Richard Harman champions Thomas Telford, one of our most famous Salopians!

thomastelfordThomas Telford (1757-1834) is amongst the most famous civil engineers there have ever been and he certainly left his mark on our humble town.

Telford, originally a poor stonemason from Westerkirk, Scotland was appointed 'Surveyor of Public Works' in Shropshire in 1787 and he spent much of his working life here in Shrewsbury.  He was responsible for the building, preservation, or -  in the case of the Abbey-  partial demolition (!) of some of our most famous landmarks.

His first great achievement was the restoration of Shrewsbury Castle in 1790, which preserved the great structure for over a hundred and thirty years until Shropshire Horticultural Society bought and donated the Castle to the town in 1924.

Telford then designed some 40 bridges in Shropshire and his first was the Severn crossing at Montford, from which the village now takes its name. He famously criticised Abraham Darby's Iron Bridge, observing it was grossly over-designed! He then developed his own improved iron bridge structure for the river crossing at Buildwas, from which the basic steel arch design is still being used by engineers today.

In 1788 Telford carried out the first archaeological excavations at Uriconium, the Roman city at Wroxeter,  when building the road between Shrewsbury and Ironbridge.

It was in 1793 when Telford went on to work on the Ellesmere Canal which resulted in one of his greatest achievements: the grand Pontycysllte aqueduct. At the same time Telford was also designing the Shrewsbury Canal, linking our town to the other industrial and trade centres of the nation.

By this time Telford had gained a world renowned reputation as a great engineer, and he acted as a consultant to the King of Sweden in 1806 to design a canal linking Gothenburg and Stockholm.

During his later years that Telford was appointed to improve the A5 London to Holyhead road. This included carving a new section of road through Shrewsbury Abbey, the road now known as Abbey Foregate. And it was on this project that he built his most famous and pioneering structure; the Menai Bridge linking Anglesey with mainland Wales.

So why should we remember Telford? Well if the achievements mentioned above aren't convincing enough, this man who worked from the age of 14 'til his death at 77 was responsible for the building of over 1000 miles of roads and over 1200 bridges. He was the first president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, a prestigious post he retained for 14 years until his death. He believed that the role of a civil engineer was not in aid of self profit, but to use their knowledge and skills to benefit society as a whole - a principle that still holds true among many engineers today.

Thomas Telford was so well respected during his life that he was buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey, London. Other than the great structures that silently remain in Shrewsbury, we have little to remind us of Telford. For this reason I believe a portrait of the great engineer should be immortalised in steel on the banks of the Severn.


By Richard Harman, engineer, Shopshire Council