Biography of Thomas Telford

Portrait of Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford was an eighteenth/nineteenth century engineer.

When and Where was he Born?

9th August 1757, Crooks Cottage, Bentpath, Westerkirk, Eskdale, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Family Background:

Thomas Telford was an only Child. His father was a shepherd who died months after his birth and he was cared for by his mother.


Westerkirk Parish School. Apprenticed to a stonemason.

Timeline of Thomas Telford:

Telford had a healthy country childhood and was known locally as “Laughing Tam”. He spent much of his time with relatives herding sheep.

1773: He is sent to be an apprentice stonemason at Lochmaben. He remains only a few months as the mason treats him badly and he runs away back to his mother at Crooks Cottage. He is then sent to be apprenticed to Andrew Thomson a stonemason in Langholm. He is introduced to Miss Pasley in the town who lets him read her large library of books. His favourites are “Paradise Lost” by John Milton and the works of Robert Burns. His apprenticeship over he goes on to help build some of the new buildings in the town. He is also employed on building the bridge over the River Esk between the old and the new town.

1780: Work being slack in Eskdale he goes to Edinburgh seeking employment and works on the New Town.

1782: Telford leaves Edinburgh for Eskdale to say goodbye to his mother and friends and sets out for London on horseback, as a favour to Sir James Johnstone who needed it delivered to the capital. Miss Pasley had given him letters of introduction to relative’s of hers living in London and he eventually gets a job with Sir William Chambers, the architect of Somerset House who needed stonemasons. Miss Pasley’s brother in London also furnishes him with a letter to another famous architect, Robert Adam.

1783: Telford decides to set up in business on his own with a partner Mr Hatton.

1784: He publishes his first poetical musings called “Eskdale” in the “Poetical Museum”. He moves on to Portsmouth where he works on a house for the Commissioner of the Portsmouth Dockyard.

1787: He is made the Surveyor of Shropshire by Mr Pulteney, the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury where he works on roads, bridges, jails and the renovation of the castle.

1790: He builds a masonry arch over the River Severn at Montford which establishes his national reputation.

1793: Telford builds an aqueduct at Pont-Cysyllte on the Ellesmere Canal, the whole of which was finished in 1805.

1801: He is commissioned by the Government to write a report on the public works of Scotland.

1803: He begins constructing the Caledonian Canal from Loch Ness to Fort William which was finally finished in 1823. He also completes more than 1,000 miles of road including the road from London to Holyhead. He also works on churches, houses, harbours and many other types of structure.

1819: He designs the Menai Straits suspension bridge for the London-Holyhead road which was completed in 1826.

Conway Castle with its old suspension bridge and modern road bridge (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1823: He designs the suspension bridge which links Conway Castle to the mainland.

1824: Telford designs St. Katherine’s Docks in London.

When and Where did he Die?

2nd September 1834, Westminster, London, England of a “billious disagreement”.

Age at Death:



Never married.

Site of Grave:

Westminster Abbey, London.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Ironbridge Gorge Museum.
Shrewsbury Castle (designed alterations).


Telford Library, Langholm.


Menai Straits Bridge, Anglesey.
Conway Castle.
Museum of Welsh Antiquities, Bangor has his chair.