Thomas Telford (1757–1834)

Thomas Telford was one of the first civil engineers to gain an international reputation. He trained as a stone mason in Edinburgh and gained experience on contracts in London and Portsmouth before moving to Shrewsbury to refurbish the medieval castle as a social centre for the political ambitions of his patron, William Pulteney. He was appointed county surveyor, a part-time post, in 1787, and retained a home in Shropshire for the rest of his life.

After several years practice as an architect, he became involved in canal projects from 1793. He completed the Shrewsbury Canal, with an iron aqueduct at Longden, in 1795-97, and was responsible for the building of the Ellesmere Canal with its high aqueducts at Pontcysyllte and Chirk.

On behalf of the British government he supervised the building of numerous roads and harbours in Scotland, and was largely responsible for the engineering of the Caledonian Canal, which linked the east and west coasts of Scotland.

In 1808-10 he paid two visits to Sweden to give advice on the Gotha Canal. He was engineer from 1815 to the Holyhead Road Commission, and greatly improved the principal link between London and Dublin, which included numerous bridges, among them the innovatory suspension bridge over the Menai Straits opened in 1826.

He designed the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal (now called the Shropshire Union) followed a straight course over embankments and through cuttings, in contrast to the contour routes of earlier canals. Telford built several large iron arched bridges, of which those at Craigellachie, Mythe and Holt Fleet remain, although he continued to design stone bridges of equivalent span, like that at Over, Gloucester.

He was one of the most accomplished practitioners of any period in the art of constructional masonry, and a pioneer in the constructional use of iron. Of equal importance were his contribution, as first president of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1818, to the development of the civil engineering profession, and his development of systems of managing large-scale constructional contracts.