National Records of Scotland

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Thomas Telford (1757-1834)

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Thomas Telford (1757-1834)

Civil engineer

Thomas Telford, the 'Colossus of Roads', was the most eminent British engineer of his day and founder of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He started as a journeyman mason, moved to Edinburgh in 1780 and two years later to London to work on Somerset House. In 1787 he was appointed Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire and the engineer of the Ellesmere Canal. He returned to Scotland in 1790 to survey harbours and piers on behalf of the British Fisheries Society: the results of these surveys and schemes to improve harbours are among the records of burghs and public bodies held by many Scottish archives. He built numerous canals, bridges, harbours, churches and manses. Some of his most notable works are the Caledonian Canal (1803-23), the Dean Bridge in Edinburgh (1832), the Menai Suspension Bridge in North Wales (1825) and the 920 miles of roads and 120 bridges which he built in the northern counties of Scotland as part of a government-funded scheme. He also wrote poetry and contributed to Ruddiman's 'Edinburgh Magazine'..

Birth in 1757

Thomas Telford was baptised on 9 August 1757, the son of John Telfer in Glendinning, The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Westerkirk does not give his mother's name or his date of birth.

Baptism entry for Thomas Telford

Baptism entry for Thomas Telford in the OPR for Westerkirk (29 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 854/1, page 15

Testament of Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford died in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His last will and testament can be found in the Edinburgh Sheriff Court records (National Records of Scotland, SC70/1/53 pp1-6). This included bequests to James Cleland (1770-1840), and John Rickman (1771-1840), who devised the methodology of the first census in 1801.

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