Thomas Telford - The Colossus Of Roads At Coalbrookdale Gallery, Ironbridge

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 12 June 2007
an oil portait of a man in an early nineteenth century style coat and collar and short hair

Thomas Telford - the great engineer and road builder dubbed the Colossus of Roads.. Courtesy Ironbridge Gorge Museums

The 250th anniversary of the birth of great British road, bridge and canal builder Thomas Telford, is being marked at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum with an exhibition exploring his achievements.

Called the Colossus of Roads in honour of his industrial revolution-era nickname, the exhibition runs in the Coalbrookdale Gallery, adjacent to the Museum of Iron near Ironbridge in Shropshire until September 30 2007.

Part of a nationwide celebration of the life and works of Telford, the Coalbrookdale exhibition focusses on his greatest works in the Midlands and North Wales as seen through the eyes of artists and engravers who recorded his great feats of engineering around 200 years ago.

Many of these iconic structures can still be found in Shropshire including the world's first cast-iron aqueduct, built by Telford in 1794 to carry the Shropshire Union Canal over the River Tern.

a painting of a bridge spanning a river gorge

The Menai Bridge for the Holyhead Road was just one of Telford's achievements. Courtesy Ironbridge Gorge Museums

The county also boasts the only surviving Telford built cast-iron bridge (in 1813) still in its original position as well as examples that reveal the range of Telford’s talents such as St Leonards Church in Madeley and Shrewsbury Gaol.

Born the only child of a shepherd in 1757, Thomas Telford’s influence stretched the length and breadth of the UK and he grew to become one of the most important civil engineers in the country.

He was the first president of the Institution of Civil Engineers and had a reputation for delivering projects on time and on budget – his reliable system of estimates, contracts, specifications and tenders for his team is believed to be the first of its kind.

Nicknamed ‘Colossus of Roads’ by the poet Southey, Telford had built over 1,500 miles of roads, 1,000 bridges and over 400 miles of canals by the time of his death in 1834. He gives his name to the new town in Shropshire where he was appointed its first County Surveyor in the 1780s and where so many of his works can still be seen.

a black and white reproduction of a seated man with a fur collared coat, high collar and short hair

Telford gives his name to the new town in Shropshire where he was appointed its first County Surveyor in the 1780s. Courtesy Ironbridge Gorge Museums

The show includes paintings and engravings of many of his iconic structures, including the Menai Bridge, which carried the Holyhead Raod across the Menai Strait to Anglesey. Also to be seen are the original draft of his autobiography and associated correspondence.

The Ironbridge complex of museums and heritage sites also includes one of Telford’s charming 1828 tollhouses originally built on the London to Holyhead road and re-erected at Blists Hill Victorian Town in 1973.

The cottage, its design and its garden provided the inspiration for Telford and Wrekin Council’s silver medal winning entry at the Chelsea Flower show in May 2007 and photographs from this are currently being added to the Colossus exhibition.

The exhibition is open most weekdays between 10am and 5pm and admission is free. Please call the Ironbridge Tourist Information Centre on 01952 884391 to confirm opening times before travelling.

For more information about Telford’s structures in Shropshire see the Telford and Ironbridge Gorge website

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