James Brindley, 300th anniversary

2016 was a special year in canal history: the 300th anniversary of the birth of the pioneering canal engineer, James Brindley.

James Brindley James Brindley

James Brindley, canal pioneer

Who was James Brindley? 

Brindley was one of history’s great engineers, responsible for eight waterways including the first of the industrial age – the Bridgewater Canal. Despite his legacy, his name doesn’t have the same recognition as Brunel or Telford.

Read more about Brindley the canal pioneer



Key dates

1716 Brindley was born at Tunstead near Buxton in Derbyshire.

1724 his family returned to the Leek area of Staffordshire.

1733 apprenticed to the millwright Abraham Bennett at Sutton, near Macclesfield.

1742 launched his own millwright business in Leek.Brindley on a boat

1752 designed and built an engine for draining coalpits at Clifton in Lancashire.

1755 built a machine for a silk mill at Congleton.

1759 Duke of Bridgewater commissioned the construction of the Bridgewater Canal and hired Brindley as the on-site engineer. The canal opened in 1761 and included the Barton Aqueduct, the first navigable aqueduct to be built in England which carried the canal 13 metres above the River Irwell at Barton.

1762 Brindley began surveying for his ‘Grand Trunk’ scheme to link the four great rivers of England – the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames.

1765 married Anne Henshall.

1766 the Trent & Mersey Canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament. Brindley was principal engineer for the project and the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood. It included the construction of the 2,633 metre long Harecastle Tunnel, once said to be the longest manmade tunnel on earth. The canal was completed in 1777.

1766 Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal authorised by an Act of Parliament, with Brindley appointed chief canal engineer. It was completed in 1771.

1767 Droitwich Council asked Brindley to survey a route from the town to the River Severn and the following year an Act of Parliament authorised the Droitwich Canal Navigation, with Brindley appointed as ‘Inspector of the Works’.

1768 Coventry Canal Company formed and Brindley commissioned to build the waterway.

1768 an act of Parliament authorised a canal to be built from Birmingham, through the coalfields of the Black Country, to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.

1769 an Act of Parliament authorised the Oxford Canal and Brindley began supervising the surveying and initial construction.

1769 after surveying the route, Brindley presented his proposals for the construction of the Chesterfield Canal and in 1772 work on it began.

Brindley's memorial stoneSeptember 1772 Brindley died at his home at Tunstall in Staffordshire aged 56, probably of pneumonia. He became ill 11 days earlier, having been drenched in a severe rainstorm while surveying a new branch of the Trent & Mersey between Froghall and Leek.

He left behind his wife and two daughters – Anne, aged two, and Susanna, just eight months. He also had an illegitimate son, John Bennett. He was buried on 30th September at St James in Newchapel, Staffordshire, nine days after the completion of his Birmingham Canal.

Last date edited: 26 September 2017