Brindley and Telford

For the canal system to exist in the UK, it needed to be designed, engineered and built. There are a number of auspicious names associated with the conception and construction of the canal system but two names in particular stand out; James Brindley and Thomas Telford.

James Brindley (born in 1716 and died 1772) from a wealthy farming family came first and is broadly credited with building the first canal (the Bridgewater) in response to a request to find a way to move coal in bulk from Worsley to Manchester from the Duke of Bridgewater. There is much more to say about James Brindley – his life and achievements are widely publicised.

James Brindley

Brindley, a self-made engineer, undertook all his works without written calculations or drawings, leaving no records except the works themselves.

Perhaps the greatest legacy James Brindley left was his use of ‘puddled clay’ to line the canal and provide a watertight channel. A technique which is still used to this day.

Thomas Telford (born in 1757 and died in 1834) a Scotsman from a poor shepherding family. He was acknowledged to be a first class building engineer – with an impressive range of projects to his name including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Which opened only a few weeks after the Battle of Trafalgar. His works are so numerous that there is hardly a county in England, Wales or Scotland in which they may not be pointed out.

Thomas Telford

Telford preferred straight lines rather than Brindley’s rather circuitous lines. (Brindley liked to build canals using the contours of the earth meaning that sometimes the canal could be significantly longer than it needed to be). And there are examples of their work overlapping and interlacing such as The Harecastle Tunnel and The Grand Union

Thomas Telford was extremely productive and inventive with his work, embracing new technologies and materials. And he has many endorsements with places and monuments being named after him in his honour, including the town of Dawley New Town before being renamed Telford.

In recognition of his many many achievements he was appointed the first President of the Institute of Civil Engineers. A post he held until his death.

Telford was also a keen poet and a fan of Robert Burns who was just 2 years younger than him. His pen name Eskdale Tam.

In recognition of Brindley and Telford

These two men may have only overlapped briefly in time but they contributed in giant ways towards the industrial and architectural history in and around the canal system on which we live.

We show recognition of their achievements by remembering their names.

Brindley and Telford are brother and sister from the same litter. As terriers, they are both extremely audacious, daring, quick witted, loyal and affectionate. They have been brought up on canals and rivers since they were just 8 weeks old, and are perfect companions for dwellers of a narrow boat sized home.

Brindley and Telford are our constant companions – both the historical and the here and now… and very glad we are too, to have them in our lives!

Some more information about James Brindley



Canal and River Trust

Some more information about Thomas Telford


The Guardian

About the author


  1. I could watch Brindley and Telford all day and am fascinated to read about the lives and achievements of their namesakes.

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