Sir Joseph Paxton asked a question in the House of Commons on 11th August 1859 (Hansard vol 155 cc 1343-50). Paxton said, he would beg to ask the First Commissioner of Works if it is still his intention to proceed with the Works as proposed by Mr. Hawksley for partially cleansing the water in the Serpentine.
The ensuing debate included the following intervention by Robert Stephenson who said, that although he did not feel very sure that he was quite in order, he was willing to respond to the appeal which had been made to him to give his opinion on the Serpentine. He had been in the habit of visiting the place for many years, and had watched closely its want of purification. He had held the office of Commissioner of Sewers, and had devoted his attention a good deal to the means of excluding from the Serpentine the sewage of Bays water, which formerly fell into it to a large extent, and the exclusion of that sewage had undoubtedly, to a proportionate extent, led to the purification of the river. At that time he felt there was some smell arising from the river, but for the last few years, say four or five, there had been a very undue amount of excitement respecting the Serpentine. He was in the habit of driving past it twice a day, and rode there occasionally for some hours, but he had never found, for the last three or four years, anything so offensive to his olfactory nerves as to lead him to coincide in the outcry that was recently raised. He believed that outcry was entirely unfounded, because, whatever the state of the Serpentine might have been, it was not now, to the best of his judgment, in an offensive condition. Supposing, however, that the water was impure, the question was how the nuisance should be remedied. The Serpentine was a stagnant lake, and the other day, in riding along the banks, he observed that a quantity of lime was being poured into the water. The consequence of this proceeding was that he saw dead fish floating on the surface, and occasioning the most offensive species of decomposition. In every lake nature provided a sort of equilibrium; there were the algeaceous plants, which were fed on by the small animals, which in turn were fed on by the large; they did that, therefore, with the Serpentine which they ought not to have done; by putting in lime they killed the large animals, which fed on the small, and thus rendered it more polluted than before. The case was very different with the Thames. He did ...... he really must demur to give him the same confidence. His hon. Friend said there was no use in pumping out water at the Bayswater end and pouring it in there again. [Sir JOSEPH PAXTON: Hear, hear.] There was every use in it. The water could not be pumped out and then sent in again without creating a difference in the level of the water, and that would create a current from end to end, and he believed the calculation was that the whole body of water would be changed about every two months. Four and a half horse power would raise 2,000,000 gallons a day ten feet high. By doing that they must alter the level while they pumped it out or in, and if the level of the water was raised at the Bayswater end it must flow down to the Albert-gate end. With regard to the objection on the score of the offensive nature of the filtering process, he entertained no apprehensions whatever on that ground. He believed this was the least expensive and the most effectual plan that could be adopted, supposing the water of the Serpentine to be offensive, which he did not admit. He frequently passed the Serpentine four times a day, and almost always twice daily, and within the last four or five years he had not experienced anything in the least offensive. He must say, however, that in his opinion Mr. Havvksley's plan afforded the most simple and economical means of purifying the water.
An engineering masterpiece of the world, was opened to the public in 1850
Do you know who the men were who built it?
Were any of your ancestors stonemasons, brick makers, sailors, contractors,
clerks, engineers, foundry workers, riveters, carpenters?
Julie Stone is researching the building of the Britannia Bridge.
Much has been written about the technical construction but less is known about the people who were involved in the day to day building operation.
If you have anything to contribute to her research or have any ancestors who might have been involved then please get in touch with her or leave a note at the Telford Centre, Menai Bridge.
Julie Stone would be very pleased to hear from you.
So far, she has begun collecting the names of anyone involved with the building of the bridge (held for viewing at the Two Bridges Exhibition, Telford Centre, Menai Bridge). The Memorial
Some workers died during its construction and there is a memorial in St Mary’s Churchyard, Llanfairpwll. Here too we find the names of the contractors for the masonry. The Engineers
The bridge was built to carry the Chester and Holyhead Railway across the Menai Straits and provide a through route from London to Dublin. It was of course the brainchild of Robert Stephenson and there are many names in the engineering field attached to its construction. The Sailors
The stone for the masonry was brought by sea from Penmon, Moelfre and from further afield at Runcorn. There were therefore many sailors involved in this process, as well as those responsible for floating out the huge iron tubes into position for lifting into place on the towers. The Railwaymen
For the initial testing Robert Stephenson drove the first engine across the bridge accompanied by key personnel.
Thereafter the railway employees took the powerful engines through the tubes. The Workforce
The iron tubes were constructed with skills learnt in the shipbuilding industry and men came from the London shipyards to work on the bridge.
The masonry contractors were from Dewsbury in Yorkshire and stonemasons and brick makers came with their families to work.
Irish ‘navvies’ were also employed.
But over half the workforce came from the local area. Unemployed farm workers and copper miners saw an opportunity to earn some money, as did the farmers who loaned out their horses. The Public
People turned out in their thousands at the opening ceremony and more than 700 passengers were taken over the bridge on the first crossing. A toast was given to the ladies for their bravery!
Who were the men who built Britannia Bridge?
Since starting the project Julie has collected many names In St Mary’s churchyard, Llanairpwllgwyngyll, the monument to those who died gives some fifteen names. Most deaths were due to falling off the staging or from things falling from above – no Health and Safety then!
Newspaper reports provide vivid pictures of the flotation of the Tubes, of the opening of the Bridge in 1850, and of the accidents which occurred.
The 1851 census from both sides of the Strait shows some workers still living in
the area but most had moved on to other projects.
There is a database of names which can be searched by contacting Julie Stone
or Nick Holyfield.
The Bridge consisted of three stone towers and a land abutment on each shore of the Strait, to take the huge rectangular Tubes through which the trains would run. The masonry was contracted to Nowell, Hemingway and Pearson and was completed in two years nine months.
This book is primarily a portfolio of modern photography, featuring the legacy of George and Robert Stephenson. A concise but comprehensive biography, faithfully tracking their difficulties as well as their triumphs, provides a framework for the visual celebration of their extraordinary achievements. Photographic subjects include original locomotives from the early years of the nineteenth century, replicas in steam, museum artefacts and landscape shots showing railway routes with classic Victorian engineering.
The life of George Stephenson presents a classic rags to riches tale - from illiterate colliery worker to pit owner and railway magnate. His son Robert combined the best traits of his father’s character with new talents of his own to become, rightly, the most feted of the ‘heroic’ Victorian engineers.
Chris Morris’ book gives a visual power to the Stephensons’ legacy
– Mark Whitby, former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers
Chris Morris has previously published similar books, on Thomas Telford and on IK Brunel; his book on the latter ‘THE GREAT BRUNEL’ is re-issued as a paperback (978-09564358-11) to co-incide with the Stephensons volume.
112 pp. softback 240x168 £12.99 ISBN 978-09564358-04