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History Society – Thomas Telford

19th May 2024 @ 6:06am – by Audlem & District History Society
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Review of Audlem History Society’s May, 2024 talk entitled “Thomas Telford’s Shropshire Legacy”.


This month we were treated to another of Dorothy Nicolle’s excellent talks, this time concerning her hero, Thomas Telford.


He was born in 1757 into poverty in Dumfriesshire, but through a series of lucky connections, Thomas, who was originally apprenticed to a stonemason in Langholm, made his way via Edinburgh, London (where he was involved in the building of Somerset House), and Portsmouth to Shropshire.

His patron here was the then MP for Shrewsbury, William Pulteney, who obtained for him the post of surveyor for Shropshire in 1786. Telford built churches at Bridgnorth and Madeley, rebuilt the county jail, excavated the ruins at Wroxeter, and constructed many bridges, some of iron (though not Ironbridge itself, as Dorothy was keen to emphasise).


In 1793, Telford was appointed agent and engineer for the Ellesmere Canal company, and designed and built the 2 aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte which brought him national fame.


He then worked on roads, especially the London-Holyhead route, building the bridges at Conwy and Menai Straits, and went on to construct many roads and bridges in Scotland as well as the Caledonian Canal. Sweden invited him to survey and build a canal there, and he was responsible for St. Catherine’s Dock in London.

Meanwhile he studied languages, maths, Greek and Roman history, and wrote poetry, and was the 1st President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. As Dorothy said, it was no wonder he never had time to marry!


Dorothy’s talk was full of detail, and beautifully illustrated by slides. She gave us a wonderful portrait of a talented and hard-working genius, and our heads were spinning with all the detail by the end.

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