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Telford, Thomas (1757-1834)
The name of Thomas Telford, from Westerkirk, Dumfries, is held in awe whenever road engineering and bridge building is discussed. If it is not, it ought to be, for his contributions to the art and science of crossing mountains and rivers in the most efficient, economical and speediest ways possible are legend.

Telford's accomplishments include his early work as surveyor of Shropshire, the county that straddles the English-Welsh border: the bridges over the River Severn at Montford, Buildwas and Bewdley all completed in the 1780's. In 1793, Telford began work as engineer for the Ellesmere Canal Company, completing his monumental aqueducts that carried the canal over the valleys of the rivers Ceiriog and Dee in North Wales.

In the early days of the industrial revolution canals were built to transport raw materials and newly manufactured goods to all parts of the British Isles. William Telford solved what seemed to be the insurmountable problem of taking the Shropshire Union Canal across the narrow, steep-sided Dee valley in North Wales. His answer was the justly famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the longest and highest in Britain. The name, unpronounceable to most English visitors, simply means, "connecting bridge."

Completed in 1805, one month after the Battle of Trafalgar, the 121-foot high aqueduct is 1007 feet in length, carrying the canal in a completely water tight, cast-iron trough supported by 18 piers. It is a bit of a shock to see barges merrily and magically glide across an expanse of sky high above the valley below and its road to Chirk (where another Telford masterpiece, the Chirk Aqueduct, takes the canal across the River Ceiriog).

Telford then left for Scotland, where he was responsible for the Caledonian Canal that opened up the lowlands to industry; the harbour works at Aberdeen, Dundee and other rapidly growing port cities. In his native Scotland, he was responsible for building more than 900 miles of roads and their attendant bridges. He then returned to Wales, managing to engineer the main highway from Shrewsbury and Chester all the way to Holyhead in northwest Wales by carefully selected routes through the mountains that would provide the least gradient.

Completed in 1826, Telford's suspension bridge over the River Conwy seems to go right into the Edwardian Castle itself. Its wrought-iron links that suspend the deck have never rusted; Conwy residents say that Telford had the bright idea of dipping the links in oil. During the same year, Telford also completed his crowning masterpiece, but a few miles distant, The Menai Bridge, when built, the longest suspension bridge in the world. It takes the highway across the treacherous Menai Straits to link the Island of Anglesey with the Welsh mainland.

Telford's works can be seen all over Europe: they include a canal in the English midlands, canal tunnels in the north country, the Gota Canal in Sweden; St. Katherine Docks in London and roads that opened up the Scottish Highlands. If any Scot made a difference to countless generations, it surely was Thomas Telford. His work in improving highways and bridges, canals and road made much of the Industrial Revolution possible, for they provided means of transporting, men, machinery, raw materials and finished goods. logo
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