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Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Civil engineer Telford, is perhaps most well-known for his work on Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, but has a long line of engineering works, many of which remain in use today.

Black and white photograph of Thomas Telford, canal engineer

Humble beginnings

Telford's journey into engineering started in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, working as a stonemason, and construction supervisor. He quickly became popular and in-demand for designing and surveying bridges, canals, harbours, tunnels and roads.

Telford's growing reputation during the late 1700s led to his design and construction of the Ellesmere Canal, which linked ironworks and collieries of Wrexham, with Chester, utilising Chester Canal and the River Mersey. This involved overseeing the construction of the magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in the summer

Enviable list

During the Golden Age of canals (18th and 19th Century) Telford travelled around Britain, overseeing many engineering works and projects, many of which span our network. A few to mention: Chirk Aqueduct, completed in 1801 alongside fellow canal pioneer William Jessop, stonework bridges along the Shrewsbury & Newport Canal, Harecastle Tunnel, Nantwich Aqueduct, and of course Telford Aqueduct. Other canal works include Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, Trent and Mersey Canal, and the Macclesfield Canal.

Boat passes over a small aqueduct with moored narrowboats in the distance Nantwich Aqueduct

A celebrated legacy

Telford founded the Institution of Civil Engineers. Appointed the first president, Telford held the position until his death in 1834. The institution encouraged young people to take up engineering as a profession, and was something he dedicated much of his time. He reportedly left all his money to the institution which led them to secure foundations in London.

Telford's significant contribution and works in civil engineering, surveying, and overseeing construction is an impressive collection. We can still see so much of his work, which lives on through the towns and cities he touched, and is still enjoyed by so many today.

Last Edited: 14 March 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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