EMINENT ENGINEERS THROUGHOUT HISTORY
Who's the most outstanding engineer of all time? That's an open question with no right or wrong answer, only opinions, theories and opportunities for debate. Thankfully, plenty of engineers had gone before us and paved the path to a modern world that grants us access to so many inventions - inventions that make our lives easier. So whether you agree with the list of the most outstanding engineers below or not, it will at least give you some food for thought.
Although the modern engineering industry owes gratitude to hundreds of innovators over time, those listed have to be the most influential engineers throughout history.
William Henry Barlow (1812–1902)
William Henry Barlow was born near Woolwich, the son of an eminent mathematician and physicist. At sixteen, he began work with his father before serving an apprenticeship in mechanical and civil engineering at Woolwich and London Dockyards. In 1832 he was employed by engineers Maudslay & Field and posted to Istanbul (then Constantinople) to establish an arsenal for the Turkish Government.
Barlow returned to Britain in 1838 to take up a post as assistant engineer on the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, working for George W. Buck. Then, in 1842, he joined the Midland Counties Railway as a resident engineer for the section between Rugby and Derby.
When the Midland Counties Railway became part of the Midland Railway in 1844, he retained the position, later becoming chief engineer of the more extensive railway. On 1 April 1845, Barlow was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and on 6 June 1850, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
In 1857, Barlow left the Midland Railway to form his consultant engineering practice in London, with the Midland Railway as a significant client. Following the death of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859, Barlow was commissioned with John Hawkshaw to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, construction of which had been stalled since 1843 due to insufficient funds to finish it.
Reusing the chains from Brunel's earlier Hungerford Suspension Bridge in London, demolished in 1860, Barlow and Hawkshaw completed the bridge in 1864 with a more robust deck than Brunel had planned and other variations caused by the reuse of the existing chains. Its 702-foot (214 m) span was the longest in Britain at the time.
St Pancras station
Between 1862 and 1869, Barlow was a consultant engineer for the Midland Railway's southern extension from Bedford to London, including the layout of the London terminus station at St Pancras on Euston Road. To deal with the sloping site and the need to cross the Regent's Canal a short distance to the north.
Under this structure, storage was laid out for beer from the breweries at Burton upon Trent. With assistance from Rowland Mason Ordish, Barlow also designed the arched, cast iron station canopy, which spans 240 feet (73 m) across the platforms without intermediate support – then the widest of its kind in the world—designed as a cost-effective and efficient means of avoiding the need for additional solid structure in the lower level. George Gilbert Scott designed the hotel in front of the train shed.
The magnificent train shed roof at St Pancras station, the largest in the world when constructed.
The Tay Bridge Disaster
The Tay Bridge Disaster occurred during a violent storm on Sunday, 28 December 1879, when the first Tay Rail Bridge collapsed as a train from Burntisland to Dundee passed over it, killing all aboard. The bridge—designed by Sir Thomas Bouch—used lattice girders supported by iron piers, cast iron columns, and cross-braced. The piers were narrower, and their cross-bracing was less extensive and robust than on previous similar designs by Bouch.
In the wake of the disaster, William Henry Barlow designed the new Tay Bridge, setting new standards for civil engineering. His investigations into steel and the engineering of girders led to the design of the Forth Rail Bridge, one of the most impressive railway structures in the world.
Forth Rail Bridge
The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge across the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, 9 miles (14 kilometres) west of central Edinburgh. The Forth Rail Bridge, Completed in 1890, is considered a symbol of Scotland (having been voted Scotland's greatest man-made wonder in 2016) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Forth Rail Bridge was designed by the English engineers' Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. As a result, it is sometimes referred to as the Forth Rail Bridge (to distinguish it from the adjacent Forth Road Bridge), although this has never been its official name.
Construction of the bridge began in 1882, and it was opened on 4 March 1890 by the Duke of Rothesay, the future Edward VII. The bridge carries the Edinburgh–Aberdeen line across the Forth between South Queensferry and North Queensferry and has a total length of 8,094 feet (2,467 m). When it opened, it had the longest single cantilever bridge span globally, until 1919 when the Quebec Bridge in Canada was completed. It continues to be the world's second-longest single cantilever span, with a span of 1,709 feet (521 m).
The bridge and its associated railway infrastructure is the property of Network Rail.
With his health failing, he retired from practice in 1896, along with his son. On 12 November 1902, Barlow died from exhaustion after breaking his leg and was buried in Charlton Cemetery in a plot adjacent to that of his father's grave. His home, "High Combe", Charlton Road, Greenwich, is marked with a blue plaque.