Shropshire History

Thomas Telford


to Index



1757 - Telford was born at Glendinning in Dumfriesshire to John Telford, a shepherd, and Janet Jackson.


1771 - At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a stonemason and some of his earliest work can still be seen on the bridge across the River Esk at Langholm in Scotland.


1782 - After working for a time in Edinburgh, he moved to London where he was involved in building additions to Somerset House.


1784 - He was working at Portsmouth Dockyard.


1787 - Through a wealthy patron William Pulteney, he became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire. His projects included renovation of Shrewsbury Castle, Shrewsbury Prison, the Church of St Mary Magdalene at Bridgnorth and St Michael’s Church in Madeley.


1790 - Telford was responsible for bridges and designed a bridge carrying the London-Holyhead road over the River Severn at Montford. This was only the first of 40 bridges that he built in Shropshire, including major crossings of the River Severn at Buildwas and Bridgnorth. The bridge at Buildwas was Telford's first iron bridge and he was influenced by Abraham Darby's bridge at Ironbridge. He observed, however, that it was grossly over-designed for its function and many of the component parts were poorly cast. By contrast, his bridge was 30ft wider and half the weight.


1795 - The bridge at Bewdley was swept away in the winter floods and Telford was responsible for the design of its replacement. The same winter floods also saw the bridge at Tenbury swept away and Telford was responsible for the repair to the northern end of the bridge.


1793 - He was appointed to manage the design and construction of the Ellesmere Canal. This linked the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham via Ellesmere to Chester, using the existing Chester Canal and River Mersey. Among other structures, this involved building the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee, where Telford used a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast iron plates fixed in masonry. It extends for over 1,000ft at a maximum height of 126ft above the valley floor and consists of 19 arches, each with a 45ft span. He was also involved in the design and construction of the Shrewsbury Canal. One of Telford's achievements on this project was the design of the cast-iron aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern.


1800 - Telford had built up a good reputation and was consulted on the water supply works for Liverpool, improvements to London's docklands and the rebuilding of London Bridge.


1801 - He started a project to improve communications in the Highlands of Scotland  that was to last 20 years. It included the building of the Caledonian Canal and redesigning sections of the Crinan Canal, constructing around 920 miles of new roads, over 1,000 new bridges, numerous harbour improvements and 32 new churches. Telford also carried out highway works in the Scottish Lowlands, including 184 miles of new roads and numerous bridges.


1806 - Telford was consulted by the King of Sweden about the construction of the Gota Canal between Gothenburg and Stockholm.


1810 - Construction of the Gota Canal began and Telford travelled to Sweden to oversee some of the more important initial excavations.


1816 - Telford was given the task of creating a proper road from London to Holyhead, much of the route is now the A5 trunk road. Between London and Shrewsbury, most of the work only amounted to improvements but beyond Shrewsbury the work often involved building a new highway from scratch. Notable features of this section of the route include the Waterloo Bridge across the River Conwy at Betws-y-Coed, the ascent from there to Capel Curig and then the descent from the pass of Nant Ffrancon towards Bangor.


1817 - He designed a road to cross the centre of the Isle of Arran. Named the “String Road”, this route traverses bleak and difficult terrain to allow traffic to cross between east and west Arran avoiding the circuitous coastal route.


1819 - Telford started building the Menai Suspension Bridge to link Anglesey with the mainland as a route for the London-Holyhead road. It spanned 580ft and was the longest suspension bridge of the time. Unlike modern suspension bridges, Telford used individually linked 9½ft iron eye bars for the cables. It finally opened in 1826.


1820 - Telford was elected as the first President of the recently formed Institution of Civil Engineers.


1823 - An Act of Parliament provided a grant of £50,000 for the building of up to 40 churches and manses in Scottish communities without any church buildings. The total cost was not to exceed £1,500 on any site and Telford was commissioned to undertake the design. He developed a simple church of T-shaped plan and two manse designs, single-storey and two-storey, at £750 each. Of the 43 churches originally planned, 32 were eventually built around the Scottish highlands and islands  and the other 11 were achieved by redoing existing buildings.


1824 - He built St Katharine Docks close to Tower Bridge in London.


1825 - His work on improving the Glasgow - Carlisle road, later to become the A74, was described as "a model for future engineers".


1826 - Telford started the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (now part of the Shropshire Union Canal). He also worked on the North Wales coast road between Chester and Bangor, including the suspension bridge at Conwy.


1827 - He drove the second Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal. He also completed the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal (today known as the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal).


1828 - He completed the Over Bridge near Gloucester.


1829 - Telford built Galton Bridge, at the time it was longest single span in the world.


1832 - He built Whitstable Harbour in Kent with an unusual system for flushing out mud using a tidal reservoir.


1834 -Telford died following a stomach illness and was buried in Westminster Abbey.