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Francis John William Thomas Giles

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Francis John William Thomas Giles (c1787-1847), canal engineer and surveyor. He worked under John Rennie and later became a railway engineer

1787 October 10th. Born the son of Samuel and Mary Giles.

He came from a large family, and was trained as a surveyor by his elder brother Netlam (1775–1816) from about 1803, and after six years' pupillage became his partner.

John Rennie (the elder) employed Giles, his former pupil, to carry out the detail work for the survey of the London to Portsmouth Ship Canal.

Rennie organised the opposition to George Stephenson's route for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. He made sure Giles was called as a witness. Giles famously stated: "No engineer in his senses would go through Chat Moss if he wanted to make a railway from Liverpool to Manchester. In my judgment a railroad certainly cannot be safely made over Chat Moss without going to the bottom of the Moss." It is unfortunate that this statement overshadows the fact that Giles, a highly respected surveyor rather than a civil engineer, was responsible for demonstrating that Stephenson's survey was massively in error.[1]

1831 Giles was appointed engineer of the London and Southampton Railway

As a result of overestimate of the costs and difficulty of crossing Chat Moss he was regarded as a cautious and safe man. However he greatly underestimated the cost of building the London and Southampton and soon got into difficulties.

Stephenson was highly critical stating that "the whole wealth of the company would be forever buried.. " in the St Georges Hill cutting at Weybridge. There were extensive delays and costs escalated out of hand. Shares slumped.

Giles came in for considerable criticism. At the time he was also surveying the Portsmouth Junction Railway and had become engineer to Southampton Docks. His original estimate of 1834 of £894,874 was amended to £1,507,753 in 1836. Lancashire shareholders, demanded the figures be confirmed by another engineer, but even then should Giles remain in office, they recommend that no further capital should be forthcoming. Giles made an unauthorised approach to influential landowners and shareholders for further money and proposed deferring the bill to borrow further money, suggesting that the central unfinished portion of the line should be left incomplete until revenue from the completed London to Basingstoke and Winchester to Southampton sections were forthcoming. Giles was dismissed and Joseph Locke appointed in his place.

1842 Francis Giles of 9 Adelphi Terrace, Strand, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[2]

1847 March 4th. Died at his home, 9 Adelphi Terrace, London, and was survived by his wife.

Two of his sons, Francis George and Alfred (1816–1895) followed in their father's engineering footsteps.


1848 Obituary [3]

Mr. Francis Giles was brought up as a surveyor, and was engaged for a considerable period, in the early part of his professional career, under the late Mr. Rennie, in executing those correct and beautiful surveys which have become models for the present practice.

Among these, may be particularly mentioned, the surveys of the Thames, the Mersey, the Wear, and the Tyne, and of the harbours of Dover, Rye, Holyhead, Dundee, Kingstown, &c.

Among the principal engineering works executed by Mr. Giles may be named the Ivel Canal, the Lea Union Canal, and part of the Sankey Navigation; the harbours of Bridport and Courtown, and the Tidal Dock at Southampton.

He was also engaged in the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, which comprised, at the period of its opening, some of the boldest works in the kingdom. A cutting of 102 feet deep, through the Cowran Hills, and a bridge over the River Eden, having five arches of 80 feet span, and 100 feet in height.

He laid out, and in part executed, the South Western Railway; and he also designed and executed the Guildford Railway. The Warwick Bridge, in Cumberland, which, for elegance of design, may be called his 'chef d’oeuvre,’ was also built under his directions, and during forty years of active professional life, he was extensively employed in many minor works, in arbitrations, and in discussions between the conservators of tidal rivers, and encroaching landowners, for which his previous extensive surveys had eminently qualified him.

He was not a very old member of the Institution, having joined it in 1842; but he was extremely attentive as a Member of the Council, was a constant attendant at the meetings, took an active part in the discussions, and contributed some valuable charts and plans to the collection.

He died on the 4th of March, 1847, in the 60th year of his age, as universally regretted, as he had been esteemed, by an extensive circle of friends.


1848 Obituary [4]

Mr. Francis Giles was brought up as a surveyor, and was engaged for a considerable period, in the early part of his professional career, under the late Mr. Rennie, in executing those correct and beautiful surveys which have become models for the present practice. Among these, may be particularly mentioned, the surveys of the Thames, the Mersey, the Wear, and the Tyne, and of the harbours of Dover, Rye, Holyhead, Dundee, Kingstown, &c.

Among the principal engineering works executed by Mr. Giles may be named the Ivel Canal, the Lea Union Canal, and part of the Sankey Navigation; the harbours of Bridport and Courtown, and the Tidal Dock at Southampton.

He was also engaged in the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, which comprised, at the period of its opening, some of the boldest works in the kingdom. A cutting of 102 feet deep, through the Cowran Hills, and a bridge over the River Eden, having five arches of 80 feet span, and 100 feet in height.

He laid out, and in part executed, the South-Western Railway; and he also designed and executed the Guildford Railway.

The Warwick Bridge, in Cumberland, which, for elegance of design, may be called his ‘chef d’oeuvre,’ was also built under his directions, and during forty years of active professional life, he was extensively employed in many minor works, in arbitrations, and in discussions between the conservators of tidal rivers, and encroaching landowners, for which his previous extensive surveys had eminently qualified him.

He was not a very old member of the Institution, having joined it in 1842; but he was extremely attentive as a Member of the Council, was a constant attendant at the meetings, took an active part in the discussions, and contributed some valuable charts and plans to the collection.

He died on the 4th of March, 1847, in the 60th year of his age, as universally regretted, as he had been esteemed, by an extensive circle of friends.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'Liverpool Road Station, Manchester' by R. S. Fitzgerald, Manchester University Press, 1980
  2. 1842 Institution of Civil Engineers
  3. Institution of Civil Engineers Minutes of the Proceedings
  4. 1848 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries