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Nathaniel Beardmore

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Nathaniel Beardmore (1816-1872)

1838 Nathaniel Beardmore of 24 Dean Street, Borough, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1848 Partnership dissolved. '...Engineers, and carried on at No. 8, Great George-street, Westminster, in the county of Middlesex, was dissolved, by mutual consent, as from the 31st day of December lasts As witness our hands this 11th day of February 1848. Jos. M. Rendel. Nathl. Beardmore.'[2]


1873 Obituary [3]

Nathaniel Beardmore, the second son of Joshua and Marianne Dorothea Beardmore, of Nottingham, was born on the 19th of March, 1816.

His father removed shortly afterwards, first to London and then to Devonshire, where the childhood and youth of young Nathaniel were principally spent. His culture, both moral and mental, was carefully attended to by his parents, and he was particularly indebted to the talent and assiduity of his mother, who especially superintended his early education, and even to some extent anticipated the schoolmaster by teaching him the rudiments of Latin and Greek.

In 1826 he attended with his brothers a day-school at Chudleigh, and subsequently the Devonport Grammar School. Here his powers of observation were developed under the careful instruction of the head master, the Rev. H. Greaves, with whom for some years he resided. At this period the mechanical bent of his mind became noticeable; and it is related that he designed and made a working model of a steam traction-engine, to the delight of his brothers and sisters. At that time traction-engines had only just been invented. Amongst his contemporaries at this school were Dr. Colenso and Charles Greaves, M.Inst.C.E.

In 1831 he commenced his professional education. In the first instance he was placed with the late Mr. George Wightwick, an architect in Plymouth, for instruction in drawing, at the expiration of which he was articled for five years to the late James Meadows Rendel (Past President Inst. C.E.), then a resident in the same town, and rising rapidly into practice and fame. Mr. Beardmore, as Mr. Rendel’s first pupil, had an excellent opportunity of acquiring a thorough knowledge of his profession. He was employed on the surveys of the Exeter and Plymouth Railway, of the new road to Kingsbridge, and of the floating bridge across the Itchen, at Southampton, as well as upon the drawings of the proposed suspension bridges at Clifton and at Montrose, and the Government works in Plymouth Sound and Devonport.

At the expiration of his pupillage, in 1838, Mr. Beardmore took an office in London, and made a survey of Effingham parish, in the county of Surrey. He was also engaged on the branch line of the Brighton railway to Portsmouth, and during the autumn was employed by Mr. Rendel on the Parliamentary surveys for a proposed railway between Exeter and Plymouth across Dartmoor.

Subsequently he accepted an offer of partnership from Mr. Rendel, who removed to London, and left Mr. Beardmore in charge of the office and business in Plymouth.

In 1841 Mr. Beardmore married Mary, eldest daughter of the late J. F. Bernard, Esq.

The principal works which then occupied Rendel and Beardmore in the vicinity of Plymouth were the improvement of the Devonport Water Company’s service reservoirs and distributing mains, for the supply of water to the town, the dockyard, and the public departments; the construction of the Millbay Pier, in a small tidal basin at the top of Millbay, Plymouth; the preliminary surveys for the South Devon railway, and marine and river in works for public companies, the Admiralty, and other Government departments.

In 1843 Mr. Beardmore left Plymouth for London.

In 1844 he was engaged on a project for improving the water-supply to Glasgow, and superintended the Parliamentary surveys for the Glasgow Gravitation Water Company. This project embraced the construction of a large reservoir in the valley of the Avon, at Gilmerston, about 24 miles south of Glasgow, from which the water was to be conveyed by an aqueduct to a depositing reservoir at Cathkin, and thence into the city by pipes. In the spring of the following year, however, the Company was dissolved and the scheme abandoned.

In 1845 he went to Spain, and made an inspection of the country from the harbours of Aviles and Gijon - passing through the coalfields of the Asturias - to Leon and Madrid, preparatory to laying out the line for the proposed Royal North of Spain railway. The construction of this work was not at that time carried out.

Parenthetically, it may be noted that his grasp of the topographical features of a country and of its resources, from an Engineer’s point of view, was exceedingly keen, and he worked with great rapidity, especially at levelling and surveying - a characteristic which was much appreciated in his younger days.

On his return to England he was engaged in preparing plans for the proposed Ipswich, Norwich, and Yarmouth railway; and in short, during the rest of that year, and in 1846, he was, like all the rest of the profession, almost exclusively occupied on behalf of, or in opposition to railway projects.

Mr. Rendel having been retained by the Edinburgh Waterworks Company as their Consulting Engineer, Mr. Beardmore was engaged with him in reporting upon the improvement and extension of their works, and took an active and prominent part in surveying and designing the extensive works included under the Bill of 1846/47. The Act was obtained, and the works were eventually carried out under Messrs. Rendel and Beardmore by J. Leslie, M. Inst. C.E., of Edinburgh, between the years 1847 and 1852. They consisted in the raising of the original, or Glencoe reservoir constructed by the late Mr. Jardine, C.E., about 1823, and the construction on the Pentland Hills of five other store and compensation reservoirs, one of which was 85 ft. deep, the aggregate additional storage thereby provided being about 600,000,000 gallons; the collection by branch pipes of the waters of numerous springs on the north side of the Pentland Hills; and the conveying of that water to Edinburgh by a masonry aqueduct of upwards of 4 miles in length, and through 5 miles of iron pipes.

By mutual consent Mr. Beardmore’s partnership with Mr. Rendel terminated in 1848. During that time he was engaged on the Birkenhead Docks project, which attracted so much attention at that period, and also on extensive drainage operations on the Nene, Wyze, Plym, Ouze, &c.; and he was connected, more or less directly, with the improvement of the supplies of water to several of the larger towns in the north of England.

But the works for the improvement of the navigation and drainage of the river Lee were those upon which he was most continuously employed. He was introduced to these works in 1847, by his connection with Mr. Rendel, and became sole engineer to them in 1850, when an Act of Parliament was obtained sanctioning the thorough improvement of the river. From that time he devoted himself with untiring energy to carrying out the new works, and, in 1855, removed from Westminster to Broxbourne, in Hertfordshire, as the most central situation for their supervision.

In 1854 Mr. Beardmore contributed a Paper to the Institution, giving a description of the improvements executed on the First Division, or Tidal portion of the River, which was followed, in 1858, by a Paper by the late Richard Carden Despard, M.Inst.C.E., then his chief assistant, on those executed in the Second Division.

The navigation being one that in places utilises the old river channel, and, in other places, is worked through special cuts, has in consequence, in many parts, the whole of the floods of the valley to carry off, and hence as the difficulties of navigation were more due to excess than to want of water, a considerable amount of engineering skill was required to construct durable works capable of being economically managed under these conditions.

In his report of 1859 Mr. Beardmore states that previously to 1850 'all the locks and bridges were in the last stage of existence;' and some idea of the task which he under took may be gathered from the fact, that the works executed under his superintendence comprised the rebuilding of thirty-eight bridges, twelve locks, six tumbling-bays, the formation of five cuts, and the obliteration of four locks and two tumbling-bays.

In addition to his engagements on the river Lee, Mr. Beardmore, in 1855, laid out the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway which he subsequently constructed as Engineer-in-Chief, J. H. Barnes, Assoc.Inst C.E., acting as Resident Engineer.

About this time, also, he was much engaged on the Liverpool and Garston Extension railway; and, in 1859, he prepared plans and estimates for a proposed line of railway from Norwich through Aylsham to Cromer.

Mr. Beardmore’s 'Manual of Hydrology' is a book too well known to the profession to require any special description. In early years he had found by personal experience how much labour might be saved by the systematic use of tables in the computations daily required by the hydraulic engineer; and many of the tables it contained were originally prepared for private use. The first edition was published in May, 1850, under the unassuming title of 'Hydraulic Tables.' Its compilation cost him much mental labour, most of which was performed in the quiet midnight hours, when the professional work of the day was ended. The estimation in which these tables were held by competent judges, and the manner in which they were appreciated by the profession in general, was shown by the fact that in a very short time (September, 1851) a second edition was called for. This edition, which was considerably enlarged and amended, was immediately printed and published. It was sold out nearly as quickly as its predecessor, and the work soon became very scarce; but, the Author, instead of reprinting, was anxious still more to improve, arrange, and extend its contents, which had been compiled originally rather in the form of notes than as an exact treatise. Much time was spent in making the necessary calculations, and in collecting and collating additional data, Mr. Beardmore being in correspondence with scientific men in all parts of the world, so that it was not until 1862 that the 'Manual of Hydrology,' as it now stands, was placed before the public.

It is to be feared that English engineers are with justness reproached with their indisposition to communicate to others the result of their investigations and experience. By the publication of the work in its complete form Mr. Beardmore proved himself an honourable exception to a general rule, and earned the gratitude of his professional brethren. 'It is a most invaluable work,' wrote a friend; 'scarcely more valuable, indeed, to people of your own profession than as affording a vast amount of admirably condensed information on a wide range of subjects in which almost every one is interested. The amount of knowledge it displays, the remarkable skill in condensing it, and the labour and research it must have cost, are all unique and all worthy of each other and its Author.'

Few men can be found who, apart from the mere bread-winning exercise of their professional abilities, have laboured more assiduously to gather, improve, certify, corroborate, and condense those laws and rules which are connected with hydraulic science, than the late Mr. Nathaniel Beardmore.

As may be expected, the publication of the successive editions of the 'Manual of Hydrology' greatly extended its Author’s practice, and many important questions in connection with hydraulic matters were submitted to him both at home and abroad.

In 1852 he went to France and inspected the Lyons Waterworks, at the same time making interesting observations on the rivers Rhone, Saone, and Loire.

In the following year he went to Turin, having been requested to report on the water-supply to that city. In 1865 he visited Russia, and, after conference with M. Dessemond, prepared plans and designs for giving a better water-supply to the cities of Moscow and Odessa.

In and subsequently to 1856, he was frequently consulted by the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and appointed to report on various railways, harbours, and waterworks.

In 1860 he became Engineer to the Hon. Court of Commissioners of Essex Sewers through the recommendation of Messrs. Walker and Burges, who, during the time they held the office, had constantly consulted with him on various matters connected therewith.

James Walker, Past-President Inst. C.E., of that firm, in 1862 made proposals of partnership to Mr. Beardmore on equal terms with himself and Mr. Burges, and in September the deed was signed; but the partnership was abruptly terminated by Mr. Walker’s sudden death on the 8th October in the same year.

On the occasion of the great flood at Sheffield, owing to the bursting of the Bradfield Reservoir, Mr. Beardmore was appointed by the Home Secretary, together with Mr. R. Rawlinson, M. Inst. C.E., Government Engineer and Inspector, to examine and report on the probable causes of the disaster.

In 1866-67 Mr. Beardmore gave evidence before the Royal Commissions upon inquiry into the best means of preventing the pollution of rivers and on the water-supply to the metropolis and other large towns.

His opinion in cases of arbitration was much sought, and his ability in giving evidence was considerable. As early as the year 1851 he was appointed arbiter in the prolonged case of the East Anglian vs. Burge, again, in 1853, in the case of the Ipswich Dock Co. vs. Byles; and he subsequently acted frequently in that capacity.

He was consulted in 1867 on the proposed new bridge over the Thames at Caversham, above Reading, which was subsequently designed and constructed under his superintendence, in conjunction with Mr. Woodman, the borough surveyor; it is a lattice girder bridge supported on cast-iron piles with brick abutments.

Next to the river Lee the river Thames claimed most of his attention, and he knew well all parts of it from its source to London. From the year 1849 he was much occupied in gauging, and making other investigations in connection with hydrological phenomena. After 1859 he was occasionally consulted by the Conservancy Board, and, in 1866, gave evidence before the Parliamentary Committees on the passing of the Thames Navigation Act.

In the following year he was requested, together with Stephen William Leach, M.Inst.C.E., the Conservators’ Engineer, to report to the Board on the general state of the upper part of the river, and to define the new works more immediately required for the effective working of the above Act. Since the date of that report he acted as Consulting Engineer to the Thames Conservancy Board, and in that capacity reported upon Mr. Leach‘s plans and designs for the new works at Bell weir, Hambledon and Benson locks.

Teddington weir was the last work he reported upon; but during the whole of the year 1872, up to the time of his death, he was engaged, in conjunction with Capt. Calver, R.N., Assoc. Inst. C.E., in an inquiry as to the state of the river at Richmond, with the object of reporting upon the advisability of placing a lock below that town in order to keep up the mater, or suggesting other means for removing the complaints of the inhabitants of Richmond, and of other places on that portion of the river.

At an earlier period. Mr. Beardmore entered into partnership arrangements with John Hickman Barnes, his chief assistant, and former pupil; and with his eldest son, Mr. Nathaniel St. Bernard Beardmore, Stud. Inst. C.E., who had been for some years in his office.

Mr. Beardmore took out a patent in the year 1848 'For certain improvements in founding and constructing walls, piers, and breakwaters,' by the use of wrought-iron, cellular construction, and the extension of girder forms of structure. This invention was also specified as being applicable to the construction of fireproof flooring for warehouses, and for other buildings where great strength was required, and it was described as a combination of wrought-iron plates with a filling of concrete, its principal advantage for building purposes being its greater lightness than the ordinary structure of cast-iron beams with half-brick arches.

Amongst other invited competitors he contributed a design for the main drainage of the metropolis. His plan comprised an aqueduct sewer, with a street-road over it, extending from the extreme west of London to the Thames at Barking Creek. The specification of Mr. Beardmore’s project was ordered to be printed and circulated amongst the members of the Corporation, and, probably furnished, in common with other competitive plans laid before the Commissioners of Sewers in 1819, some of the principal features of the work, now in operation.

In the same year he wrote a pamphlet letter addressed to Viscount Ebrington on proposed modifications and extensions of the water-supply to the borough of Plymouth. In 1851 he contributed, by request, the article on Drains, Rivers, and Water Supply, to the 'Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review.'

Mr. Beardmore took great interest in several branches of science, and more particularly in those which had an immediate bearing on his professional pursuits. Being one of the members, he constantly availed himself of the opportunities for social intercourse which the Smeatonian Society afforded; and he also attended the gatherings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as those of the Canal Association, as often as his other avocations allowed.

He was one of the earliest supporters of the Meteorological Society, of which he became president in 1861. He was also a fellow of the Geological, Royal Geographical, and Royal Astronomical Societies. In referring to the last named of these, it may be mentioned that practical astronomy was one of the earliest studies to which he was attracted.

It is related that during his pupillage the construction of a Newtonian telescope became a great feat of ambition. A brother engineer, who shared to some extent his pursuits, remembers well the perseverance that young Beardmore displayed in constructing the specula. The metal, the moulds, the melting and mixing, were of course essential, so also the grinding and polishing. Failures were numerous, and many a night were these operations carried on until morning hours with crucibles on a kitchen grate; the landlord of his lodgings being pressed into the service with a pair of bellows, the unflagging movement of which was absolutely necessary to obtain the melting point for the amateur, whose zeal became shared if not comprehended by his veteran assistant of seventy.

Throughout a life of unremitting toil, with the exception of occasional attacks of rheumatism, he had enjoyed comparatively good health, but at length the continuous strain of mental exertion began to tell on his physical frame. In the spring of 1870 he lost the sight of one eye after an attack of inflammation. This trial he bore with the patience and resignation which he displayed throughout his illness. Towards the close of the same year his health further gave way, and henceforth, though still able to take an interest, and even a part, in his business, he suffered much nervous exhaustion.

In the spring of 1872 he appeared to rally, and was able to enter on his professional engagements with much of his former animation; but in August he was unexpectedly attacked with congestion of the lungs, and died on the 24th of the same month, in the fifty-seventh year of his age.

Possessed of a sound and practical judgment, an enthusiastic love for his profession, an untiring zeal and perseverance, together with a uniform kindness and fatherly spirit to those under him, Nathaniel Beardmore was highly esteemed by his professional brethren and beloved by all. His strict integrity and honour threw a lustre on all his business engagements.

In private life his habits were simple; he disclaimed all ceremony, and was of a reserved and retiring disposition, but was ever ready with kind advice both professionally and privately. Nor was his assistance confined to precept. No man was more genuinely or unobtrusively generous. Some noticeable traits in his character are ably described by a friend who writes, 'I do not know any one who unites the same qualities that were united in him. High-minded, generous, and genial, and with all this so much practical sagacity and insight into the real and relative importance of things in this world, that one might always consult him with profit.'

His ready humour and originality rendered him very popular in society, and his courteous hospitality will be long remembered. He had a high appreciation for art, and a decided talent as an artist, and has left many enduring reminiscences of his travels in effective sketches, which he had a power of executing with wonderful rapidity.

Mr. Beardmore was connected with the Institution of Civil Engineers for thirty-four years. In 1838 he entered as a Graduate, and soon afterwards designed a double telescope theodolite, a description of which he laid before the Institution.

In 1840 he was elected a Member, in 1854 a Telford Medal was awarded him for his 'Description of the Works executed on the River Lee,' and in 1862 he became a Member of Council. He frequently attended the meetings, and took part in the discussions, and, always speaking to the point, was listened to with attention.


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