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Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
Thomas Brassey (1) : The unsung surveyor from Cheshire, who built railways and made friends across the world.
Thomas Brassey
Part one

With acknowledgements to ‘The Life and Works of Thomas Brassey’ by Sir Arthur Helps (1813-1875).

The Victorian railway engineer Thomas Brassey (1805-1870) is not the household name that he perhaps ought to be, chiefly because he worked through agents and alongside partners. Nonetheless, his knowledge and business acumen lies behind much of the rail network in Britain, and helped start the railway revolution from France to Australia.

THOMAS Brassey, son of a prosperous Cheshire farmer, began his career in road-building as an apprentice to surveyor William Lawton, on Thomas Telford’s Shrewsbury to Holyhead road. Brassey rose from apprentice to partner, and Lawton and Brassey relocated to Birkenhead to make road-building materials.

It was in supplying stone for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway’s Sankey Viaduct that Thomas met George Stephenson, who subsequently employed him for Penkridge Viaduct on the Grand Junction Railway, and Brassey worked with George and with George’s son Robert and protégé Joseph Locke, on projects from Southampton to Chester, Sheffield and Glasgow.

In 1841, Locke awarded Thomas a contract to help construct the Paris to Le Havre Railway, one of France’s first railway ventures. A feature was to be the Barentin viaduct, for which Brassey was required to use local materials, but it collapsed during construction. Brassey rebuilt it at his own expense, this time sourcing the materials himself.* More French railways followed, including the line from Orléans to Bordeaux.

* Brassey’s rebuilt viaduct is in operation today, bearing the weight of a modern high-speed line. See a picture at Wikimedia Commmons.

With acknowledgements to ‘The Life and Works of Thomas Brassey’ by Sir Arthur Helps (1813-1875).

More like this

Samuel Smiles (23) Discovery and Invention (67) Victorian Era (65) George Stephenson (13) Railways (23) French History (9) Character and Conduct (33) History (414)

Picture: © Optimist on the run, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0. View original
Great Western Railway locomotives 4965 ‘Rood Ashton Hall’ (leading) and 5043 ‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’ double head a steam railtour over Thomas Brassey’s Penkridge Viaduct in Staffordshire. This was Brassey’s first major project in railway engineering, an opportunity given to him by the great George Stephenson. Brassey went on to take railways to Europe and the world, spreading trade and a rising standard of living across five continents.
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