removed to some other part of the undertaking where his negligence could do no harm.  And thus it was that Telford put his own character, through those whom he employed, into the various buildings which he was employed to construct.

    But though Telford was comparatively indifferent about money, he was not without a proper regard for it, as a means of conferring benefits on others, and especially as a means of being independent.  At the close of his life he had accumulated as much as, invested at interest, brought him in about £800 a year, and enabled him to occupy the house in Abingdon Street in which he died.  This was amply sufficient for his wants, and more than enough for his independence.  It enabled him also to continue those secret acts of benevolence which constituted perhaps the most genuine pleasure of his life.  It is one of the most delightful traits in this excellent man's career to find him so constantly occupied in works of spontaneous charity, in quarters so remote and unknown that it is impossible the slightest feeling of ostentation could have sullied the purity of the acts.  Among the large mass of Telford's private letters which have been submitted to us, we find frequent reference to sums of money transmitted for the support of poor people in his native valley.  At new year's time he regularly sent remittances of from £30 to £50, to be distributed by the kind Miss Malcolm of Burnfoot, and, after her death, by Mr. Little, the postmaster at Langholm; and the contributions thus so kindly made, did much to fend off the winter's cold, and surround with many small comforts those who most needed help, but were perhaps too modest to ask it.

    Many of those in the valley of the Esk had known of Telford in his younger years as a poor barefooted boy; though now become a man of distinction, he had too much good sense to be ashamed of his humble origin; perhaps he even felt proud that, by dint of his own valorous and persevering efforts, he had been able to rise so much above it.  Throughout his long life, his heart always warmed at the thought of Eskdale.  He rejoiced at the honourable rise of Eskdale men as reflecting credit upon his "beloved valley."  Thus, writing to his Langholm correspondent with reference to the honours conferred on the different members of the family of Malcolm, he said: "The distinctions so deservedly bestowed upon the Burnfoot family establish a splendid era in Eskdale; and almost tempt your correspondent to sport his Swedish honours, which that grateful country has repeatedly, in spite of refusal, transmitted." [p.400]

    It might be said that there was narrowness and provincialism in this; but when young men are thrown into the world, with all its temptations and snares, it is well that the recollections of home and kindred should survive to hold them in the path of rectitude, and cheer them in their onward and upward course in life.  And there is no doubt that Telford was borne up on many occasions by the thought of what the folks in the valley would say about him and his progress in life, when they met together at market, or at the Westerkirk porch on Sabbath mornings.  In this light, provincialism or local patriotism is a prolific source of good, and may be regarded as among the most valuable and beautiful emanations of the parish life of our country.  Although Telford was honoured with the titles and orders of merit conferred upon him by foreign monarchs, what he esteemed beyond them all was the respect and gratitude of his own countrymen; and, not least, the honour which his really noble and beneficent career was calculated to reflect upon "the folks of the nook," the remote inhabitants of his native Eskdale.

    When the engineer proceeded to dispose of his savings by will, which he did a few months before his death, the distribution was a comparatively easy matter.  The total amount of his bequeathments was £16,600 [p.401] About one-fourth of the whole he set apart for educational purposes,—£2000 to the Civil Engineers' Institute, and £1,000 each to the ministers of Langholm and Westerkirk, in trust for the parish libraries.  The rest was bequeathed, in sums of from £200 to £500, to different persons who had acted as clerks, assistants, and surveyors, in his various public works; and to his intimate personal friends.  Amongst these latter were Colonel Pasley, the nephew of his early benefactor; Mr. Rickman, Mr. Milne, and Mr. Hope, his three executors; and Robert Southey and Thomas Campbell, the poets.  To both of these last the gift was most welcome.  Southey said of his: "Mr. Telford has most kindly and unexpectedly left me £500, with a share of his residuary property, which I am told will make it amount in all to £850.  This is truly a godsend, and I am most grateful for it.  It gives me the comfortable knowledge that, if it should please God soon to take me from this world, my family would have resources fully sufficient for their support till such time as their affairs could be put in order, and the proceeds of my books, remains, &c., be rendered available.  I have never been anxious overmuch, nor even taken more thought for the morrow than it is the duty of every one to take who has to earn his livelihood; but to be thus provided for at this time I feel to be an especial blessing." [p.402]

    Among the most valuable results of Telford's bequests in his own district, was the establishment of the popular libraries at Langholm and Westerkirk, each of which now contains about 4,000 volumes.  That at Westerkirk had been originally instituted in the year 1792, by the miners employed to work an antimony mine (since abandoned) on the farm of Glendinning, within sight of the place where Telford was born.  On the dissolution of the mining company, in 1800, the little collection of books was removed to Kirkton Hill; but on receipt of Telford's bequest, a special building was erected for their reception at Old Bentpath near the village of Westerkirk.  The annual income derived from the Telford fund enabled additions of new volumes to be made to it from time to time; and its uses as a public institution were thus greatly increased.  The books are exchanged once a month, on the day of the full moon; on which occasion readers of all ages and conditions,—farmers, shepherds, ploughmen, labourers, and their children,--resort to it from far and near, taking away with them as many volumes as they desire for the month's reading.

    Thus there is scarcely a cottage in the valley in which good books are not to be found under perusal; and we are told that it is a common thing for the Eskdale shepherd to take a book in his plaid to the hill-side—a volume of Shakespeare, Prescott, or Macaulay—and read it there, under the blue sky, with his sheep and the green hills before him.  And thus, so long as the bequest lasts, the good, great engineer will not cease to be remembered with gratitude in his beloved Eskdale.




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