James Brindley (1716-1772) was one of the early canal engineers who worked on some of the first canals of the modern era. He played an essential role in shaping the way canals were built during the Industrial Revolution.
Brindley was part of what the English Heritage Book of Canals calls the ‘pioneering' phase of canal construction. He cut his teeth working with watermills in Derbyshire and had a practical and empirical approach to his work.
The birth of the Canal Age
He worked on the building of the Bridgewater Canal, which was regarded as the first modern British canal, and which triggered an explosion of canal-building. In a sense, Brindley created a template for the narrow canal system when he chose to build narrow locks on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Brindley pioneered many of the engineering features that became common on Britain's canals. Some of his prototype bridge designs, in brick and stone, have a homely charm about them. Others reflect the Georgian craftsman's love of silhouettes and flowing lines.
Other canals built by Brindley include the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Coventry Canal and the Oxford Canal. He was responsible for such ambitious structures as Barton Aqueduct on the Bridgewater Canal and the three-thousand yard Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Setting the template
For a while, Brindley's Harecastle Tunnel was reputedly the longest man-made tunnel on Earth. But it was not a place for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. It remains alongside Telford's later, much bigger tunnel as a monument to the more primitive early days of canal construction.