Matthew Davidson, above referred to, was an excellent officer, but a
strange cynical humourist in his way. He was a Lowlander, and
had lived for some time in England, at the Pont Cysylltau works,
where he had acquired a taste for English comforts, and returned to
the North with a considerable contempt for the Highland people
amongst whom he was stationed. He is said to have very much
resembled Dr. Johnson in person, and was so fond of books, and so
well read in them, that he was called 'the Walking Library.'
He used to say that if justice were done to the inhabitants of
Inverness, there would be nobody left there in twenty years but the
Provost and the hangman. Seeing an artist one day making a
sketch in the mountains, he said it was the first time he had known
what the hills were good for. And when some one was
complaining of the weather in the Highlands, he looked sarcastically
round, and observed that the rain certainly would not hurt the
misfortunes of the Caledonian Canal did not end with the life of
Telford. The first vessel passed through it from sea to sea in
October, 1822, by which time it had cost about a million sterling,
or double the original estimate. Notwithstanding this large
outlay, it appears that the canal was opened before the works had
been properly completed; and the consequence was that they very
shortly fell into decay. It even began to be considered
whether the canal ought not to be abandoned. In 1838, Mr.
James Walker, C.E., an engineer of the highest eminence, examined
it, and reported fully on its then state, strongly recommending its
completion as well as its improvement. His advice was
eventually adopted, and the canal was finished accordingly, at an
additional cost of about £200,000, and the whole line was reopened
in 1847, since which time it has continued in useful operation.
The passage from sea to sea at all times can now be depended on, and
it can usually be made in forty-eight hours. As the trade of
the North increases, the uses of the canal will probably become much
more decided than they have heretofore proved.
by Baltzar Bogislaus von Platen (1766-1829), an obsessive, competent
naval officer, and fervent patriot, the Göta Canal became his life’s
At the time Britain was renowned for its new canals, and the basis
of von Platen’s scheme included the surveying principles of the
British canal builders, notably Brindley, who believed that rivers
did not make good navigational routes and that locks should be
grouped together. But it needed more than this and Telford, the
foremost civil engineer of the day, was approached. In August 1808
he arrived in Sweden with two assistants, having travelled on an
English man-of-war, the northern seas being inhabited by Danish and
French privateers. Within 20 days the line was marked out and
lock positions fixed, as a contemporary remarked “with incomparable
diligence, perseverance and drive”.
In 1809 a beautiful hand-coloured set of maps of the proposed canal
was prepared bearing the copied signature of “Thos. Telford.
September 1808”. These and a translation of Telford’s report were
presented to the Riksdag in 1810 and the Canal Company was formed.
Shares were over-subscribed by 100%. In spite of reminders,
Telford never submitted full estimated costs, but eventually he gave
a rough guide of £400,000—in the event the Canal cost five times as
much. The estimate of 10 years to build stretched to 22, the
Canal being completed in 1832, three years after von Platen’s death.
Like the Caledonian Canal, the Göta did not prove to be a financial
success due to the development of railways and the decline of its
strategic/military value. Today (also in common with the Caledonian
Canal) it is used primarily for leisure purposes.
Telford's professional fee of five guineas a day was considered
high. He and von Platen exchanged much correspondence concerning the
Canal; von Platen’s letters are more outspoken and longer than
Telford’s which are terse—he never wasted a word—factual and
impersonal, although always courteous.
'Brindley and the Early Engineers,' p.322.
Telford,' pp. 82, 83.
called 'The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.'
Grand Trunk was a part of a larger scheme of James Brindley's to
link the four main rivers of England (Trent, Mersey, Severn and
Thames) in a project known as the "Grand Cross". The canal,
which is a 93.5 miles (150 km) long, passes through the East
Midlands, West Midlands and the North West of England. Opened in
1777, it was the most ambitious part of Brindley's scheme, its
importance being recognised in its name of the "Grand Trunk Canal";
however, it has since assumed the less ostentatious sobriquet of
'The Trent and Mersey Canal".
Birmingham Canal, built between 1768 and 1772 under the supervision
of James Brindley, was the first of a network of canals connecting
Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the eastern part of the Black Country,
which from 1794 became known collectively as the "Birmingham Canal
Robert Owen,' by himself.
from the Select Committee on the Carlisle and Glasgow Road,' 28th
Ed.—After side ditches were dug, large rocks
were picked and raked, then were broken "so as not to exceed 6
ounces in weight or to pass a two-inch ring." Compacting work
for each of the three layers was quickened using a cast-iron roller,
instead of allowing for compacting under traffic.
is preserved of a journey to Dublin from Grosvenor Square, London,
12th June, 1787, in a coach and four, accompanied by a post-chaise
and pair, and five outriders. The party reached Holyhead in
four days, at a cost of £75. 11s. 3d. The state of intercourse
between this country and the sister island at this part of the
account is strikingly set forth in the following entries:—"Ferry at
Bangor, £1 10s.; expenses of the yacht hired to carry the party
across the channel, £28 7s. 9d.; duty on the coach, £7 13s. 4d.;
boats on shore, £1 1s.; total, £114 3s. 4d."—Roberts's 'Social
History of the Southern Counties,' p.504.
Report from Committee on Holyhead Roads and Harbours,' 1810.
parts of the road are extremely dangerous for a coach to travel
upon. At several places between Bangor and Capel-Curig there
are a number of dangerous precipices without fences, exclusive of
various hills that want taking down. At Ogwen Pool there is a
very dangerous place where the water runs over the road, extremely
difficult to pass at flooded times. Then there is Dinas Hill,
that needs a side fence against a deep precipice. The width of
the road is not above twelve feet in the steepest part of the hill,
and two carriages cannot pass without the greatest danger.
Between this hill and Rhyddlanfair there are a number of dangerous
precipices, steep hills, and difficult narrow turnings. From
Corwen to Llangollen the road is very narrow, long, and steep has no
side fence, except about a foot and a half of mould or dirt, which
is thrown up to prevent carriages falling down three or four hundred
feet into the river Dee. Stage-coaches have been frequently
overturned and broken down from the badness of the road, and the
mails have been overturned; but I wonder that more and worse
accidents have not happened, the roads are so bad."—Evidence of Mr.
William Akers, of the Post-Office, before Committee of the House of
Commons, 1st June, 1815.
'Waterloo Bridge', so named to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo
(1815), spans the Afon Conwy at Betws-y-Coed, Clwyd, North Wales.
Originally constructed of cast iron (its single span of 32m
consisted of five cast-iron arched girders at 1.5m centres
supporting cast-iron deck plates), the bridge has since been
strengthened to take the heavy traffic loading on the A5 London to
Select Committee of the House of Commons, in reporting as to the
manner in which these works were carried out, stated as
follows:—"The professional execution of the new works upon this road
greatly surpasses anything of the same kind in these countries.
The science which has been displayed in giving the general line of
the road a proper inclination through a country whose whole surface
consists of a succession of rocks, bogs, ravines, rivers, and
precipices, reflects the greatest credit upon the engineer who had
planned them; but perhaps a still greater degree of professional
skill has been shown in the construction, or rather the building, of
the road itself. The great attention which Mr. Telford has
devoted, to give to the surface of the road one uniform and
moderately convex shape, free from the smallest inequality
throughout its whole breadth; the numerous land drains, and, when
necessary, shores and tunnels of substantial masonry, with which all
the water arising from springs or falling in rain is instantly
carried off; the great care with which a sufficient foundation is
established for the road, and the quality, solidity, and disposition
of the materials that are put upon it, are matters quite new in the
system of road-making in these countries."—'Report from the Select
Committee on the Road from London to Holyhead in the year 1819.'
of William Waterhouse before the Select Committee, 10th March, 1819.
In an article in the 'Edinburgh Review,' No. cxli.,
from the pen of Sir David Brewster, the writer observes:—"Mr.
Telford's principle of suspending and laying down from above the
centering of stone and iron bridges is, we think, a much more
fertile one than even he himself supposed. With modifications,
by no means considerable, and certainly practicable, it appears to
us that the voussoirs or arch-stones might themselves be laid down
from above, and suspended by an appropriate mechanism till the
keystone was inserted. If we suppose the centering in Mr.
Telford's plan to be of iron, this centering itself becomes an iron
bridge, each rib of which is composed of ten pieces of fifty feet
each; and by increasing the number of suspending chains, these
separate pieces or voussoirs having been previously joined together,
either temporarily or permanently, by cement or by clamps, might be
laid into their place, and kept there by a single chain till the
road was completed. The voussoirs, when united, might be
suspended from a general chain across the archway, and a platform
could be added to facilitate the operations." This is as
nearly as possible the plan afterwards revived by Mr. Brunel, and
for the originality of which, we believe, he has generally the
credit, though it clearly belongs to Telford.
A correspondent informs us of a still more foolhardy
exploit performed on the occasion. He says, "Having been
present, as a boy from Bangor grammar school, on the 26th of April,
when the first chain was carried across, an incident occurred which
made no small impression on my mind at the time. After the
chain had reached its position, a cobbler of the neighbourhood
crawled to the centre of the curve, and there finished a pair of
shoes; when, having completed his task, he returned in safety to the
Caernarvon side! I need not say that we schoolboys appreciated
his feat of foolhardiness far more than Telford's master work."
Ed.—St. Katharine Docks are situated on the
north side of the river Thames just east (downstream) of the Tower
of London and Tower Bridge. They lie in the area now known as
"Docklands" and have become a popular yacht marina, housing and
'Telford's Life,' p. 261.
The piers are built internally with hollow
compartments, as at the Menai Bridge, the side walls being 3 feet
thick and the cross walls 2 feet. Projecting from the piers
and abutments are pilasters of solid masonry. The main arches
have their springing 70 feet from the foundations, and rise 30 feet:
and at 20 feet higher, other arches, of 96 feet span and 10 feet
rise, are constructed; the face of these, projecting before the main
arches and spandrels, producing a distinct external soffit of 5 feet
in breadth. This, with the peculiar piers, constitutes the
principal distinctive feature in the bridge.
Ed.—later in the century Telford's 'Glasgow
Bridge' fell victim to the same problems of its predecessor; it had
become too narrow to cope safely with the heavy flow of traffic, a
problem exacerbated by the deepening of the river by dredging and
the removal of the weir above Albert Bridge in 1880. The bridge
needed to be replaced. After many schemes had been considered a new
bridge was built in 1899 which, by popular demand, was designed as a
replica of the Telford bridge. The new bridge, 20ft wider and
founded on steel caissons up to 100ft deep, was designed by
engineers Blyth & Westland re-using much of the stonework from
"The Nene Outfall channel," says Mr. Tycho Wing, "was
projected by the late Mr. Rennie in 1814, and executed jointly by
Mr. Telford and the present Sir John Rennie. But the scheme of
the North Level Drainage was eminently the work of Mr. Telford, and
was undertaken upon his advice and responsibility, when only a few
persons engaged in the Nene Outfall believed that the latter could
be made, or if made, that it could be maintained. Mr. Telford
distinguished himself by his foresight and judicious counsels at the
most critical periods of that great measure, by his unfailing
confidence in its success, and by the boldness and sagacity which
prompted him to advise the making of the North Level drainage, in
full expectation of the results for the sake of which the Nene
Outfall was undertaken, and which are now realised to the extent of
the most sanguine hopes."
Now that the land actually won has been made so
richly productive, the engineer is at work with magnificent schemes
of reclamation of lands at present submerged by the sea. The
Norfolk Estuary Company have a scheme for reclaiming 50,000 acres;
the Lincolnshire Estuary Company, 30,000 acres; and the Victoria
Level Company, 150,000 acres—all from the estuary of the Wash.
By the process called warping, the land is steadily advancing upon
the ocean, and before many years have passed, thousands of acres of
the Victoria Level will have been reclaimed for purposes of
We have been indebted to Mr. Robert Rawlinson, C.E.,
in whose possession the MS. now is, for the privilege of
inspecting it, and making the above abstract, which we have the less
hesitation in giving as it has not before appeared in print.
Mr. Rickman was the Secretary to the Highland Roads
Referring to the famous battle of Bannockburn,
Southey writes—"This is the only great battle that ever was lost by
the English. At Hastings there was no disgrace. Here it
was an army of lions commanded by a stag."
See View of Banff,
In his inaugural address to the members on taking the
chair, the President pointed out that the principles of the
Institution rested on the practical efforts and unceasing
perseverance of the members themselves. "In foreign
countries," he said, "similar establishments are instituted by
government, and their members and proceedings are under their
control; but here, a different course being adopted, it becomes
incumbent on each individual member to feel that the very existence
and prosperity of the Institution depend, in no small degree, on his
personal conduct and exertions; and my merely mentioning the
circumstance will, I am convinced, be sufficient to command the best
efforts of the present and future members."
We are informed by Joseph Mitchell, Esq., C.E., of
the origin of this practice. Mr. Mitchell was a pupil of Mr.
Telford's, living with him in his house at 24, Abingdon Street.
It was the engineer's custom to have a dinner party every Tuesday,
after which his engineering friends were invited to accompany him to
the Institution, the meetings of which were then held on Tuesday
evenings in a house in Buckingham Street, Strand. The meetings
did not usually consist of more than from twenty to thirty persons.
Mr. Mitchell took notes of the conversations which followed the
reading of the papers. Mr. Telford afterwards found his pupil
extending the notes, on which he asked permission to read them, and
was so much pleased that he took them to the next meeting and read
them to the members. Mr. Mitchell was then formally appointed
reporter of conversations to the Institute; and the custom having
been continued, a large mass of valuable practical information has
thus been placed on record.
Supplement to Weale's 'Bridges,' Count Széchenyi's
Letter to Mrs. Little, Langholm, 28th August, 1833.
A statue of him, by Bailey, has since been placed in
the east aisle of the north transept, known as the Islip Chapel.
It is considered a fine work, but its effect is quite lost in
consequence of the crowded state of the aisle, which has very much
the look of a sculptor's workshop. The subscription raised for
the purpose of erecting the statue was £1000, of which £200 was paid
to the Dean for permission to place it within the Abbey.
Letter to Miss Malcolm, Burnfoot, Langholm, dated 7th
Sir David Brewster observes on this point: "It is
difficult to analyse that peculiar faculty of mind which directs a
successful engineer who is not guided by the deductions of the exact
sciences; but it must consist mainly in the power of observing the
effects of natural causes acting in a variety of circumstances; and
in the judicious application of this knowledge to cases when the
same causes come into operation. But while this sagacity is a
prominent feature in the designs of Mr. Telford, it appears no less
distinctly in the choice of the men by whom they were to be
practically executed. His quick perception of character, his
honesty of purpose, and his contempt for all other
acquirements,—save that practical knowledge and experience which was
best fitted to accomplish, in the best manner, the object he had in
view,—have enabled him to leave behind him works of inestimable
value, and monuments of professional celebrity which have not been
surpassed either in Britain or in Europe."—'Edinburgh Review,' vol.
It seems singular that with Telford's great natural
powers of pleasing, his warm social temperament, and his capability
of forming ardent attachments for friends, many of them women, he
should never have formed an attachment of the heart. Even in
his youthful and poetical days, the subject of love, so frequently
the theme of boyish song, is never alluded to; while his school
friendships are often recalled to mind, and, indeed, made the
special subject of his verse. It seems odd to find him, when
at Shrewsbury—a handsome fellow, with a good position, and many
beautiful women about him—addressing his friend, the blind
schoolmaster at Langholm, as his "Stella!"
Mr. Mitchell says: "He lived at the rate of about
£1200 a year. He kept a carriage, but no horses, and used his
carriage principally for making his journeys through the country on
business. I once accompanied him to Bath and Cornwall, when he
made me keep an accurate journal of all I saw. He used to
lecture us on being independent, even in little matters, and not ask
servants to do for us what we might easily do for ourselves.
He carried in his pocket a small book containing needles, thread,
and buttons, and on an emergency was always ready to put in a
stitch. A curious habit he had of mending his stockings, which
I suppose he acquired when a working mason. He would not
permit his housekeeper to touch them, but after his work at night,
about nine or half-past, he would go upstairs, and take down a lot,
and sit mending them with great apparent delight in his own room
till bed-time. I have frequently gone in to him with some
message, and found him occupied with this work."
"The British Fisheries Society," adds Mr. Rickman,
"did not suffer themselves to be entirely outdone in liberality, and
shortly before his death they pressed upon Mr. Telford a very
handsome gift of plate, which, being inscribed with expressions of
their thankfulness and gratitude towards him, he could not possibly
refuse to accept."—'Life of Telford,' p.283.
Weale's 'Theory, Practice, and Architecture of
Bridges,' vol. i.: 'Essay on Foundations of Bridges,' by T. Hughes,
Letter to Mr. William Little, Langholm, 24th January,
Telford thought so little about money, that he did
not even know the amount he died possessed of. It turned out
that instead of £16,600 it was about £30,000; so that his legatees
had their bequests nearly doubled. For many years he had
abstained from drawing the dividends on the shares which he held in
the canals and other public companies in which he was concerned.
At the money panic of 1825, it was found that he had a considerable
sum lying in the hands of his London bankers at little or no
interest, and it was only on the urgent recommendation of his
friend, Sir P. Malcolm, that he invested it in government
securities, then very low.
'Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey,' vol.
iv., p. 391. We may here mention that the last article which
Southey wrote for the 'Quarterly' was his review of the 'Life of