This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the pioneering canal engineer James Brindley.
Brindley was responsible for eight waterways, stretching 360 miles, including the Bridgewater Canal, the first of the industrial age.
Born in 1716, the son of hill farmers near Buxton, at the age of 17 Brindley was apprenticed to a millwright where he learned to control water flows to make mills more efficient.
It was his work to install a pumping station at a colliery near the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate in Lancashire which led him to be employed by the Duke as the onsite engineer for the Bridgewater Canal project in the late 1750’s.
Inspired by canals in France and the Netherlands, the Duke of Bridgewater asked his estate manager to draw up plans for his own waterway to transport coal from his mine at Worsley to Manchester.
This canal is now recognised as the first real canal in Britain and its impressive engineering feats, including the Barton Aqueduct, gave Brindley the reputation as the man to turn to if you need a canal building.
After the Bridgewater, Brindley was the surveyor and principle engineer on a further seven canals – the Trent & Mersey, Oxford, Staffs & Worcs, Birmingham, Droitwich, Chesterfield and Coventry canals.
He worked tirelessly surveying his canals and devising ground-breaking engineering solutions, including the use of ‘puddled clay’ to line canals and provide a watertight channel.
Brindley was very good at convincing others of the need for canals. When a new canal was proposed it would go before a government commission and he was often called to convince MP’s of the viability of the scheme.
Sadly Brindley died in September 1772, long before many of the canals he surveyed and engineered were completed. But he had trained a number of people to continue his work, and the great engineers that followed – especially Telford and others involved with later canal building during the ‘canal mania’ period – provided the transport network for the Industrial Revolution, making Britain the wealthiest nation in the world.
Of course, Brindley’s canals are still in use today as a national leisure resource – his lasting legacy. And his name appears on pub names, town squares and perhaps most famously at Brindleyplace in Birmingham.
Events are taking place across the country this year to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth include special activities at the Crick Boat Show (28-30 May) and an exhibition at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port from September.
Canal boat holiday-makers can reach Crick from Drifters’ bases at Braunston and Gayton, and Ellesmere Port from Anderton and Acton Bridge.