Blog - Building Beginnings
  • A man, a plan, a canal

    Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

    If you have ever stood before the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales and admired its spectacular construction, you would surely be in awe of the man who designed and built it over 200 years ago. The aqueduct with its nineteen brick arches carries the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee in North Wales at a height of 38 metres and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architect of this phenomenal structure was Thomas Telford, one of the bright enquiring minds of the early 19th century.

    Thomas Telford was a man of unusual ability. He trained as a stone mason in his native Scotland, and became a civil engineer and architect. He gained a reputation as a skilful, honest, upright, reliable and trustworthy man. He taught himself French and German so that he could read engineering books in those languages to further his education. His natural curiosity and innovative mind combined with painstaking attention to detail that inspired him to break new ground in architecture, design and engineering in Victorian England. He literally paved the way.

    Take roads for example. In the early 19th century roads were in a deplorable state, unsurfaced and thick with mud in wet weather, that dried into deep ruts in the sun, some became as much as a quarter of a mile wide in places as horse-drawn carriages tried to circumvent unpassable stretches. Telford saw that building roads with strong foundations and a hard-wearing surface would radically shorten journey times and he set about it with great fervour. During the course of his life he built over 1,000 miles of road. Telford’s innovation in road building opened up travel, improved communication and made commerce possible between settlements.

    Bridges were obviously crucial where roads had to cross rivers and Telford designed 42 county bridges during his lifetime, removing the need in some cases for deep and dangerous ford crossings. He introduced the concept of suspension bridge construction and the use of cast iron in building bridges.

    Telford’s far-sightedness and ingenuity fuelled his great contribution to canal design seeing that transporting goods by water between the growing industrial towns would greatly improve productivity by carrying heavier loads than could be transported by road.

    Thomas Telford’s place in Shropshire’s history was commemorated by giving his name to the new town built in the Coalbrookdale Coalfield in 1963. From his origins in a poor peasant’s hut in Eskdale to his burial in Westminster Abbey, Thomas Telford’s was a life of remarkable achievements. We can be inspired by his vision, enterprise and skill and admire his legacy of architectural and engineering masterpieces. A man I believe truly worthy of praise.

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