Vignoles, Charles Blacker

Vignoles, Charles Blacker
b. 31 May 1793 Woodbrook, Co. Wexford, Ireland
d. 17 November 1875 Hythe, Hampshire, England
English surveyor and civil engineer, pioneer of railways.
Vignoles, who was of Huguenot descent, was orphaned in infancy and brought up in the family of his grandfather, Dr Charles Hutton FRS, Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. After service in the Army he travelled to America, arriving in South Carolina in 1817. He was appointed Assistant to the state's Civil Engineer and surveyed much of South Carolina and subsequently Florida. After his return to England in 1823 he established himself as a civil engineer in London, and obtained work from the brothers George and John Rennie.
In 1825 the promoters of the Liverpool \& Manchester Railway (L \& MR) lost their application for an Act of Parliament, discharged their engineer George Stephenson and appointed the Rennie brothers in his place. They in turn employed Vignoles to resurvey the railway, taking a route that would minimize objections. With Vignoles's route, the company obtained its Act in 1826 and appointed Vignoles to supervise the start of construction. After Stephenson was reappointed Chief Engineer, however, he and Vignoles proved incompatible, with the result that Vignoles left the L \& MR early in 1827.
Nevertheless, Vignoles did not sever all connection with the L \& MR. He supported John Braithwaite and John Ericsson in the construction of the locomotive Novelty and was present when it competed in the Rainhill Trials in 1829. He attended the opening of the L \& MR in 1830 and was appointed Engineer to two railways which connected with it, the St Helens \& Runcorn Gap and the Wigan Branch (later extended to Preston as the North Union); he supervised the construction of these.
After the death of the Engineer to the Dublin \& Kingstown Railway, Vignoles supervised construction: the railway, the first in Ireland, was opened in 1834. He was subsequently employed in surveying and constructing many railways in the British Isles and on the European continent; these included the Eastern Counties, the Midland Counties, the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyme \& Manchester (which proved for him a financial disaster from which he took many years to recover), and the Waterford \& Limerick. He probably discussed rail of flat-bottom section with R.L. Stevens during the winter of 1830–1 and brought it into use in the UK for the first time in 1836 on the London \& Croydon Railway: subsequently rail of this section became known as "Vignoles rail". He considered that a broader gauge than 4 ft 8½ in. (1.44 m) was desirable for railways, although most of those he built were to this gauge so that they might connect with others. He supported the atmospheric system of propulsion during the 1840s and was instrumental in its early installation on the Dublin \& Kingstown Railway's Dalkey extension. Between 1847 and 1853 he designed and built the noted multi-span suspension bridge at Kiev, Russia, over the River Dnieper, which is more than half a mile (800 m) wide at that point.
Between 1857 and 1863 he surveyed and then supervised the construction of the 155- mile (250 km) Tudela \& Bilbao Railway, which crosses the Cantabrian Pyrenees at an altitude of 2,163 ft (659 m) above sea level. Vignoles outlived his most famous contemporaries to become the grand old man of his profession.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society 1829. FRS 1855. President, Institution of Civil Engineers 1869–70.
1830, jointly with John Ericsson, British patent no. 5,995 (a device to increase the capability of steam locomotives on grades, in which rollers gripped a third rail).
1823, Observations upon the Floridas, New York: Bliss \& White.
1870, Address on His Election as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Further Reading
K.H.Vignoles, 1982, Charles Blacker Vignoles: Romantic Engineer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (good modern biography by his great-grandson).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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