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Thomas Jackson Woodhouse

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Thomas Jackson Woodhouse (1793-1855)

Brother of George Woodhouse

1838 Thomas Jackson Woodhouse of Loughborough and acting Engineer to the Midland Counties Railway, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1857 Obituary [2]

MR. THOMAS JACKSON WOODHOUSE was born at Bedworth, in the county of Warwick, on the 9th of December, 1793.

He was the son of Mr. John Woodhouse, Civil Engineer, whose Father also had followed the same profession.

He was educated under Mr. Thomas White, the head master of a school, of King Edward's foundation, at Towcester, in Northamptonshire, which during the early part of this century, enjoyed a high reputation, and from whence emerged several scholars who, in after life, became eminently successful in their various avocations.

In 1809, when the time arrived for him to select a profession, he evinced the same spirit which actuated so many youths at that period, when a desolating war was being carried on by land and by sea, - he desired to become a sailor, - and although his wishes were for a long time combated by his parents, they at last reluctantly complied with his ardent desire. An appointment was procured for him, as Midshipman on board the ‘Broxonbury,’ one of the Honourable East India Company’s ships. This was before the trade with the East Indies had been thrown open, and when the Honourable East India Company’s vessels were armed, and the crews disciplined like men-of-war.

On his return from his first voyage to Calcutta, he yielded to the urgent remonstrances of his parents, and embraced the profession of a Civil Engineer, the rudiments of which he learned under his Father, who was at that time Engineer for many important works.

He was first engaged on the Grand Junction Canal, including the Blisworth Tunnel, where great difficulties had to be overcome, in consequence of the large quantity of water which had to be contended with. This is still, the longest tunnel, for canal purposes, in existence.

He was then employed upon the works of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, including Tardebig Tunnel, and a large number of locks.

His next work was upon the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal, which required extensive sea-walls, and a pier at Sharpness Point, the entrance from the Severn, where the tide flows with extraordinary force and velocity.

In 1825, in connexion with the late Mr. Josias Jessop, he surveyed a line for a railway from Birmingham to Bristol, which was not executed, in consequence of the mercantile panic at that period.

In 1826, he was appointed resident Engineer to the Cromford and High Peak Railway. This line passes through a wild mountainous country, rising 1,000 feet from the Cromford Canal, and falling 800 feet to the Peak Forest Canal, at Whaley Bridge. There is a tunnel on the summit about half a mile long, The Act for this line was passed in the same session as that for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and they were both made during the same period. In consequence of the hilly nature of the country, the gradients were necessarily steep, so that it was deemed advisable to work the line by means of stationary engines, and with horses.

In 1832, he was appointed Engineer of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, which, being chiefly situated on the sea-shore, exposed to heavy easterly gales, was attended with much difficulty in the construction, but it has stood the test of many violent tempests. In overcoming the difficulties which arose here, he displayed great talent, as well as zeal and assiduity.

In 1834, when surveyors were first appointed for the counties in Ireland, the Board of Public Works threw all the appointments open to competitive examination. Mr. Woodhouse was one of the candidates, and his name being placed first on the list, he was allowed to select the county he desired to be attached to ; when he fixed upon Antrim, as the most important, because it included Belfast. He was afterwards appointed Engineer for the Belfast Harbour trust, and also for the railway from Belfast to Lisburn ; but when the latter was finished, seeing no probability of railway works proceeding in Ireland for some time, he, in 1836, accepted the appointment of Resident Engineer to the Midland Counties Railway, for connecting Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, and Rugby.

In the execution of sixty miles of railway, through so hilly a country, in those, comparatively, early days of railways, difficulties and obstructions necessarily presented themselves ; but these were all successfully overcome, by the untiring energy and perseverance, coupled with ability, displayed by Mr. Woodhouse, and he was particularly careful to husband the resources of the Company, and to introduce no unnecessary, or ornamental work.

Among the many works on this line may be particularly instanced the bridge over the river Trent, a light structure of iron, consisting of three arches, each of 100 feet span, and of 10 feet rise. It was thought by some Engineers that this bridge did not possess the requisite strength ; but subsequent experience has shown it to be fully equal to support the heavy traffic passing over it. In the execution of these works, he won the regard and esteem of all with whom he was engaged. The Resident Engineers appreciated his unvarying kindness, and solicitude for their welfare ; the Contractors admired his honest and upright conduct, and desire to comply with all fair and equitable demands ; and the Directors knew that they had a worthy and faithful servant, who, on all occasions, endeavoured to act as an impartial arbitrator between the Company and the Contractors. In this he was so successful, that in the expenditure of one million sterling, for work and material, not a single case of litigation arose.

In recognition of the services performed on this occasion, a subscription was entered into, which soon reached one thousand guineas. With this it was determined to purchase a handsome dinner service of silver, bearing the following inscription :-

'Presented to THOMAS JACKSON WOODHOUSE, Esq., Civil Engineer, by the Resident Engineers, Contractors, Manufacturers, and other gentlemen connected with the construction of the Midland Counties Railway, as a token of their estimation of his talent, zeal and integrity, manifested on all occasions in carrying out the above important undertaking, May 27, 1841.'

The presentation took place at a public dinner, at Derby, when about seventy gentlemen, connected with the railway, and with the town and neighbourhood, attended and expressed their public estimation and their private friendship for him.

When Mr. Woodhouse's engagement as the Resident Engineer of this company terminated, the Board of Directors passed the following resolutions :-

'1. That this Committee entertain the highest sense of the faithful, zealous, and truly able and efficient manner in which Mr. Woodhouse has discharged the various duties of his office, and the unremitting assiduity he has evinced, in promoting the interests of the Company, during the whole period of his engagement. And that the warmest thanks of this Company be presented to Mr. Woodhouse for his constant exertions, and for, the eminent service he has rendered to them on all occasions.

'2. That Mr. Woodhouse be requested to accept a perpetual free ticket for passage over the railway, in acknowledgement of the advantage its interests have derived from his services.'

In 1842, he surveyed the line from Leamington to Coventry ; but when the Act was obtained, the line was transferred to, and was executed by, the London and North Western Company.

He then went to France, for Messrs. Brassey and Mackenzie, to construct a canal for uniting the rivers Rhone and Marne.

In 1843, he was appointed Engineer-in-chief for the railway from Orleans, Tours and Bordeaux, and remained there until the Revolution of 1848, when he returned to England. He was, however, so generally popular, from his mild and conciliatory manners, that during the period of the wild excesses to which the Revolution led, with the peasantry excited against Englishmen, he was not in any way molested, or interfered with. But as he would have had to carry on the works with a comparatively, inexperienced staff, all natives of France, he thought he should best consult his own interest by resigning.

Shortly afterwards, he was engaged by Mr. Brassey to go to Italy, to make a line of railway from Prato to Pistoja.

When that line was completed, he undertook for the same gentleman, the construction of the railway from Turin to Novara, and he had finished about sixty miles of it, when he was seized with illness, which eventually proved fatal. He was in the full enjoyment of good health, until about the middle of September, 1855, when, after considerable exertion in examining the country, in the neighbourhood of Milan, with the view of an extension of the railway from that city, he received a ‘coup de soleil,’ from the effects of which he expired, at Turin, on the 26th of September, in the sixty-second year of his age.

He had so completely gained the respect and esteem of a large body of the citizens, that his remains were followed to the cemetery, by a greater number of persons than had, on any former occasion ever paid the last mark of respect to a Protestant in that city. The Piedmontese journals, at the same time, published high1 eulogistic articles respecting his character as a man, and his abilities as an Engineer.

Mr. Woodhouse became a Member of the Institution in the year 1838. Those who knew him best, considered him to be an excellent judge of work, and of its fair value to a Contractor, and they placed great reliance on the accuracy of his estimates ; and his unassuming and conciliatory demeanour was of great, value in many difficult negotiations and arbitrations. His constant avocations at a distance from the Metropolis, prevented his taking any active part in the affairs of the Institution, but he always evinced great interest in its welfare.



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