The Stream in the Sky

John Barrell

  • Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain by Julian Glover
    Bloomsbury, 403 pp, £10.99, January, ISBN 978 1 4088 3748 1

For the last eight or nine years I have been collecting – casually enough, and without the greedy fanaticism that has characterised my other short-term collecting crazes – the great Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford. To be more precise, when out driving, I have been going out of my way to visit engineering projects he was involved in designing or building. I came across the most recent addition to my collection in early October. I had driven through Telford, the Shropshire new town named after the engineer, on the lookout for one of his very first constructions, an aqueduct that once carried the Shrewsbury Canal over the River Tern. It is now a scheduled ancient monument tucked away in flat farmland, its whereabouts indicated by a brown road sign pointing across a field of beet (or so it was last autumn). The aqueduct is a fairly short affair; it carried the canal across a narrow, shallow river valley, and replaced an earlier one, still unfinished when it was swept away by a violent flood in 1795. The flood left intact only the brick and stone abutments at either end of the aqueduct, but they were solid enough to be reused by Telford when, at the very beginning of his career as county surveyor for Shropshire, he was asked to rebuild it.

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