This was only the first of a vast number of similar projects on which Metcalf was afterwards engaged, extending over a period of more than thirty years. By the time that he had finished the road, the building of a bridge at Boroughbridge was advertised, and Metcalf sent in his tender with many others. At the same time he frankly stated that, though he wished to undertake the work, he had not before executed anything of the kind. His tender being on the whole the most favourable, the trustees sent for Metcalf, and on his appearing before them, they asked him what he knew of a bridge. He replied that he could readily describe his plan of the one they proposed to build, if they would be good enough to write down his figures. The span of the arch, 18 feet," said he, "being a semicircle, makes 27: the arch-stones must be a foot deep, which, if multiplied by 27, will be 486; and the basis will be 72 feet more. This for the arch; but it will require good backing, for which purpose there are proper stones in the old Roman wall at Aldborough, which may be used for the purpose, if you please to give directions to that effect." It is doubtful whether the trustees were able to follow his rapid calculations; but they were so much struck by his readiness and apparently complete knowledge of the work he proposed to execute, that they gave him the contract to build the bridge; and he completed it within the stipulated time in a satisfactory and workmanlike manner.
He next agreed to make the mile and a half of turnpike-road between his native town of Knaresborough and Harrogate—ground with which he was more than ordinarily familiar. Walking one day over a portion of the ground on which the road was to be made, while still covered with grass, he told the workmen that he thought it differed from the ground adjoining it, and he directed them to try for stone or gravel underneath; and, strange to say, not many feet down, the men came upon the stones of an old Roman causeway, from which he obtained much valuable material for the making of his new road. At another part of the contract there was a bog to be crossed, and the surveyor thought it impossible to make a road over it. Metcalf assured him that he could readily accomplish it; on which the other offered, if he succeeded, to pay him for the straight road the price which he would have to pay if the road were constructed round the bog. Metcalf set to work accordingly, and had a large quantity of furze and ling laid upon the bog, over which he spread layers of gravel. The plan answered effectually, and when the materials had become consolidated, it proved one of the best parts of the road.
It would be tedious to describe in detail the construction of the various roads and bridges which Metcalf subsequently executed, but a brief summary of the more important will suffice. In Yorkshire, he made the roads between Harrogate and Harewood Bridge; between Chapeltown and Leeds; between Broughton and Addingham; between Mill Bridge and Halifax; between Wakefield and Dewsbury; between Wakefield and Doncaster; between Wakefield, Huddersfield, and Saddleworth (the Manchester road); between Standish and Thurston Clough; between Huddersfield and Highmoor; between Huddersfield and Halifax, and between Knaresborough and Wetherby.
In Lancashire also, Metcalf made a large extent of roads, which were of the greatest importance in opening up the resources of that county. Previous to their construction, almost the only means of communication between districts was by horse-tracks and mill-roads, of sufficient width to enable a laden horse to pass along them with a pack of goods or a sack of corn slung across its back. Metcalf's principal roads in Lancashire were those constructed by him between Bury and Blackburn, with a branch to Accrington; between Bury and Haslingden; and between Haslingden and Accrington, with a branch to Blackburn. He also made some highly important main roads connecting Yorkshire and Lancashire with each other at many parts: as, for instance, those between Skipton, Colne, and Burnley; and between Docklane Head and Ashton-under-Lyne. The roads from Ashton to Stockport and from Stockport to Mottram Langdale were also his work.
Our road-maker was also extensively employed in the same way in the counties of Cheshire and Derby; constructing the roads between Macclesfield and Chapel-le-Frith, between Whaley and Buxton, between Congleton and the Red Bull (entering Staffordshire), and in various other directions. The total mileage of the turnpike-roads thus constructed was about one hundred and eighty miles, for which Metcalf received in all about sixty-five thousand pounds. The making of these roads also involved the building of many bridges, retaining-walls, and culverts. We believe it was generally admitted of the works constructed by Metcalf that they well stood the test of time and use; and, with a degree of justifiable pride, he was afterwards accustomed to point to his bridges, when others were tumbling during floods, and boast that none of his had fallen.
This extraordinary man not only made the highways which were designed for him by other surveyors, but himself personally surveyed and laid out many of the most important roads which he constructed, in difficult and mountainous parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. One who personally knew Metcalf thus wrote of him during his life-time:. "With the assistance only of a long staff, I have several times met this man traversing the roads, ascending steep and rugged heights, exploring valleys and investigating their several extents, forms, and situations, so as to answer his designs in the best manner. The plans which he makes, and the estimates he prepares, are done in a method peculiar to himself, and of which he cannot well convey the meaning to others. His abilities in this respect are, nevertheless, so great that he finds constant employment. Most of the roads over the Peak in Derbyshire have been altered by his directions, particularly those in the vicinity of Buxton; and he is at this time constructing a new one betwixt Wilmslow and Congleton, to open a communication with the great London road, without being obliged to pass over the mountains. I have met this blind projector while engaged in making his survey. He was alone as usual, and, amongst other conversation, I made some inquiries respecting this new road. It was really astonishing to hear with what accuracy he described its course and the nature of the different soils through which it was conducted. Having mentioned to him a boggy piece of ground it passed through, he observed that 'that was the only place he had doubts concerning, and that he was apprehensive they had, contrary to his directions, been too sparing of their materials.'"*
Metcalf's skill in constructing his roads over boggy ground was very great; and the following may be cited as an instance. When the high-road from Huddersfield to Manchester was determined on, he agreed to make it at so much a rood, though at that time the line had not been marked out. When this was done, Metcalf, to his dismay, found that the surveyor had laid it out across some deep marshy ground on Pule and Standish Commons. On this he expostulated with the trustees, alleging the much greater expense that he must necessarily incur in carrying out the work after their surveyor's plan. They told him, however, that if he succeeded in making a complete road to their satisfaction, he should not be a loser; but they pointed out that, according to their surveyor's views, it would be requisite for him to dig out the bog until he came to a solid bottom. Metcalf, on making his calculations, found that in that case he would have to dig a trench some nine feet deep and fourteen yards broad on the average, making about two hundred and ninety-four solid yards of bog in every rood, to be excavated and carried away. This, he naturally conceived, would have proved both tedious as well as costly, and, after all, the road would in wet weather have been no better than a broad ditch, and in winter liable to be blocked up with snow. He strongly represented this view to the trustees as well as the surveyor, but they were immovable. It was, therefore, necessary for him to surmount the difficulty in some other way, though he remained firm in his resolution not to adopt the plan proposed by the surveyor. After much cogitation he appeared again before the trustees, and made this proposal to them: that he should make the road across the marshes after his own plan, and then, if it should be found not to answer, he would be at the expense of making it over again after the surveyor's proposed method. This was agreed to; and as he had undertaken to make nine miles of the road within ten months, he immediately set to work with all despatch.
Nearly four hundred men were employed upon the work at six different points, and their first operation was to cut a deep ditch along either side of the intended road, and throw the excavated stuff inwards so as to raise it to a circular form. His greatest difficulty was in getting the stones laid to make the drains, there being no firm footing for a horse in the more boggy places. The Yorkshire clothiers, who passed that way to Huddersfield market —by no means a soft-spoken race—ridiculed Metcalf's proceedings, and declared that he and his men would some day have to be dragged out of the bog by the hair of their heads! Undeterred, however, by sarcasm, he persistently pursued his plan of making the road practicable for laden vehicles; but he strictly enjoined his men for the present to keep his manner of proceeding; a secret.
His plan was this. He ordered heather and ling to be pulled from the adjacent ground, and after binding it together in little round bundles, which could be grasped with the hand, these bundles were placed close together in rows in the direction of the line of road, after which other similar bundles were placed transversely over them; and when all had been pressed well down, stone and gravel were led on in broad-wheeled waggons, and spread over the bundles, so as to make a firm and level way. When the first load was brought and laid on, and the horses reached the firm ground again in safety, loud cheers were set up by the persons who had assembled in the expectation of seeing both horses and waggons disappear in the bog. The whole length was finished in like manner, and it proved one of the best, and even the driest, parts of the road, standing in very little need of repair for nearly twelve years after its construction. The plan adopted by Metcalf, we need scarcely point out, was precisely similar to that afterwards adopted by George Stephenson, under like circumstances, when constructing the railway across Chat Moss. It consisted simply in a large extension of the bearing surface, by which, in fact, the road was made to float upon the surface of the bog; and the ingenuity of the expedient proved the practical shrewdness and mother-wit of the blind Metcalf, as it afterwards illustrated the promptitude as well as skill of the clear-sighted George Stephenson.
Metcalf was upwards of seventy years old before he left off road-making. He was still hale and hearty, wonderfully active for so old a man, and always full of enterprise. Occupation was absolutely necessary for his comfort, and even to the last day of his life he could not bear to be idle. While engaged on road-making in Cheshire, he brought his wife to Stockport for a time, and there she died, after thirty-nine years of happy married life. One of Metcalf's daughters became married to a person engaged in the cotton business at Stockport, and, as that trade was then very brisk, Metcalf himself commenced it in a small way. He began with six spinning-jennies and a carding-engine, to which he afterwards added looms for weaving calicoes, jeans, and velveteens. But trade was fickle, and finding that he could not sell his yarns except at a loss, he made over his jennies to his son-in-law, and again went on with his road-making. The last line which he constructed was one of the most difficult he had everundertaken,— that between Haslingden and Accrington, with a branch road to Bury. Numerous canals being under construction at the same time, employment was abundant and wages rose, so that though he honourably fulfilled his contract, and was paid for it the sum of 3500L., he found himself a loser of exactly 40L. after two years' labour and anxiety. He completed the road in 1792, when he was seventy-five years of age, after which he retired to his farm at Spofforth, near Wetherby, where for some years longer he continued to do a little business in his old line, buying and selling hay and standing wood, and superintending the operations of his little farm, During the later years of his career he occupied himself in dictating to an amanuensis an account of the incidents in his remarkable life, and finally, in the year 1810, this strong-hearted and resolute man —his life's work over—laid down his staff and peacefully departed in the ninety-third year of his age; leaving behind him four children, twenty grand-children, and ninety great grand-children.
[Image] Metcalf's house at Spofforth.
The roads constructed by Metcalf and others had the effect of greatly improving the communications of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and opening up those counties to the trade then flowing into them from all directions. But the administration of the highways and turnpikes being entirely local, their good or bad management depending upon the public spirit and enterprise of the gentlemen of the locality, it frequently happened that while the roads of one county were exceedingly good, those of the adjoining county were altogether execrable.
Even in the immediate vicinity of the metropolis the Surrey roads remained comparatively unimproved. Those through the interior of Kent were wretched. When Mr. Rennie, the engineer, was engaged in surveying the Weald with a view to the cutting of a canal through it in 1802, he found the country almost destitute of practicable roads, though so near to the metropolis on the one hand and to the sea-coast on the other. The interior of the county was then comparatively untraversed, except by bands of smugglers, who kept the inhabitants in a state of constant terror. In an agricultural report on the county of Northampton as late as the year 1813, it was stated that the only way of getting along some of the main lines of road in rainy weather, was by swimming!
In the neighbourhood of the city of Lincoln the communications were little better, and there still stands upon what is called Lincoln Heath—though a heath no longer—a curious memorial of the past in the shape of Dunstan Pillar, a column seventy feet high, erected about the middle of last century in the midst of the then dreary, barren waste, for the purpose of serving as a mark to wayfarers by day and a beacon to them by night.*
[Image] Land Lighthouse on Lincoln Heath.
At that time the Heath was not only uncultivated, but it was also unprovided with a road across it. When the late Lady Robert Manners visited Lincoln from her residence at Bloxholm, she was accustomed to send forward a groom to examine some track, that on his return he might be able to report one that was practicable. Travellers frequently lost themselves upon this heath. Thus a family, returning from a ball at Lincoln, strayed from the track twice in one night, and they were obliged to remain there until morning. All this is now changed, and Lincoln Heath has become covered with excellent roads and thriving farmsteads. "This Dunstan Pillar," says Mr. Pusey, in his review of the agriculture of Lincolnshire, in 1843, "lighted up no longer time ago for so singular a purpose, did appear to me a striking witness of the spirit of industry which, in our own days, has reared the thriving homesteads around it, and spread a mantle of teeming vegetation to its very base. And it was certainly surprising to discover at once the finest farming I had ever seen and the only land lighthouse ever raised.* Now that the pillar has ceased to cheer the wayfarer, it may serve as a beacon to encourage other landowners in converting their dreary moors into similar scenes of thriving industry."* When the improvement of the high roads of the country fairly set in, the progress made was very rapid. This was greatly stimulated by the important inventions of tools, machines, and engines, made towards the close of last century, the products of which—more especially of the steam-engine and spinning-machine—so largely increased the wealth of the nation. Manufactures, commerce, and shipping, made unprecedented strides; life became more active; persons and commodities circulated more rapidly; every improvement in the internal communications being followed by an increase of ease, rapidity, and economy in locomotion. Turnpike and post roads were speedily extended all over the country, and even the rugged mountain districts of North Wales and the Scotch Highlands became as accessible as any English county. The riding postman was superseded by the smartly appointed mail-coach, performing its journeys with remarkable regularity at the average speed of ten miles an hour. Slow stagecoaches gave place to fast ones, splendidly horsed and "tooled," until travelling by road in England was pronounced almost perfect.
But all this was not enough. The roads and canals, numerous and perfect though they might be, were found altogether inadequate to the accommodation of the traffic of the country, which had increased, at a constantly accelerating ratio, with the increased application of steam power to the purposes of productive industry. At length steam itself was applied to remedy the inconveniences which it had caused; the locomotive engine was invented, and travelling by railway became generally adopted. The effect of these several improvements in the means of locomotion, has been to greatly increase the public activity, and to promote the general comfort and well-being. They have tended to bring the country and the town much closer together; and, by annihilating distance as measured by time, to make the whole kingdom as one great city. What the personal blessings of improved communication have been, no one has described so well as the witty and sensible Sydney Smith:—
"It is of some importance," he wrote, "at what period a man is born. A young man alive at this period hardly knows to what improvement of human life he has been introduced; and I would bring before his notice the changes which have taken place in England since I began to breathe the breath of life, a period amounting to over eighty years. Gas was unknown; I groped about the streets of London in the all but utter darkness of a twinkling oil lamp, under the protection of watchmen in their grand climacteric, and exposed to every species of degradation and insult. I have been nine hours in sailing from Dover to Calais, before the invention of steam. It took me nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath, before the invention of railroads; and I now go in six hours from Taunton to London! In going from Taunton to Bath, I suffered between l0,000 and 12,000 severe contusions, before stone-breaking Macadam was born.... As the basket of stage-coaches in which luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes were rubbed all to pieces; and, even in the best society, one-third of the gentlemen at least were always drunk..... I paid 15L. in a single year for repairs of carriage-springs on the pavement of London; and I now glide without noise or fracture on wooden pavement. I can walk, by the assistance of the police, from one end of London to the other without molestation; or, if tired, get into a cheap and active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my life..... Whatever miseries I suffered, there was no post to whisk my complaints for a single penny to the remotest comer of the empire; and yet, in spite of all these privations, I lived on quietly, and am now ashamed that I was not more discontented, and utterly surprised that all these changes and inventions did not occur two centuries ago.
With the history of these great improvements is also mixed up the story of human labour and genius, and of the patience and perseverance displayed in carrying them out. Probably one of the best illustrations of character in connection with the development of the inventions of the last century, is to be found in the life of Thomas Telford, the greatest and most scientific road-maker of his day, to which we proceed to direct the attention of the reader.
Footnotes for Chapter VI.
* 'Observations on Blindness and on the Employment of the other Senses to supply the Loss of Sight.' By Mr. Bew.—'Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester,' vol.i., pp. 172-174. Paper read 17th April, 1782.
* The pillar was erected by Squire Dashwood in 1751; the lantern on its summit was regularly lighted till 1788, and occasionally till 1808,, when it was thrown down and never replaced. The Earl of Buckingham afterwards mounted a statue of George III. on the top.
* Since the appearance of the first edition of this book, a correspondent has informed us that there is another lighthouse within 24 miles of London, not unlike that on Lincoln Heath. It is situated a little to the south-east of the Woking station of the South-western Railway, and is popularly known as "Woking Monument." It stands on the verge of Woking Heath, which is a continuation of the vast tract of heath land which extends in one direction as far as Bagshot. The tradition among the inhabitants is, that one of the kings of England was wont to hunt in the neighbourhood, when a fire was lighted up in the beacon to guide him in case he should be belated; but the probability is, that it was erected like that on Lincoln Heath, for the guidance of ordinary wayfarers at night.
* 'Journal of the Agricultural Society of England, 1843.'
LIFE OF THOMAS TELFORD.
CHAPTER I. ESKDALE.
[Image] Valley of "the Unblameable Shepherd", Eskdale
Thomas Telford was born in one of the most Solitary nooks of the narrow valley of the Esk, in the eastern part of the county of Dumfries, in Scotland. Eskdale runs north and south, its lower end having been in former times the western march of the Scottish border. Near the entrance to the dale is a tall column erected on Langholm Hill, some twelve miles to the north of the Gretna Green station of the Caledonian Railway,—which many travellers to and from Scotland may have observed,—a monument to the late Sir John Malcolm, Governor of Bombay, one of the distinguished natives of the district. It looks far over the English border-lands, which stretch away towards the south, and marks the entrance to the mountainous parts of the dale, which lie to the north. From that point upwards the valley gradually contracts, the road winding along the river's banks, in some places high above the stream, which rushes swiftly over the rocky bed below.
A few miles upward from the lower end of Eskdale lies the little capital of the district, the town of Langholm; and there, in the market-place, stands another monument to the virtues of the Malcolm family in the statue erected to the memory of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm, a distinguished naval officer. Above Langholm, the country becomes more hilly and moorland. In many places only a narrow strip of land by the river's side is left available for cultivation; until at length the dale contracts so much that the hills descend to the very road, and there are only to be seen their steep heathery sides sloping up towards the sky on either hand, and a narrow stream plashing and winding along the bottom of the valley among the rocks at their feet.
[Image] Telford's Native District
From this brief description of the character of Eskdale scenery, it may readily be supposed that the district is very thinly peopled, and that it never could have been capable of supporting a large number of inhabitants. Indeed, previous to the union of the crowns of England and Scotland, the principal branch of industry that existed in the Dale was of a lawless kind. The people living on the two sides of the border looked upon each other's cattle as their own, provided only they had the strength to "lift" them. They were, in truth, even during the time of peace, a kind of outcasts, against whom the united powers of England and Scotland were often employed. On the Scotch side of the Esk were the Johnstones and Armstrongs, and on the English the Graemes of Netherby; both clans being alike wild and lawless. It was a popular border saying that "Elliots and Armstrongs ride thieves a';" and an old historian says of the Graemes that "they were all stark moss-troopers and arrant thieves; to England as well as Scotland outlawed." The neighbouring chiefs were no better: Scott of Buccleugh, from whom the modern Duke is descended, and Scott of Harden, the ancestor of the novelist, being both renowned freebooters.
There stands at this day on the banks of the Esk, only a few miles from the English border, the ruin of an old fortalice, called Gilnockie Tower, in a situation which in point of natural beauty is scarcely equalled even in Scotland. It was the stronghold of a chief popularly known in his day as Johnnie Armstrong.* He was a mighty freebooter in the time of James V., and the terror of his name is said to have extended as far as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, between which town and his castle on the Esk he was accustomed to levy black-mail, or "protection and forbearance money," as it was called. The King, however, determining to put down by the strong hand the depredations of the march men, made a sudden expedition along the borders; and Johnnie Armstrong having been so ill-advised as to make his appearance with his followers at a place called Carlenrig, in Etterick Forest, between Hawick and Langholm, James ordered him to instant execution. Had Johnnie Armstrong, like the Scotts and Kers and Johnstones of like calling, been imprisoned beforehand, he might possibly have lived to found a British peerage; but as it was, the genius of the Armstrong dynasty was for a time extinguished, only, however, to reappear, after the lapse of a few centuries, in the person of the eminent engineer of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the inventor of the Armstrong gun.
The two centuries and a half which have elapsed since then have indeed seen extraordinary changes.* The energy which the old borderers threw into their feuds has not become extinct, but survives under more benignant aspects, exhibiting itself in efforts to enlighten, fertilize, and enrich the country which their wasteful ardour before did so much to disturb and impoverish. The heads of the Buccleugh and Elliot family now sit in the British House of Lords. The descendant of Scott of Harden has achieved a world-wide reputation as a poet and novelist; and the late Sir James Graham, the representative of the Graemes of Netherby, on the English side of the border, was one of the most venerable and respected of British statesmen. The border men, who used to make such furious raids and forays, have now come to regard each other, across the imaginary line which divides them, as friends and neighbours; and they meet as competitors for victory only at agricultural meetings, where they strive to win prizes for the biggest turnips or the most effective reaping-machines; while the men who followed their Johnstone or Armstrong chiefs as prickers or hobilers to the fray have, like Telford, crossed the border with powers of road-making and bridge-building which have proved a source of increased civilization and well-being to the population of the entire United Kingdom.
The hamlet of Westerkirk, with its parish church and school, lies in a narrow part of the valley, a few miles above Langholm. Westerkirk parish is long and narrow, its boundaries being the hill-tops on either side of the dale. It is about seven miles long and two broad, with a population of about 600 persons of all ages. Yet this number is quite as much as the district is able to support, as is proved by its remaining as nearly as possible stationary from one generation to another.* But what becomes of the natural increase of families? "They swarm off!" was the explanation given to us by a native of the valley. "If they remained at home," said he, "we should all be sunk in poverty, scrambling with each other amongst these hills for a bare living. But our peasantry have a spirit above that: they will not consent to sink; they look up; and our parish schools give them a power of making their way in the world, each man for himself. So they swarm off—some to America, some to Australia, some to India, and some, like Telford, work their way across the border and up to London."
One would scarcely have expected to find the birthplace of the builder of the Menai Bridge and other great national works in so obscure a corner of the kingdom. Possibly it may already have struck the reader with surprise, that not only were all the early engineers self-taught in their profession, but they were brought up mostly in remote country places, far from the active life of great towns and cities. But genius is of no locality, and springs alike from the farmhouse, the peasant's hut, or the herd's shieling. Strange, indeed, it is that the men who have built our bridges, docks, lighthouses, canals, and railways, should nearly all have been country-bred boys: Edwards and Brindley, the sons of small farmers; Smeaton, brought up in his father's country house at Austhorpe; Rennie, the son of a farmer and freeholder; and Stephenson, reared in a colliery village, an engine-tenter's son. But Telford, even more than any of these, was a purely country-bred boy, and was born and brought up in a valley so secluded that it could not even boast of a cluster of houses of the dimensions of a village.
Telford's father was a herd on the sheep-farm of Glendinning. The farm consists of green hills, lying along the valley of the Meggat, a little burn, which descends from the moorlands on the east, and falls into the Esk near the hamlet of Westerkirk. John Telford's cottage was little better than a shieling, consisting of four mud walls, spanned by a thatched roof. It stood upon a knoll near the lower end of a gully worn in the hillside by the torrents of many winters.
The ground stretches away from it in a long sweeping slope up to the sky, and is green to the top, except where the bare grey rocks in some places crop out to the day. From the knoll may be seen miles on miles of hills up and down the valley, winding in and out, sometimes branching off into smaller glens, each with its gurgling rivulet of peaty-brown water flowing down from the mosses above. Only a narrow strip of arable land is here and there visible along the bottom of the dale, all above being sheep-pasture, moors, and rocks. At Glendinning you seem to have got almost to the world's end. There the road ceases, and above it stretch trackless moors, the solitude of which is broken only by the whimpling sound of the burns on their way to the valley below, the hum of bees gathering honey among the heather, the whirr of a blackcock on the wing, the plaintive cry of the ewes at lambing-time, or the sharp bark of the shepherd's dog gathering the flock together for the fauld.
[Image] Telford's Birthplace
In this cottage on the knoll Thomas Telford was born on the 9th of August, 1757, and before the year was out he was already an orphan. The shepherd, his father, died in the month of November, and was buried in Westerkirk churchyard, leaving behind him his widow and her only child altogether unprovided for. We may here mention that one of the first things which that child did, when he had grown up to manhood and could "cut a headstone," was to erect one with the following inscription, hewn and lettered by himself, over his father's grave: "IN MEMORY OF JOHN TELFORD, WHO AFTER LIVING 33 YEARS AN UNBLAMEABLE SHEPHERD, DIED AT GLENDINNING, NOVEMBER, 1757,"
a simple but poetical epitaph, which Wordsworth himself might have written.
The widow had a long and hard struggle with the world before her; but she encountered it bravely. She had her boy to work for, and, destitute though she was, she had him to educate. She was helped, as the poor so often are, by those of her own condition, and there is no sense of degradation in receiving such help. One of the risks of benevolence is its tendency to lower the recipient to the condition of an alms-taker. Doles from poor's-boxes have this enfeebling effect; but a poor neighbour giving a destitute widow a help in her time of need is felt to be a friendly act, and is alike elevating to the character of both. Though misery such as is witnessed in large towns was quite unknown in the valley, there was poverty; but it was honest as well as hopeful, and none felt ashamed of it. The farmers of the dale were very primitive* in their manners and habits, and being a warm-hearted, though by no means a demonstrative race, they were kind to the widow and her fatherless boy. They took him by turns to live with them at their houses, and gave his mother occasional employment. In summer she milked the ewes and made hay, and in harvest she went a-shearing; contriving not only to live, but to be cheerful.
The house to which the widow and her son removed at the Whitsuntide following the death of her husband was at a place called The Crooks, about midway between Glendinning and Westerkirk. It was a thatched cot-house, with two ends; in one of which lived Janet Telford (more commonly known by her own name of Janet Jackson) and her son Tom, and in the other her neighbour Elliot; one door being common to both.
[Image] Cottage at the Crooks.
Young Telford grew up a healthy boy, and he was so full of fun and humour that he became known in the valley by the name of "Laughing Tam." When he was old enough to herd sheep he went to live with a relative, a shepherd like his father, and he spent most of his time with him in summer on the hill-side amidst the silence of nature. In winter he lived with one or other of the neighbouring farmers. He herded their cows or ran errands, receiving for recompense his meat, a pair of stockings, and five shillings a year for clogs. These were his first wages, and as he grew older they were gradually increased.
But Tom must now be put to school, and, happily, small though the parish of Westerkirk was, it possessed the advantage of that admirable institution, the parish school. The legal provision made at an early period for the education of the people in Scotland, proved one of their greatest boons. By imparting the rudiments of knowledge to all, the parish schools of the country placed the children of the peasantry on a more equal footing with the children of the rich; and to that extent redressed the inequalities of fortune. To start a poor boy on the road of life without instruction, is like starting one on a race with his eyes bandaged or his leg tied up. Compared with the educated son of the rich man, the former has but little chance of sighting the winning post.
To our orphan boy the merely elementary teaching provided at the parish school of Westerkirk was an immense boon. To master this was the first step of the ladder he was afterwards to mount: his own industry, energy, and ability must do the rest. To school accordingly he went, still working a-field or herding cattle during the summer months. Perhaps his own "penny fee" helped to pay the teacher's hire; but it is supposed that his cousin Jackson defrayed the principal part of the expense of his instruction. It was not much that he learnt; but in acquiring the arts of reading, writing, and figures, he learnt the beginnings of a great deal. Apart from the question of learning, there was another manifest advantage to the poor boy in mixing freely at the parish school with the sons of the neighbouring farmers and proprietors. Such intercourse has an influence upon a youth's temper, manners, and tastes, which is quite as important in the education of character as the lessons of the master himself; and Telford often, in after life, referred with pleasure to the benefits which he had derived from his early school friendships. Among those to whom he was accustomed to look back with most pride, were the two elder brothers of the Malcolm family, both of whom rose to high rank in the service of their country; William Telford, a youth of great promise, a naval surgeon, who died young; and the brothers William and Andrew Little, the former of whom settled down as a farmer in Eskdale, and the latter, a surgeon, lost his eyesight when on service off the coast of Africa. Andrew Little afterwards established himself as a teacher at Langholm, where he educated, amongst others, General Sir Charles Pasley, Dr. Irving, the Custodier of the Advocate's Library at Edinburgh; and others known to fame beyond the bounds of their native valley. Well might Telford say, when an old man, full of years and honours, on sitting down to write his autobiography, "I still recollect with pride and pleasure my native parish of Westerkirk, on the banks of the Esk, where I was born."
[Image] Westerkirk Church and School.
Footnotes for Chapter I.
* Sir Waiter Scott, in his notes to the 'Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,' says that the common people of the high parts of Liddlesdale and the country adjacent to this day hold the memory of Johnnie Armstrong in very high respect.
* It was long before the Reformation flowed into the secluded valley of the Esk; but when it did, the energy of the Borderers displayed itself in the extreme form of their opposition to the old religion. The Eskdale people became as resolute in their covenanting as they had before been in their free-booting; the moorland fastnesses of the moss-troopers becoming the haunts of the persecuted ministers in the reign of the second James. A little above Langholm is a hill known as "Peden's View," and the well in the green hollow at its foot is still called "Peden's Well"—that place having been the haunt of Alexander Peden, the "prophet." His hiding-place was among the alder-bushes in the hollow, while from the hill-top he could look up the valley, and see whether the Johnstones of Wester Hall were coming. Quite at the head of the same valley, at a place called Craighaugh, on Eskdale Muir, one Hislop, a young covenanter, was shot by Johnstone's men, and buried where he fell; a gray slabstone still marking the place of his rest. Since that time, however, quiet has reigned in Eskdale, and its small population have gone about their daily industry from one generation to another in peace. Yet though secluded and apparently shut out by the surrounding hills from the outer world, there is not a throb of the nation's heart but pulsates along the valley; and when the author visited it some years since, he found that a wave of the great Volunteer movement had flowed into Eskdale; and the "lads of Langholm" were drilling and marching under their chief, young Mr. Malcolm of the Burnfoot, with even more zeal than in the populous towns and cities of the south.
* The names of the families in the valley remain very nearly the same as they were three hundred years ago—the Johnstones, Littles, Scotts, and Beatties prevailing above Langholm; and the Armstrongs, Bells, Irwins, and Graemes lower down towards Canobie and Netherby. It is interesting to find that Sir David Lindesay, in his curious drama published in 'Pinkerton's Scottish Poems' vol. ii., p. 156, gives these as among the names of the borderers some three hundred years since. One Common Thift, when sentenced to condign punishment, thus remembers his Border friends in his dying speech:
"Adew! my bruther Annan thieves, That holpit me in my mischeivis; Adew! Grosaws, Niksonis, and Bells, Oft have we fairne owrthreuch the fells:
Adew! Robsons, Howis, and Pylis, That in our craft hes mony wilis: Littlis, Trumbells, and Armestranges; Baileowes, Erewynis, and Elwandis, Speedy of flicht, and slicht of handis; The Scotts of Eisdale, and the Gramis, I haf na time to tell your nameis."
Telford, or Telfer, is an old name in the same neighbourhood, commemorated in the well known border ballad of 'Jamie Telfer of the fair Dodhead.' Sir W. Scott says, in the 'Minstrelsy,' that "there is still a family of Telfers. residing near Langholm , who pretend to derive their descent from the Telfers of the Dodhead." A member of the family of "Pylis" above mentioned, is said to have migrated from Ecclefechan southward to Blackburn, and there founded the celebrated Peel family.
* We were informed in the valley that about the time of Telford's birth there were only two tea-kettles in the whole parish of Westerkirk, one of which was in the house of Sir James Johnstone of Wester Hall, and the other at "The Burn," the residence of Mr. Pasley, grandfather of General Sir Charles Pasley.
LANGHOLM—TELFORD LEARNS THE TRADE OF A STONEMASON.
The time arrived when young Telford must be put to some regular calling. Was he to be a shepherd like his father and his uncle, or was he to be a farm-labourer, or put apprentice to a trade? There was not much choice; but at length it was determined to bind him to a stonemason. In Eskdale that trade was for the most part confined to the building of drystone walls, and there was very little more art employed in it than an ordinarily neat-handed labourer could manage. It was eventually decided to send the youth—and he was now a strong lad of about fifteen—to a mason at Lochmaben, a small town across the hills to the westward, where a little more building and of a better sort—such as of farm-houses, barns, and road-bridges—was carried on than in his own immediate neighbourhood. There he remained only a few months; for his master using him badly, the high-spirited youth would not brook it, and ran away, taking refuge with his mother at The Crooks, very much to her dismay.
What was now to be done with Tom? He was willing to do anything or go anywhere rather than back to his Lochmaben master. In this emergency his cousin Thomas Jackson, the factor or land-steward at Wester Hall, offered to do what he could to induce Andrew Thomson, a small mason at Langholm, to take Telford for the remainder of his apprenticeship; and to him he went accordingly. The business carried on by his new master was of a very humble sort. Telford, in his autobiography, states that most of the farmers' houses in the district then consisted of "one storey of mud walls, or rubble stones bedded in clay, and thatched with straw, rushes, or heather; the floors being of earth, and the fire in the middle, having a plastered creel chimney for the escape of the smoke; while, instead of windows, small openings in the thick mud walls admitted a scanty light." The farm-buildings were of a similarly wretched description.
The principal owner of the landed property in the neighbourhood was the Duke of Buccleugh. Shortly after the young Duke Henry succeeded to the title and estates, in 1767, he introduced considerable improvements in the farmers' houses and farm-steadings, and the peasants' dwellings, as well as in the roads throughout Eskdale. Thus a demand sprang up for masons' labour, and Telford's master had no want of regular employment for his hands. Telford profited by the experience which this increase in the building operations of the neighbourhood gave him; being employed in raising rough walls and farm enclosures, as well as in erecting bridges across rivers wherever regular roads for wheel carriages were substituted for the horse-tracks formerly in use.
During the greater part of his apprenticeship Telford lived in the little town of Langholm, taking frequent opportunities of visiting his mother at The Crooks on Saturday evenings, and accompanying her to the parish church of Westerkirk on Sundays. Langholm was then a very poor place, being no better in that respect than the district that surrounded it. It consisted chiefly of mud hovels, covered with thatch—the principal building in it being the Tolbooth, a stone and lime structure, the upper part of which was used as a justice-hall and the lower part as a gaol. There were, however, a few good houses in the little town, occupied by people of the better class, and in one of these lived an elderly lady, Miss Pasley, one of the family of the Pasleys of Craig. As the town was so small that everybody in it knew everybody else, the ruddyy-cheeked, laughing mason's apprentice soon became generally known to all the townspeople, and amongst others to Miss Pasley. When she heard that he was the poor orphan boy from up the valley, the son of the hard-working widow woman, Janet Jackson, so "eident" and so industrious, her heart warmed to the mason's apprentice, and she sent for him to her house. That was a proud day for Tom; and when he called upon her, he was not more pleased with Miss Pasley's kindness than delighted at the sight of her little library of books, which contained more volumes than he had ever seen before.
Having by this time acquired a strong taste for reading, and exhausted all the little book stores of his friends, the joy of the young mason may be imagined when Miss Pasley volunteered to lend him some books from her own library. Of course, he eagerly and thankfully availed himself of the privilege; and thus, while working as an apprentice and afterwards as a journeyman, Telford gathered his first knowledge of British literature, in which he was accustomed to the close of his life to take such pleasure. He almost always had some book with him, which he would snatch a few minutes to read in the intervals of his work; and on winter evenings he occupied his spare time in poring over such volumes as came in his way, usually with no better light than the cottage fire. On one occasion Miss Pasley lent him 'Paradise Lost,' and he took the book with him to the hill-side to read. His delight was such that it fairly taxed his powers of expression to describe it. He could only say; "I read, and read, and glowred; then read, and read again." He was also a great admirer of Burns, whose writings so inflamed his mind that at the age of twenty-two, when barely out of his apprenticeship, we find the young mason actually breaking out in verse.* By diligently reading all the books that he could borrow from friends and neighbours, Telford made considerable progress in his learning; and, what with his scribbling of "poetry" and various attempts at composition, he had become so good and legible a writer that he was often called upon by his less-educated acquaintances to pen letters for them to their distant friends. He was always willing to help them in this way; and, the other working people of the town making use of his services in the same manner, all the little domestic and family histories of the place soon became familiar to him. One evening a Langholm man asked Tom to write a letter for him to his son in England; and when the young scribe read over what had been written to the old man's dictation, the latter, at the end of almost every sentence, exclaimed, "Capital! capital!" and at the close he said, "Well! I declare, Tom! Werricht himsel' couldna ha' written a better!"—Wright being a well-known lawyer or "writer" in Langholm.
His apprenticeship over, Telford went on working as a journeyman at Langholm, his wages at the time being only eighteen pence a day. What was called the New Town was then in course of erection, and there are houses still pointed out in it, the walls of which Telford helped to put together. In the town are three arched door-heads of a more ornamental character than the rest, of Telford's hewing; for he was already beginning to set up his pretensions as a craftsman, and took pride in pointing to the superior handiwork which proceeded from his chisel.
About the same time, the bridge connecting the Old with the New Town was built across the Esk at Langholm, and upon that structure he was also employed. Many of the stones in it were hewn by his hand, and on several of the blocks forming the land-breast his tool-mark is still to be seen.
Not long after the bridge was finished, an unusually high flood or spate swept down the valley. The Esk was "roaring red frae bank to brae," and it was generally feared that the new brig would be carried away. Robin Hotson, the master mason, was from home at the time, and his wife, Tibby, knowing that he was bound by his contract to maintain the fabric for a period of seven years, was in a state of great alarm. She ran from one person to another, wringing her hands and sobbing, "Oh! we'll be ruined—we'll a' be ruined!" In her distress she thought of Telford, in whom she had great confidence, and called out, "Oh! where's Tammy Telfer— where's Tammy?" He was immediately sent for. It was evening, and he was soon found at the house of Miss Pasley. When he came running up, Tibby exclaimed, "Oh, Tammy! they've been on the brig, and they say its shakin'! It 'll be doon!" "Never you heed them, Tibby," said Telford, clapping her on the shoulder, "there's nae fear o' the brig. I like it a' the better that it shakes— it proves its weel put thegither." Tibby's fears, however, were not so easily allayed; and insisting that she heard the brig "rumlin," she ran up—so the neighbours afterwards used to say of her—and set her back against the parapet to hold it together. At this, it is said, "Tam bodged and leuch;" and Tibby, observing how easily he took it, at length grew more calm. It soon became clear enough that the bridge was sufficiently strong; for the flood subsided without doing it any harm, and it has stood the furious spates of nearly a century uninjured.
Telford acquired considerable general experience about the same time as a house-builder, though the structures on which he was engaged were of a humble order, being chiefly small farm-houses on the Duke of Buccleugh's estate, with the usual out-buildings. Perhaps the most important of the jobs on which he was employed was the manse of Westerkirk, where he was comparatively at home. The hamlet stands on a green hill-side, a little below the entrance to the valley of the Meggat. It consists of the kirk, the minister's manse, the parish-school, and a few cottages, every occupant of which was known to Telford. It is backed by the purple moors, up which he loved to wander in his leisure hours and read the poems of Fergusson and Burns. The river Esk gurgles along its rocky bed in the bottom of the dale, separated from the kirkyard by a steep bank, covered with natural wood; while near at hand, behind the manse, stretch the fine woods of Wester Hall, where Telford was often wont to roam.
[Image] Valley of Eskdale, Westerkirk in the distance.
We can scarcely therefore wonder that, amidst such pastoral scenery, and reading such books as he did, the poetic faculty of the country mason should have become so decidedly developed. It was while working at Westerkirk manse that he sketched the first draft of his descriptive poem entitled 'Eskdale,' which was published in the 'Poetical Museum' in 1784.* These early poetical efforts were at least useful in stimulating his self-education. For the practice of poetical composition, while it cultivates the sentiment of beauty in thought and feeling, is probably the best of all exercises in the art of writing correctly, grammatically, and expressively. By drawing a man out of his ordinary calling, too, it often furnishes him with a power of happy thinking which may in after life become a source of the purest pleasure; and this, we believe, proved to be the case with Telford, even though he ceased in later years to pursue the special cultivation of the art.
Shortly after, when work became slack in the district, Telford undertook to do small jobs on his own account such as the hewing of grave-stones and ornamental doorheads. He prided himself especially upon his hewing, and from the specimens of his workmanship which are still to be seen in the churchyards of Langholm and Westerkirk, he had evidently attained considerable skill. On some of these pieces of masonry the year is carved—1779, or 1780. One of the most ornamental is that set into the wall of Westerkirk church, being a monumental slab, with an inscription and moulding, surmounted by a coat of arms, to the memory of James Pasley of Craig. He had now learnt all that his native valley could teach him of the art of masonry; and, bent upon self-improvement and gaining a larger experience of life, as well as knowledge of his trade, he determined to seek employment elsewhere. He accordingly left Eskdale for the first time, in 1780, and sought work in Edinburgh, where the New Town was then in course of erection on the elevated land, formerly green fields, extending along the north bank of the "Nor' Loch." A bridge had been thrown across the Loch in 1769, the stagnant pond or marsh in the hollow had been filled up, and Princes Street was rising as if by magic. Skilled masons were in great demand for the purpose of carrying out these and the numerous other architectural improvements which were in progress, and Telford had no difficulty in obtaining employment.
Our stone-mason remained at Edinburgh for about two years, during which he had the advantage of taking part in first-rate work and maintaining himself comfortably, while he devoted much of his spare time to drawing, in its application to architecture. He took the opportunity of visiting and carefully studying the fine specimens of ancient work at Holyrood House and Chapel, the Castle, Heriot's Hospital, and the numerous curious illustrations of middle age domestic architecture with which the Old Town abounds. He also made several journeys to the beautiful old chapel of Rosslyn, situated some miles to the south of Edinburgh, making careful drawings of the more important parts of that building.
When he had thus improved himself, "and studied all that was to be seen in Edinburgh, in returning to the western border," he says, "I visited the justly celebrated Abbey of Melrose." There he was charmed by the delicate and perfect workmanship still visible even in the ruins of that fine old Abbey; and with his folio filled with sketches and drawings, he made his way back to Eskdale and the humble cottage at The Crooks. But not to remain there long. He merely wished to pay a parting visit to his mother and other relatives before starting upon a longer journey. "Having acquired," he says in his Autobiography, "the rudiments of my profession, I considered that my native country afforded few opportunities of exercising it to any extent, and therefore judged it advisable (like many of my countrymen) to proceed southward, where industry might find more employment and be better remunerated."
Before setting out, he called upon all his old friends and acquaintances in the dale—the neighbouring farmers, who had befriended him and his mother when struggling with poverty—his schoolfellows, many of whom were preparing to migrate, like himself, from their native valley—and the many friends and acquaintances he had made while working as a mason in Langholm. Everybody knew that Tom was going south, and all wished him God speed. At length the leave-taking was over, and he set out for London in the year 1782, when twenty-five years old. He had, like the little river Meggat, on the banks of which he was born, floated gradually on towards the outer world: first from the nook in the valley, to Westerkirk school; then to Langholm and its little circle; and now, like the Meggat, which flows with the Esk into the ocean, he was about to be borne away into the wide world. Telford, however, had confidence in himself, and no one had fears for him. As the neighbours said, wisely wagging their heads, "Ah, he's an auld-farran chap is Tam; he'll either mak a spoon or spoil a horn; any how, he's gatten a good trade at his fingers' ends."
Telford had made all his previous journeys on foot; but this one he made on horseback. It happened that Sir James Johnstone, the laird of Wester Hall, had occasion to send a horse from Eskdale to a member of his family in London, and he had some difficulty in finding a person to take charge of it. It occurred to Mr. Jackson, the laird's factor, that this was a capital opportunity for his cousin Tom, the mason; and it was accordingly arranged that he should ride the horse to town. When a boy, he had learnt rough riding sufficiently well for the purpose; and the better to fit him for the hardships of the road, Mr. Jackson lent him his buckskin breeches. Thus Tom set out from his native valley well mounted, with his little bundle of "traps" buckled behind him, and, after a prosperous journey, duly reached London, and delivered up the horse as he had been directed. Long after, Mr. Jackson used to tell the story of his cousin's first ride to London with great glee, and he always took care to wind up with—"but Tam forgot to send me back my breeks!"
[Image] Lower Valley of the Meggat, the Crooks in the distance.
Footnotes for Chapter II.
* In his 'Epistle to Mr. Walter Ruddiman,' first published in 'Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine,' in 1779, occur the following lines addressed to Burns, in which Telford incidentally sketches himself at the time, and hints at his own subsequent meritorious career;
"Nor pass the tentie curious lad, Who o'er the ingle hangs his head, And begs of neighbours books to read; For hence arise Thy country's sons, who far are spread, Baith bold and wise."
* The 'Poetical Museum,' Hawick, p.267. ' Eskdale' was afterwards reprinted by Telford when living at Shrewsbury, when he added a few lines by way of conclusion. The poem describes very pleasantly the fine pastoral scenery of the district:—
"Deep 'mid the green sequester'd glens below, Where murmuring streams among the alders flow, Where flowery meadows down their margins spread, And the brown hamlet lifts its humble head— There, round his little fields, the peasant strays, And sees his flock along the mountain graze; And, while the gale breathes o'er his ripening grain, And soft repeats his upland shepherd's strain, And western suns with mellow radiance play. And gild his straw-roof'd cottage with their ray, Feels Nature's love his throbbing heart employ, Nor envies towns their artificial joy."
The features of the valley are very fairly described. Its early history is then rapidly sketched; next its period of border strife, at length happily allayed by the union of the kingdoms, under which the Johnstones, Pasleys, and others, men of Eskdale, achieve honour and fame. Nor did he forget to mention Armstrong, the author of the 'Art of Preserving Health,' son of the minister of Castleton, a few miles east of Westerkirk; and Mickle, the translator of the 'Lusiad,' whose father was minister of the parish of Langholm; both of whom Telford took a natural pride in as native poets of Eskdale.
TELFORD A WORKING MASON IN LONDON, AND FOREMAN OF MASONS AT PORTSMOUTH.
A common working man, whose sole property consisted in his mallet and chisels, his leathern apron and his industry, might not seem to amount to much in "the great world of London." But, as Telford afterwards used to say, very much depends on whether the man has got a head with brains in it of the right sort upon his shoulders. In London, the weak man is simply a unit added to the vast floating crowd, and may be driven hither and thither, if he do not sink altogether; while the strong man will strike out, keep his head above water, and make a course for himself, as Telford did. There is indeed a wonderful impartiality about London. There the capable person usually finds his place. When work of importance is required, nobody cares to ask where the man who can do it best comes from, or what he has been, but what he is, and what he can do. Nor did it ever stand in Telford's way that his father had been a poor shepherd in Eskdale, and that he himself had begun his London career by working for weekly wages with a mallet and chisel.
After duly delivering up the horse, Telford proceeded to present a letter with which he had been charged by his friend Miss Pasley on leaving Langholm. It was addressed to her brother, Mr. John Pasley, an eminent London merchant, brother also of Sir Thomas Pasley, and uncle of the Malcolms. Miss Pasley requested his influence on behalf of the young mason from Eskdale, the bearer of the letter. Mr. Pasley received his countryman kindly, and furnished him with letters of introduction to Sir William Chambers, the architect of Somerset House, then in course of erection. It was the finest architectural work in progress in the metropolis, and Telford, desirous of improving himself by experience of the best kind, wished to be employed upon it. He did not, indeed, need any influence to obtain work there, for good hewers were in demand; but our mason thought it well to make sure, and accordingly provided himself beforehand with the letter of introduction to the architect. He was employed immediately, and set to work among the hewers, receiving the usual wages for his labour.
Mr. Pasley also furnished him with a letter to Mr. Robert Adam,* another distinguished architect of the time; and Telford seems to have been much gratified by the civility which he receives from him. Sir William Chambers he found haughty and reserved, probably being too much occupied to bestow attention on the Somerset House hewer, while he found Adam to be affable and communicative. "Although I derived no direct advantage from either," Telford says, "yet so powerful is manner, that the latter left the most favourable impression; while the interviews with both convinced me that my safest plan was to endeavour to advance, if by slower steps, yet by independent conduct."
There was a good deal of fine hewer's work about Somerset House, and from the first Telford aimed at taking the highest place as an artist and tradesman in that line.* Diligence, carefulness, and observation will always carry a man onward and upward; and before long we find that Telford had succeeded in advancing himself to the rank of a first-class mason. Judging from his letters written about this time to his friends in Eskdale, he seems to have been very cheerful and happy; and his greatest pleasure was in calling up recollections of his native valley. He was full of kind remembrances for everybody. "How is Andrew, and Sandy, and Aleck, and Davie?" he would say; and "remember me to all the folk of the nook." He seems to have made a round of the persons from Eskdale in or about London before he wrote, as his letters were full of messages from them to their friends at home; for in those days postage was dear, and as much as possible was necessarily packed within the compass of a working man's letter. In one, written after more than a year's absence, he said he envied the visit which a young surgeon of his acquaintance was about to pay to the valley; "for the meeting of long absent friends," he added, "is a pleasure to be equalled by few other enjoyments here below."
He had now been more than a year in London, during which he had acquired much practical information both in the useful and ornamental branches of architecture. Was he to go on as a working mason? or what was to be his next move? He had been quietly making his observations upon his companions, and had come to the conclusion that they very much wanted spirit, and, more than all, forethought. He found very clever workmen about him with no idea whatever beyond their week's wages. For these they would make every effort: they would work hard, exert themselves to keep their earnings up to the highest point, and very readily "strike" to secure an advance; but as for making a provision for the next week, or the next year, he thought them exceedingly thoughtless. On the Monday mornings they began "clean;" and on Saturdays their week's earnings were spent. Thus they lived from one week to another— their limited notion of "the week" seeming to bound their existence.
Telford, on the other hand, looked upon the week as only one of the storeys of a building; and upon the succession of weeks, running on through years, he thought that the complete life structure should be built up. He thus describes one of the best of his fellow-workmen at that time—the only individual he had formed an intimacy with: "He has been six years at Somerset House, and is esteemed the finest workman in London, and consequently in England. He works equally in stone and marble. He has excelled the professed carvers in cutting Corinthian capitals and other ornaments about this edifice, many of which will stand as a monument to his honour. He understands drawing thoroughly, and the master he works under looks on him as the principal support of his business. This man, whose name is Mr. Hatton, may be half a dozen years older than myself at most. He is honesty and good nature itself, and is adored by both his master and fellow-workmen. Notwithstanding his extraordinary skill and abilities, he has been working all this time as a common journeyman, contented with a few shillings a week more than the rest; but I believe your uneasy friend has kindled a spark in his breast that he never felt before." *
In fact, Telford had formed the intention of inducing this admirable fellow to join him in commencing business as builders on their own account. "There is nothing done in stone or marble," he says, "that we cannot do in the completest manner." Mr. Robert Adam, to whom the scheme was mentioned, promised his support, and said he would do all in his power to recommend them. But the great difficulty was money, which neither of them possessed; and Telford, with grief, admitting that this was an "insuperable bar," went no further with the scheme.
About this time Telford was consulted by Mr. Pulteney* respecting the alterations making in the mansion at Wester Hall, and was often with him on this business. We find him also writing down to Langholm for the prices of roofing, masonry, and timber-work, with a view to preparing estimates for a friend who was building a house in that neighbourhood. Although determined to reach the highest excellence as a manual worker, it is clear that he was already aspiring to be something more. Indeed, his steadiness, perseverance, and general ability, pointed him out as one well worthy of promotion.
How he achieved his next step we are not informed; but we find him, in July, 1784, engaged in superintending the erection of a house, after a design by Mr. Samuel Wyatt, intended for the residence of the Commissioner (now occupied by the Port Admiral) at Portsmouth Dockyard, together with a new chapel, and several buildings connected with the Yard. Telford took care to keep his eyes open to all the other works going forward in the neighbourhood, and he states that he had frequent opportunities of observing the various operations necessary in the foundation and construction of graving-docks, wharf-walls, and such like, which were among the principal occupations of his after-life.
The letters written by him from Portsmouth to his Eskdale correspondents about this time were cheerful and hopeful, like those he had sent from London. His principal grievance was that he received so few from home, but he supposed that opportunities for forwarding them by hand had not occurred, postage being so dear as scarcely then to be thought of. To tempt them to correspondence he sent copies of the poems which he still continued to compose in the leisure of his evenings: one of these was a 'Poem on Portsdown Hill.' As for himself, he was doing very well. The buildings were advancing satisfactorily; but, "above all," said he, "my proceedings are entirely approved by the Commissioners and officers here— so much so that they would sooner go by my advice than my master's, which is a dangerous point, being difficult to keep their good graces as well as his. However, I will contrive to manage it"*
The following is his own account of the manner in which he was usually occupied during the winter months while at Portsmouth Dock:— "I rise in the morning at 7 (February 1st), and will get up earlier as the days lengthen until it come to 5 o'clock. I immediately set to work to make out accounts, write on matters of business, or draw, until breakfast, which is at 9. Then I go into the Yard about 10, see that all are at their posts, and am ready to advise about any matters that may require attention. This, and going round the several works, occupies until about dinner-time, which is at 2; and after that I again go round and attend to what may be wanted. I draw till 5; then tea; and after that I write, draw, or read until half after 9; then comes supper and bed. This my ordinary round, unless when I dine or spend an evening with a friend; but I do not make many friends, being very particular, nay, nice to a degree. My business requires a great deal of writing and drawing, and this work I always take care to keep under by reserving my time for it, and being in advance of my work rather than behind it. Then, as knowledge is my most ardent pursuit, a thousand things occur which call for investigation which would pass unnoticed by those who are content to trudge only in the beaten path. I am not contented unless I can give a reason for every particular method or practice which is pursued. Hence I am now very deep in chemistry. The mode of making mortar in the best way led me to inquire into the nature of lime. Having, in pursuit of this inquiry, looked into some books on chemistry, I perceived the field was boundless; but that to assign satisfactory reasons for many mechanical processes required a general knowledge of that science. I have therefore borrowed a MS. copy of Dr. Black's Lectures. I have bought his 'Experiments on Magnesia and Quicklime,' and also Fourcroy's Lectures, translated from the French by one Mr. Elliot, of Edinburgh. And I am determined to study the subject with unwearied attention until I attain some accurate knowledge of chemistry, which is of no less use in the practice of the arts than it is in that of medicine." He adds, that he continues to receive the cordial approval of the Commissioners for the manner in which he performs his duties, and says, "I take care to be so far master of the business committed to me as that none shall be able to eclipse me in that respect."* At the same time he states he is taking great delight in Freemasonry, and is about to have a lodge-room at the George Inn fitted up after his plans and under his direction. Nor does he forget to add that he has his hair powdered every day, and puts on a clean shirt three times a week.
The Eskdale mason was evidently getting on, as he deserved to do. But he was not puffed up. To his Langholm friend he averred that "he would rather have it said of him that he possessed one grain of good nature or good sense than shine the finest puppet in Christendom." "Let my mother know that I am well," he wrote to Andrew Little, "and that I will print her a letter soon."* For it was a practice of this good son, down to the period of his mother's death, no matter how much burdened he was with business, to set apart occasional times for the careful penning of a letter in printed characters, that she might the more easily be able to decipher it with her old and dimmed eyes by her cottage fireside at The Crooks. As a man's real disposition usually displays itself most strikingly in small matters—like light, which gleams the most brightly when seen through narrow chinks—it will probably be admitted that this trait, trifling though it may appear, was truly characteristic of the simple and affectionate nature of the hero of our story.
The buildings at Portsmouth were finished by the end of 1786, when Telford's duties there being at an end, and having no engagement beyond the termination of the contract, he prepared to leave, and began to look about him for other employment.
Footnotes for Chapter III.
* Robert and John Adam were architects of considerable repute in their day. Among their London erections were the Adelphi Buildings, in the Strand; Lansdowne House, in Berkeley Square; Caen Wood House, near Hampstead (Lord Mansfield's); Portland Place, Regent's Park; and numerous West End streets and mansions. The screen of the Admiralty and the ornaments of Draper's Hall were also designed by them.
* Long after Telford had become famous, he was passing over Waterloo Bridge one day with a friend, when, pointing to some finely-cut stones in the corner nearest the bridge, he said: "You see those stones there; forty years since I hewed and laid them, when working on that building as a common mason."
*Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated London, July, 1783.
* Mr., afterwards Sir William, Pulteney, was the second son of Sir James Johnstone, of Wester Hall, and assumed the name of Pulteney, on his marriage to Miss Pulteney, niece of the Earl of Bath and of General Pulteney, by whom he succeeded to a large fortune. He afterwards succeeded to the baronetcy of his elder brother James, who died without issue in 1797. Sir William Pulteney represented Cromarty, and afterwards Shrewsbury, where he usually resided, in seven successive Parliaments. He was a great patron of Telford's, as we shall afterwards find.
* Letter to Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Portsmouth, July 23rd, 1784.
* Letter to Mr. Andrew Little, Langholm, dated Portsmouth Dockyard, Feb. 1, 1786.
BECOMES SURVEYOR FOR THE COUNTY OF SALOP.
Mr. Pulteney, member for Shrewsbury, was the owner of extensive estates in that neighbourhood by virtue of his marriage with the niece of the last Earl of Bath. Having resolved to fit up the Castle there as a residence, he bethought him of the young Eskdale mason, who had, some years before, advised him as to the repairs of the Johnstone mansion at Wester Hall. Telford was soon found, and engaged to go down to Shrewsbury to superintend the necessary alterations. Their execution occupied his attention for some time, and during their progress he was so fortunate as to obtain the appointment of Surveyor of Public Works for the county of Salop, most probably through the influence of his patron. Indeed, Telford was known to be so great a favourite with Mr. Pulteney that at Shrewsbury he usually went by the name of "Young Pulteney."
Much of his attention was from this time occupied with the surveys and repairs of roads, bridges, and gaols, and the supervision of all public buildings under the control of the magistrates of the county. He was also frequently called upon by the corporation of the borough of Shrewsbury to furnish plans for the improvement of the streets and buildings of that fine old town; and many alterations were carried out under his direction during the period of his residence there.
While the Castle repairs were in course of execution, Telford was called upon by the justices to superintend the erection of a new gaol, the plans for which had already been prepared and settled. The benevolent Howard, who devoted himself with such zeal to gaol improvement, on hearing of the intentions of the magistrates, made a visit to Shrewsbury for the purpose of examining the plans; and the circumstance is thus adverted to by Telford in one of his letters to his Eskdale correspondent:—"About ten days ago I had a visit from the celebrated John Howard, Esq. I say I, for he was on his tour of gaols and infirmaries; and those of Shrewsbury being both under my direction, this was, of course, the cause of my being thus distinguished. I accompanied him through the infirmary and the gaol. I showed him the plans of the proposed new buildings, and had much conversation with him on both subjects. In consequence of his suggestions as to the former, I have revised and amended the plans, so as to carry out a thorough reformation; and my alterations having been approved by a general board, they have been referred to a committee to carry out. Mr. Howard also took objection to the plan of the proposed gaol, and requested me to inform the magistrates that, in his opinion, the interior courts were too small, and not sufficiently ventilated; and the magistrates, having approved his suggestions, ordered the plans to be amended accordingly. You may easily conceive how I enjoyed the conversation of this truly good man, and how much I would strive to possess his good opinion. I regard him as the guardian angel of the miserable. He travels into all parts of Europe with the sole object of doing good, merely for its own sake, and not for the sake of men's praise. To give an instance of his delicacy, and his desire to avoid public notice, I may mention that, being a Presbyterian, he attended the meeting-house of that denomination in Shrewsbury on Sunday morning, on which occasion I accompanied him; but in the afternoon he expressed a wish to attend another place of worship, his presence in the town having excited considerable curiosity, though his wish was to avoid public recognition. Nay, more, he assures me that he hates travelling, and was born to be a domestic man. He never sees his country-house but he says within himself, 'Oh! might I but rest here, and never more travel three miles from home; then should I be happy indeed!' But he has become so committed, and so pledged himself to his own conscience to carry out his great work, that he says he is doubtful whether he will ever be able to attain the desire of his heart—life at home. He never dines out, and scarcely takes time to dine at all: he says he is growing old, and has no time to lose. His manner is simplicity itself. Indeed, I have never yet met so noble a being. He is going abroad again shortly on one of his long tours of mercy."* The journey to which Telford here refers was Howard's last. In the following year he left England to return no more; and the great and good man died at Cherson, on the shores of the Black Sea, less than two years after his interview with the young engineer at Shrewsbury.
Telford writes to his Langholm friend at the same time that he is working very hard, and studying to improve himself in branches of knowledge in which he feels himself deficient. He is practising very temperate habits: for half a year past he has taken to drinking water only, avoiding all sweets, and eating no "nick-nacks." He has "sowens and milk,' (oatmeal flummery) every night for his supper. His friend having asked his opinion of politics, he says he really knows nothing about them; he had been so completely engrossed by his own business that he has not had time to read even a newspaper. But, though an ignoramus in politics, he has been studying lime, which is more to his purpose. If his friend can give him any information about that, he will promise to read a newspaper now and then in the ensuing session of Parliament, for the purpose of forming some opinion of politics: he adds, however, "not if it interfere with my business—mind that!', His friend told him that he proposed translating a system of chemistry. "Now you know," wrote Telford, "that I am chemistry mad; and if I were near you, I would make you promise to communicate any information on the subject that you thought would be of service to your friend, especially about calcareous matters and the mode of forming the best composition for building with, as well above as below water. But not to be confined to that alone, for you must know I have a book for the pocket,* which I always carry with me, into which I have extracted the essence of Fourcroy's Lectures, Black on Quicklime, Scheele's Essays, Watson's Essays, and various points from the letters of my respected friend Dr. Irving.* So much for chemistry. But I have also crammed into it facts relating to mechanics, hydrostatics, pneumatics, and all manner of stuff, to which I keep continually adding, and it will be a charity to me if you will kindly contribute your mite."* He says it has been, and will continue to be, his aim to endeavour to unite those "two frequently jarring pursuits, literature and business;" and he does not see why a man should be less efficient in the latter capacity because he has well informed, stored, and humanized his mind by the cultivation of letters. There was both good sense and sound practical wisdom in this view of Telford.
While the gaol was in course of erection, after the improved plans suggested by Howard, a variety of important matters occupied the county surveyor's attention. During the summer of 1788 he says he is very much occupied, having about ten different jobs on hand: roads, bridges, streets, drainage-works, gaol, and infirmary. Yet he had time to write verses, copies of which he forwarded to his Eskdale correspondent, inviting his criticism. Several of these were elegiac lines, somewhat exaggerated in their praises of the deceased, though doubtless sincere. One poem was in memory of George Johnstone, Esq., a member of the Wester Hall family, and another on the death of William Telford, an Eskdale farmer's son, an intimate friend and schoolfellow of our engineer.* These, however, were but the votive offerings of private friendship, persons more immediately about him knowing nothing of his stolen pleasures in versemaking. He continued to be shy of strangers, and was very "nice," as he calls it, as to those whom he admitted to his bosom.
Two circumstances of considerable interest occurred in the course of the same year (1788), which are worthy of passing notice. The one was the fall of the church of St. Chad's, at Shrewsbury; the other was the discovery of the ruins of the Roman city of Uriconium, in the immediate neighbourhood. The church of St. Chad's was about four centuries old, and stood greatly in need of repairs. The roof let in the rain upon the congregation, and the parish vestry met to settle the plans for mending it; but they could not agree about the mode of procedure. In this emergency Telford was sent for, and requested to advise what was best to he done. After a rapid glance at the interior, which was in an exceedingly dangerous state, he said to the churchwardens, "Gentlemen, we'll consult together on the outside, if you please." He found that not only the roof but the walls of the church were in a most decayed state. It appeared that, in consequence of graves having been dug in the loose soil close to the shallow foundation of the north-west pillar of the tower, it had sunk so as to endanger the whole structure. "I discovered," says he, "that there were large fractures in the walls, on tracing which I found that the old building was in a most shattered and decrepit condition, though until then it had been scarcely noticed. Upon this I declined giving any recommendation as to the repairs of the roof unless they would come to the resolution to secure the more essential parts, as the fabric appeared to me to be in a very alarming condition. I sent in a written report to the same effect." *
The parish vestry again met, and the report was read; but the meeting exclaimed against so extensive a proposal, imputing mere motives of self-interest to the surveyor. "Popular clamour," says Telford, "overcame my report. 'These fractures,' exclaimed the vestrymen, 'have been there from time immemorial;' and there were some otherwise sensible persons, who remarked that professional men always wanted to carve out employment for themselves, and that the whole of the necessary repairs could be done at a comparatively small expense."* The vestry then called in another person, a mason of the town, and directed him to cut away the injured part of a particular pillar, in order to underbuild it. On the second evening after the commencement of the operations, the sexton was alarmed by a fail of lime-dust and mortar when he attempted to toll the great bell, on which he immediately desisted and left the church. Early next morning (on the 9th of July), while the workmen were waiting at the church door for the key, the bell struck four, and the vibration at once brought down the tower, which overwhelmed the nave, demolishing all the pillars along the north side, and shattering the rest. "The very parts I had pointed out," says Telford, "were those which gave way, and down tumbled the tower, forming a very remarkable ruin, which astonished and surprised the vestry, and roused them from their infatuation, though they have not yet recovered from the shock."*
The other circumstance to which we have above referred was the discovery of the Roman city of Uriconium, near Wroxeter, about five miles from Shrewsbury, in the year 1788. The situation of the place is extremely beautiful, the river Severn flowing along its western margin, and forming a barrier against what were once the hostile districts of West Britain. For many centuries the dead city had slept under the irregular mounds of earth which covered it, like those of Mossul and Nineveh. Farmers raised heavy crops of turnips and grain from the surface and they scarcely ever ploughed or harrowed the ground without turning up Roman coins or pieces of pottery. They also observed that in certain places the corn was more apt to be scorched in dry weather than in others—a sure sign to them that there were ruins underneath; and their practice, when they wished to find stones for building, was to set a mark upon the scorched places when the corn was on the ground, and after harvest to dig down, sure of finding the store of stones which they wanted for walls, cottages, or farm-houses. In fact, the place came to be regarded in the light of a quarry, rich in ready-worked materials for building purposes. A quantity of stone being wanted for the purpose of erecting a blacksmith's shop, on digging down upon one of the marked places, the labourers came upon some ancient works of a more perfect appearance than usual. Curiosity was excited —antiquarians made their way to the spot—and lo! they pronounced the ruins to be neither more nor less than a Roman bath, in a remarkably perfect state of preservation. Mr. Telford was requested to apply to Mr. Pulteney, the lord of the manor, to prevent the destruction of these interesting remains, and also to permit the excavations to proceed, with a view to the buildings being completely explored. This was readily granted, and Mr. Pulteney authorised Telford himself to conduct the necessary excavations at his expense. This he promptly proceeded to do, and the result was, that an extensive hypocaust apartment was brought to light, with baths, sudatorium, dressing-room, and a number of tile pillars —all forming parts of a Roman floor—sufficiently perfect to show the manner in which the building had been constructed and used.* Among Telford's less agreeable duties about the same time was that of keeping the felons at work. He had to devise the ways and means of employing them without risk of their escaping, which gave him much trouble and anxiety. "Really," he said, "my felons are a very troublesome family. I have had a great deal of plague from them, and I have not yet got things quite in the train that I could wish. I have had a dress made for them of white and brown cloth, in such a way that they are pye-bald. They have each a light chain about one leg. Their allowance in food is a penny loaf and a halfpenny worth of cheese for breakfast; a penny loaf, a quart of soup, and half a pound of meat for dinner; and a penny loaf and a halfpenny worth of cheese for supper; so that they have meat and clothes at all events. I employ them in removing earth, serving masons or bricklayers, or in any common labouring work on which they can be employed; during which time, of course, I have them strictly watched."