The foremost engineer of the Industrial Revolution, Thomas Telford was
born to a poor family at Westerkirk in Dumfriesshire.
He received a basic education before being apprenticed at age 15 to a
stonemason, later becoming a journeyman to wander the country in search
He came to Edinburgh to help build the New Town in 1779, but it was as
surveyor of public works for Shropshire that he came to professional prominence.
He success was such that in 1793 he was put in overall charge of the building
of the Ellesmere Canal.
A colossal government scheme to bring a new network of communications
to the Highlands, brought Telford back to Scotland.
He supervised the completion of 1000 miles of new roads and built hundreds
of new bridges. On the coast, he improved harbours at Wick, Aberdeen and
He is also notable for his work on the Caledonian Canal where 60 miles
of freshwater lochs were linked by 20 miles of canal across hilly countryside.
Renowned for many famous structures around Britain, perhaps his most famous
is the Menai Bridge at Anglesey.
As one of the few engineers of the time willing to use technology based
on the suspension principle, he was so nervous over the success of the
project, that it is said he could not sleep in the weeks leading to its
Telford was a man of principle; despite his success and prolific achievements,
he died with a relatively small estate. This is because he often took
on projects which were unpaid, if he felt they were in the public, if
not his personal, interest.