Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,047 pages of information and 235,418 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

John Plews

From Graces Guide

John Plews (1795-1861)

Had son John Plews, Junior

1862 Obituary [1]

MR. JOHN PLEWS was born at Thornton Steward, Yorkshire, on the 1st of May, 1795.

He was the son of a farmer, with whom he remained until 1812, when having attained his seventeenth year, and determining to make use of the mathematical education he had received, he came up to London, and was engaged under the important firm of Messrs. Jolliffe and Banks, contractors, who at that time were building Waterloo Bridge, and where he remained until its completion in June 1817. He soon gained the confidence of his employers, and he continued with the firm until 1835, in which year Messrs. Jolliffe and Banks both died. Under their direction, Mr. John Plews had the principal management of the large works in which they were for so many years engaged, and amongst which were the building of Southwark Bridge;- the sea-wall in front of the Custom House, London; -the Hermitage entrance to the London Docks; -the sea-wall in front of the Victualling Office, Deptford; -the sea-wharf walls, basins, timber slips, &C., at her Majesty’s Dockyard, Woolwich; -the new London Bridge; -the bridge over the Serpentine, in Hyde Park; -the bridge over the Thames, at Staines, Middlesex; -the sea-walls, graving-docks, basins, mastponds, &C., at her Majesty’s Dockyard, Sheerness; -the straight cut, five miles in length, through the sand in Sutton Wash, for the river Nene, for the North Level Drainage Commissioners; -and many other extensive and important works.

Sir Edward Banks died in 1835, leaving Mr. Plews one of his executors, in conjunction with Mr. R. L. Jones, the chairman of the London Bridge Committee, and Mr. Bevan, banker, Lombard Street, to wind up, not only his private affairs, but likewise all the unsettled accounts of the partnership of Jolliffe and Banks, which Mr. Plews accomplished with the utmost satisfaction to all the parties interested.

In the latter part of the year 1835, Mr. Plews contracted with the London Dock Company to put in a new stone invert, and to underpin the outer wing-walls of the Shadwell entrance of their docks, extending from the gates to the river; a difficult work, which he executed to the satisfaction of the Company and their Engineer.

He was afterwards engaged by the Austrian Government to proceed to Lower Hungary, to report on the practicability of building the bridge over the Danube, from Buda to Pesth, which has since been accomplished. It was necessary that he should be present to see the extent of the floods at the breaking up of winter ; and on this occasion, during his stay at Pesth, when the ice broke up, the water came pouring from the mountains with greater violence than had ever been known ; the river overflowed, and swept away a great portion of the lower part of the town, drowning nearly twelve thousand persons. The inn in which Mr. Plews was staying being a heavy substantial building, forming the corner of two streets, fortunately withstood the torrent, although the water rose up to the first floor, and immense blocks of ice were dashed against the corner of the house with such force as to shake the whole fabric. In this perilous position he remained for several days, until the water had so far subsided that it was possible to guide a boat upon it, when Count Szechenyi released him.

Mr. Plews held for about sixteen years the appointment of Engineer for the Cardiff Docks, for the late Marquis of Bute, and afterwards, in conjunction with Sir John Rennie (Past President Inst., C.E.), he designed and executed the new docks at that port ; and on those works Mr. John Plews, jun. (M. Inst., C.E.) was appointed the resident Engineer.

Mr. Plews also designed the Northumberland Docks, in the river Tyne, below Newcastle, and they were built under his direction, his son being the resident Engineer. The “Newcastle Journal ” of October 26, 1857, gave the following account of these works:-

'OPENINGOF THE NORTHUMBERLAND DOCK ON THE TYNE - On Thursday afternoon the Duke of Northumberland opened the Northumberland Dock, on the Tyne, by laying the last stone. These important works are the first that have been undertaken by the River Tyne Improvement Commissioners, and are situated about half a mile above Shields harbour, on the north side of the Tyne. The area of the dock is fifteen acres, and the cost of construction is £200,000. The money for the construction of the dock has been raised by the Commissioners on bonds, and, when principal and interest are paid, the dock will be free and the fees will be abolished. The area enclosed by the dock has long been used as a shipping place for Northumberland coals, and the Engineers - Mr. Plews, of London, and his son Mr. John Plews have constructed the whole of the works without stopping the shipping of coals for one day. The dock will accommodate 400 sail of vessels, and 1,400,000 tons of coals are annually shipped from the shores now enclosed. There is eighteen feet of water on the dock-sill at neap, and from twenty to twenty-four feet at spring tides. After performing the ceremony of laying the stone, which was done in the presence of a large company of the leading merchants and shipowners of the port, a deputation of seamen waited upon his Grace, and expressed their thankfulness for the munificence he had exhibited in erecting a home in the port for their accommodation. His Grace hoped that the institution would benefit them as a body, and that by and by, when the nautical school was opened, every sailor lad that belonged to the port could have the chances of an education to help him on in the world. The Commissioners entertained a large company in a spacious marquee ; the Duke of Northumberland presided. Amongst the speakers were Mr. Ridley, M.P., Mr. Ingham, M.P., MP. G. Hudson, MP., Mr. Joseph Cowen, the chairman of the Commissioners, Mr. Hugh Taylor, the chairman of the Coal Trade Committee, and other gentlemen. Mr. Thornbury, of Wellingborough, the contractor for the docks, also entertained several hundred ladies and gentlemen, and the day was celebrated with great festivity.'

After so many years of active employment, he desired to retire in favour of younger members of the profession, but he could not, lead an inactive life, and thus during the latter part of his career, Mr. Plews occupied himself in the conduct of the affairs of the parish of St. Nary, Lambeth, where the services he rendered were fully appreciated, and the esteem in which he was held was demonstrated, at the period of his decease, by most complimentary resolutions of the parochial authorities, who dwelt with justice on his “faithful service in the administration of parochial affairs, his honest and straightforward course of action, added to his practical and sound business habits, and his kind and generous heart, which had endeared him to all with whom he came in contact.”

Mr. Plews died at his residence in the New Road, Kennington, Surrey, 0n the 23rd of June, 1861, at the age of sixty-six years.

He was one of the last of a race of useful, hard-working men, of the early part of this century, whose life was spent in the execution of durable public works which will remain for ages. His uprightness of character was fully appreciated by all with whom he came into contact, and his sound professional knowledge caused his opinion to be sought on many occasions, when the works were ultimately intrusted to other Engineers.

He only joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as a member in the year 1856, and he attended the meetings as often as his engagements would permit.

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