Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition


(1716-1772), English engineer, was born at Thornsett, Derbyshire, in 1716. His parents were in very humble circumstances, and he received little or no education. At the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to a millwright near Macclesfield, and soon after completing his apprenticeship he set up in business for himself as a wheelwright at Leek, quickly becoming known for his ingenuity and skill in repairing all kinds of machinery. In 1752 he designed and set up an engine for draining some coal-pits at Clifton in Lancashire. Three years later he extended his reputation by completing the machinery for a silk-mill at Congleton. In 1759, when the duke of Bridgewater was anxious to improve the outlets for the coal on his estates, Brindley advised the construction of a canal from Worsley to Manchester. The difficulties in the way were great, but all were surmounted by his genius, and his crowning triumph was the construction of an aqueduct to carry the canal at an elevation of 39 ft. over the river Irwell at Barton. The great success of this canal encouraged similar projects, and Brindley was soon engaged in extending his first work to the Mersey, at Runcorn. He then designed and nearly completed what he called the Grand Trunk Canal, connecting the Trent and Humber with the Mersey. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire, the Oxford and the Chesterfield Canals were also planned by him, and altogether he laid out over 360 m. of canals. He died at Turnhurst, Staffordshire, on the 30th of September 1772. Brindley retained to the last a peculiar roughness of character and demeanour; but his innate power of thought more than compensated for his lack of training. It is told of him that when in any difficulty he used to retire to bed, and there remain thinking out his problem until the solution became clear to him. His mechanical ingenuity and fertility of resource were very remarkable, and he undoubtedly possessed the engineering faculty in a very high degree. He was an enthusiastic believer in canals, and his reported answer, when asked the use of navigable rivers, "To feed canals," is characteristic, if not altogether authentic.