Thomas Telford

by Joe Smith 29th February 2008


Thomas Telford, the son of a shepherd, was born in Westerkirk, Scotland in 1757. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a stonemason. He worked for a time in Edinburgh and in 1792 he moved to London where he was involved in building additions to Somerset House. Two years later he found work at Portsmouth dockyard.

In 1787 he became surveyor of public works for Shropshire. By this time Telford had established a good reputation as an engineer and in 1790 was given the task of building a bridge over the River Severn at Montford. This was followed by a canal that linked the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham with Chester and Shrewsbury. This involved building an aqueduct over the River Dee. On the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Telford used a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast-iron plates and fixed in masonry. 

During his life Telford built more than 1,000 miles of road, including the main road between London and Holyhead. Thomas Telford died in 1834.

After the completion of the Ellesmere Canal Telford moved back to Scotland where he took control of the building of Caledonian Canal. Other works by Telford include the Menai Suspension Bridge (1819-1826) and the Katherine’s Docks (1824-1828) in London. Telford was also an important road builder.He was responsible for rebuilding the Shrewsbury to Holyhead road and the North Wales coast road between Chester and Bangor.

Thomas Telford also left a lasting mark in Bannockburn over the Bannock Burn, a stream running through the village before flowing into the River Forth, Burn is the Lowland Scots word for a stream and ‘Bannock’ is a type of unleavened bread. Marshy land surrounding the Bannock Burn was the site of the 1314 Battle which was one of the pivotal battles of the 13th/14th century wars of independence between Scotland and England. The monument and visitor centre located near the site of the battle is testament to this lasting memory.

Telford built the circular-arch stone bridge which spans the burn, downstream of the battle site, on the New Road adjacent to the Royal George carpet mill now used by the 312 Masonic Lodge in 1819. This bridge is seen by many to be the finest example of its kind anywhere in the world. Thanks to Bruce and Telford, Bannockburn is renowned the world over.

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