Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Thomas Telford

Cullodaen Memorial
In the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology in Scotland, I thought it would be interesting to look at the life of the the founder and first President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Thomas Telford who founded it in 1818.

In 1750 Scotland was a land of two parts: the prosperous lowlands and the Gaelic speaking and Clannish Highlands who were still recovering from the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
The landscape made it wild and remote with only a few tracks across the heather clad hills apart from the military roads built by General Wade to rush troops from Fort Augustus or Ruthven Barracks to Fort George. The tracks were well known to the Whisky Smugglers and the drovers who took their animals to market along drove roads to centres such as Crieff and Stirling, but were not easy to use in general.
Thomas Telford

Along came Thomas Telford who was to change all this during his lifetime. He was born in 1757 in a cottage by the River Esk near Dumfries in the south of Scotland. At 14 he was apprenticed to a
Burghead Harbour
Langholm stonemason where he learnt the basis of his trade for road building and bridges. At 23 he went to Edinburgh and learned about drawing architectural plans. At 24 he went to London intent on transforming the world. The Government having been impressed with his engineering skills sent him in 1801 to survey the Highlands and the coasts of Scotland. In the next 25 years he built or improved many harbours including Nairn, Burghead, Cullen and Banff. At the same time he designed and built the Caledonian canal between Inverness and Fort William which is still in use today. Roads that he designed and built include the road from Perth to Inverness and from Carrbridge to Banff this led to the building of many beautiful and substantial bridges. Bridges designed and built by Telford include a bridge over the River Tay at Dunkeld (still in use today) as well as my own favourite the
Craigellachie Bridge
Dunkeld Telford Bridge

Craigellachie bridge which was in use until the 1970s. Not content with canal, road and bridge building he also designed and built 32 churches and manses in the Highlands and Islands. There is a good example at Tomintoul although it has been extended. He died in 1834 in London and is buried in Westminster Abbey. One man in his life transformed the lives of fellow Scots by the building of roads, bridges, canals, harbours, churches and manses in Scotland. In this year of History, Heritage and Archaeology it is I think a good time to remember him.

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