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James Brindley

James Brindley (1716-1772) was an English Engineer. He was born in Thornsett, Derbyshire, and lived much of his life in Leek, Staffordshire. Brindley received little formal education and was practically illiterate, this however didn't stop him from becoming one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century.


Born into humble circumstances and receiving little education, at age 17, Brindley was apprenticed to a millwright near Macclesfield. Having completed his apprenticeship he set up business for himself as a wheelwright in Leek.

He soon established a reputation for ingenuity and skill at repairing many different kinds of machinery. In 1752 he designed and built an engine for draining some coal-pits at Clifton in Lancashire. Three years later he built a machine for a silk-mill at Congleton.

His reputation brought him to the attention of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater who was looking for a way to improve the transport of coal from his coal mines at Worsley to Manchester.

In 1759 The Duke commisioned Brindley to construct a canal to do just that. The resulting Bridgewater Canal opened in 1761, was the first British canal of the modern era, and was a major technical triumph. The most impressive feature of the canal was an aqueduct which carried the canal at an elevation of 13 metres (39 feet) over the River Irwell at Barton.

Brindley's reputation soon spread and he was soon commisioned to construct more canals. He extended the Bridgewater to Runcorn, connecting it to his next major work, the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Brindley believed it would be possible to use canals to link the four great rivers of England: the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames. The Trent and Mersey Canal was the first part of this ambitious network, but although he and his assistants surveyed the whole potential system, he would not live to see it completed (coal was finally transported from the Midlands to the Thames at Oxford in January 1790 - 18 years after Brindley's death). Development of the network, therefore, had to be left to other engineers, such as Thomas Telford.

In total, throughout his life Brindley built 365 miles (587 km) of canals and many watermills, including the the Stafford and Worcester Canal the Coventry Canal, the Oxford Canal and numerous others, and he also constructed the watermill at Leek, now the Brindley Water Museum.

He died of complications arising from diabetes at Turnhurst, Staffordshire, on 30 September 1772.

He is remembered in Birmingham by Brindley Drive (on the site of former canal yards), the Brindleyplace mixed-use development and a pub, The James Brindley (both being canal-side features).

See also