BBC Radio 4 – Book of the Week – Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain


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The first full modern biography of Thomas Telford: a shepherd’s son who changed the world with his revolutionary engineering. Telford’s life spanned a fascinating time in British history: born in post-Union, post-Enlightenment Scotland, Telford forged a successful career in London and then across the country working on projects that set the stage for the Industrial Revolution.

Born in the Scottish Borders in 1757, Telford’s beginnings were not auspicious. But he gained a fine education in his village school and, in that egalitarian time and place, mixed there with children from all different classes. Indeed, contacts from his schooldays played a key role in helping him to become established as one of Britain’s leading engineers.

A stonemason turned architect turned engineer Telford built churches, harbours, canals, docks and the famously vertiginous Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales. He invented the modern road and created the backbone of our national road network. His bridges are some of the most dramatic and beautiful ever built, most of all the Menai Bridge, which spans the dangerous channel between the mainland and Anglesey. Astonishingly, gratifyingly, almost everything he built remains in use today.

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