Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 26, 2012

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

November 26, 1805: The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct officially opens. The aqueduct is the longest and highest in Great Britain and is located in Wales. It’s full name in Welsh is Traphont Ddŵr Pontcysyllte and it is a navigable aqueduct carrying the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee valley in northeast Wales. It is a Grade I Listed Building and a World Heritage Site. It was designed by Thomas Telford and built by him and William Jessop. It is 1,007 feet long, 11 feet wide, and 5.25 feet deep. The trough which carries the water was made of cast iron and rises 126 feet above the river it crosses. There are 19 hollow masonry pillars with each span covering 53 feet. It took nearly ten years to design and build the structure at a cost of £47,000 (about £2,900,000 today).

Aqueducts have been around since ancient times and are especially associated with the ancient Romans. However, they were devised much earlier than the Roman Empire and date back to the 7th century BC. Both ancient Greeks and Egyptians used them as did the Assyrians who built a fifty mile long aqueduct to their capital city of Nineveh. Some of these spans were 33 feet high. Aqueducts are used for water supply or as a navigable channel to move water across a gap. The largest modern aqueducts have been built in the US to carry water to large cities. The Catskill Aqueduct cover 120 miles to get water to New York City. This is puny in comparison to the Colorado River Aqueduct which covers 250 miles and the 700 mile long California Aqueduct, both of which bring water to California. The 336 mile Central Arizona Project is the most expensive aqueduct in the US.

Thomas Telford was a Scottish civil engineer, architect, and stonemason. He was born in 1757 and was self-taught although he was apprenticed to a Langholm mason at Westerkirk parish school. His father was a shepherd and died shortly after Thomas was born. Raised in poverty, he was apprenticed out at age 14. He learned quickly and in 1782 moved to London where he gained patronage. By the time he was thirty, he became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire. He continued to expand his skills. He never married, but his children are the many beautiful canals he built across the British landscape.

William Jessop was also a civil engineer and is most famous for his canals, harbors, and even some early railways. His father was a foreman shipwright at the Naval Dockyard which allowed the young boy some valuable insight into building. Jessop’s first major project was the Grand Canal of Ireland. He was an amiable man, not taken with self-aggrandizement and encouraged up and coming engineers. It was in that capacity he worked with Telford on the aqueduct project. Jessop was able to “bridge” the gap between canal builders and railroad building. As needs changed, Jessop provided valuable skills to move from water to rails for transportation needs.

Water is the driving force of all nature. – Leonardo da Vinci

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. – Rabindranath Tagore

It doesn’t matter if the water is cold or warm if you’re going to have to wade through it anyway. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water. – W. H. Auden

Also on this day:

Instant Camera – In 1948, Polaroid produced an instant picture camera, first sold on this day.
Puck You – In 1917, the National Hockey League was founded.
KV62 – In 1922, Howard Carter opened King Tut’s tomb.