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John Hooke Taunton

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John Hooke Taunton (1821-1893)


1893 Obituary [1]

JOHN HOOKE TAUNTON was the youngest son of the late Mr. William Doidge Taunton, of Totnes, Devon, by his second wife Caroline, daughter of Mr. John Hooke Greene, Collector of Customs at the Cape of Good Hope, and was born at Totnes on the 8th of April, 1821.

At seven years of age he was placed under the care of his grandfather, Mr. Greene, who resided in Bath, and was educated principally at a private school kept in that city by Mr. Joseph Shenstone, under whom he obtained not only an ordinary elementary acquaintance with classics and mathematics, but also some knowledge of physical science.

On leaving school he was apprenticed for five years to Rofe and Son, Civil Engineers, of Birmingham, and during his pupilage obtained, in 1838, the silver Isis Medal given by the Society of Arts, for drawings, from actual measurement, of the pumping-engines at Aston of the Birmingham Waterworks Co, which had been constructed under the direction of Mr. Rofe, sen.

In the following year he received from the same society a large silver medal for drawings of engines and machinery. At the request of Lieutenant Lecount, who was writing the article 'Railways' for the seventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he made the drawings for the principal illustrations, including one of a six-wheel locomotive-engine constructed by Sharp and Roberts, of Manchester.

Towards the close of 1839 Mr. Taunton, whose health was suffering from too much confinement in the drawing-office, went to Preston in Lancashire, to the large gasworks of which town Mr. John Rofe, jun., was engineer, and there he acquired a fair knowledge of the construction and management of such works.

Subsequently an arrangement was made for the completion of the remaining part of his apprenticeship with the late James Meadows Rendel, Past-President Inst. C.E. Mr. Taunton subsequently remained as an assistant with Rendel and Beardmore until the end of 1842, and was employed by them on surveys for railways and harbours, and on the construction of the Millbay Pier at Plymouth. Their high opinion of his qualifications was endorsed by Mr. Rendel on the articles of apprenticeship.

In December 1843 Mr. Taunton was elected, from among upwards of thirty competitors, Assistant Engineer to the Grand Junction Waterworks Company, which post, however, he resigned in the following September.

In the early part of 1845, while engaged in checking the levels of various projected lines, he discovered at St. Ives an error of 10 feet on the deposited section of the proposed Cambridge and Lincoln Railway, which led to its rejection on Standing Orders.

Between April and September of the same year Mr. Taunton was in Ireland, levelling and laying out various railways, principally the Cork and Waterford line, to which the late Mr. I. K. Brunel became Engineer. So satisfactorily was his work carried out that soon afterwards he was appointed one of Mr. Brunel’s assistants, and was engaged in the London office of that gentleman during the busy session of 1846.

He was then appointed District Engineer, under Mr. Brunel, on the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway between Moreton and Oxford, which post he held until 1850, when the works were suspended.

In September of that year Mr. Taunton undertook the construction by contract of new waterworks at Reading, which the old Company, acting on the advice of its Consulting Engineer, the late James Simpson, Past-President Inst. C.E., had determined to erect. Another company, however, had succeeded in obtaining an Act of Parliament for the same purpose, and in order to stop its proceedings, as well as for his own protection, Mr. Taunton, without waiting for an Act, at once bought up all the bricks available in the neighbourhood and pushed forward with rapidity the large reservoir at Castle Hill and other necessary works, all of which were to be constructed on lands belonging to the old company or its shareholders or supporters. This proved effectual in stopping the new company, and the waterworks undertaken by Mr. Taunton were satisfactorily completed and brought into use during the summer of 1852, when he disposed of all his contractor’s plant, with the view of confining himself to engineering practice strictly, in Gloucestershire and at a London office in Parliament Street, Westminster.

In August 1852 Mr. Taunton was appointed Engineer and General Manager of the Thames and Severn Canal Navigation, which office he held until 1885, when the entire control of the canal was assumed by the Great Western Railway Company, which some three years before had obtained the bulk of the shares in the Navigation.

During the thirty years of Mr. Taunton’s management, the Navigation was maintained in an active condition; a new engine for supplying the summit at Thames Head was erected in 1854, various important works were carried out, regular trading boats were put on, and the tunnel at Sapperton, 24-miles in length, was repaired under circumstances of great difficulty. For the latter work he received, in 1880, a special letter of acknowledgement from the Committee of Management.

Ten years previously he had read at a meeting of the Cotteswold Club, at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, a Paper descriptive of this tunnel.

In 1866 the Company applied to Parliament for the conversion of the canal into a railway in connection with the Midland system, a scheme which was stoutly opposed by the Great Western Railway Company. In the engineering work involved, which was considerable, Mr. Taunton was associated with W. H. Barlow, Past-President Inst. C.E. The Bill, after a long inquiry, passed the House of Commons, but was thrown out, after only two days, by the House of Lords. The Canal Company war, thus left to maintain the competition as best it could with the Great Western Railway, whose line ran alongside the canal for a considerable distance, and to this end every effort was made by Mr. Taunton, with the full support of the canal proprietors.

In 1871 a large property intervening between Stroud and the Midland Railway station at Dudbridge came into the market and was purchased by him, with the result that the Midland Railway has since been brought into Stroud, to the material advantage of the canal, the Stroud Wharf (the terminal wharf of the canal at its western end) being practically alongside the Midland Railway station. It having been ascertained that much trade was lost to the Navigation owing to the uncertainty of carriage by traders who possessed a virtual monopoly of the supply of boats, the Canal Company undertook, in 1875, the carrying trade to the extent of running boats with regularity for the accommodation and development of the traffic.

This was done under the advice of Mr. Taunton and proved to be remunerative, haulage both by horses and steam-tugs being employed in localities where locks were not numerous.

Between 1853 and 1857 Mr. Taunton designed and superintended the construction of waterworks for the town of Llanelly, in South Wales, and about the same time he designed a system of sewerage and drainage for the same place.

In September 1856 he was employed to report on the works of the Lancaster and Ulverstone Railway across Morecambe Bay, designed and then being carried out under the direction of the late Sir James Brunlees, Past-President Inst. C.E.

In the following year he was consulted by the Stroud Local Board of Health as to a system of sewerage and drainage for that district. As a preliminary, he made the necessary surveys and prepared the general and enlarged plans (the latter on a scale of 44 feet to the inch) of the district with the various levels, all of which were approved by the General Board of Health of that day. Towards the close of 1858 he submitted a design for a complete system of sewerage and drainage, with estimates, for a population of from 8,000 to 9,000 ; the works were commenced in May 1859, and completed, under Mr. Taunton’s direction, in the autumn of 1861, at a cost of £5,243, including the purifying-tanks.

Further extensions were carried out under his direction during 1864 and 1865, the spring-water by which the town is supplied being pumped into a high-service tank on a water-tower built in May of the latter year. At that time he was consulted by the Cheltenham Town Authorities as to the increased supply of water which the then existing company proposed to obtain from the Severn near Tewkesbury. Mr. Taunton disapproved of the project, and pointed out that a sufficient supply was obtainable within the amphitheatre of hills surrounding the town, especially by a fuller abstraction of water from the sources of the Chelt stream, some of which the Company had already taken.

He formulated a plan called the Dowdeswell Scheme, which has since been carried out by the late Mr. J. F. La Trobe Bateman, Past-President Inst. C.E., who was associated with Mr. Taunton in the prolonged parliamentary contests that ensued between the Waterworks Company and the Cheltenham Town Authorities.

Between 1882 and 1884 waterworks were carried out at Cirencester under his design and direction. Mr. Taunton was also much engaged in general practice and in Parliamentary inquiries, relating principally to hydraulic engineering.

In 1877 he gave evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons on the Prevention of Thames Floods, and also before the Committee of the House of Lords on Conservancy Boards, and in 1883 again before the Commons Committee on Canals.

Mr. Taunton was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 2nd of December, 1851, and was transferred to the class of Member on the 23rd of February, 1858. He was also a Fellow of the Geological Society, and an old Member of the Cotteswold Naturalists Field Club, to the publications of which he contributed many Papers, including that on the 'Sapperton Tunnel,' already referred to, 'A Description of the Malmesbury Waterworks,' and 'The Hydrology of the Cotteswolds.'

He also presented a Paper on 'Bridges' to the Stroud Natural History and Philosophical Society. In 1883 he reported to the Committee of the Associated Canals and Navigations on the 'Wilts and Berks Canal, and Thames and Isis Navigation.'

Mr. Taunton died at his residence, Stuart House, near Stroud, after a short illness, on the 31st of January, 1893.


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