Brindley, James

Brindley, James
b. 1716 Tunstead, Derbyshire, England
d. 27 September 1772 Turnhurst, Staffordshire, England
English canal engineer.
Born in a remote area and with no material advantages, Brindley followed casual rural labouring occupations until 1733, when he became apprenticed to Abraham Bennett of Macclesfield, a wheelwright and millwright. Though lacking basic education in reading and writing, he demonstrated his ability, partly through his photographic memory, to solve practical problems. This established his reputation, and after Bennett's death in 1742 he set up his own business at Leek as a millwright. His skill led to an invitation to solve the problem of mine drainage at Wet Earth Colliery, Clifton, near Manchester. He tunnelled 600 ft (183 m) through rock to provide a leat for driving a water-powered pump.
Following work done on a pump on Earl Gower's estate at Trentham, Brindley's name was suggested as the engineer for the proposed canal for which the Duke of Bridge water (Francis Egerton) had obtained an Act in 1759. The Earl and the Duke were brothers-in-law, and the agents for the two estates were, in turn, the Gilbert brothers. The canal, later known as the Bridgewater Canal, was to be constructed to carry coal from the Duke's mines at Worsley into Manchester. Brindley advised on the details of its construction and recommended that it be carried across the river Irwell at Barton by means of an aqueduct. His proposals were accepted, and under his supervision the canal was constructed on a single level and opened in 1761. Brindley had also surveyed for Earl Gower a canal from the Potteries to Liverpool to carry pottery for export, and the signal success of the Bridgewater Canal ensured that the Trent and Mersey Canal would also be built. These undertakings were the start of Brindley's career as a canal engineer, and it was largely from his concepts that the canal system of the Midlands developed, following the natural contours rather than making cuttings and constructing large embankments. His canals are thus winding navigations unlike the later straight waterways, which were much easier to traverse. He also adopted the 7 ft (2.13 m) wide lock as a ruling dimension for all engineering features. For cheapness, he formed his canal tunnels without a towpath, which led to the notorious practice of legging the boats through the tunnels.
Brindley surveyed a large number of projects and such was his reputation that virtually every proposal was submitted to him for his opinion. Included among these projects were the Staffordshire and Worcestershire, the Rochdale, the Birmingham network, the Droitwich, the Coventry and the Oxford canals. Although he was nominally in charge of each contract, much of the work was carried out by his assistants while he rushed from one undertaking to another to ensure that his orders were being carried out. He was nearly 50 when he married Anne Henshall, whose brother was also a canal engineer. His fees and salaries had made him very wealthy. He died in 1772 from a chill sustained when carrying out a survey of the Caldon Canal.
Further Reading
A.G.Banks and R.B.Schofield, 1968, Brindley at Wet Earth Colliery: An Engineering Study, Newton Abbot: David \& Charles.
S.E.Buckley, 1948, James Brindley, London: Harrap.

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

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  • Brindley, James — ▪ British engineer born 1716, Tunstead, near Buxton, Derbyshire, Eng. died Sept. 30, 1772, Turnhurst, Staffordshire  pioneer canal builder, who constructed the first English canal of major economic importance.       Beginning as a millwright,… …   Universalium

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