Benjamin Outram (1764 – 1805)

A tribute to the life of Benjamin Outram of Alfreton, Derbyshire
– Civil Engineer and Industrialist

Cromford Canal

Benjamin Outram
& Company
One of the first civil engineering undertakings that Benjamin Outram was involved with was the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire. This was to run from the head of the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill by way of Ripley to Cromford with a branch to Pinxton. In August 1789 the canal company appointed William Jessop as their Consulting Engineer and Benjamin Outram as their Superintendent at a salary of £200 per annum. Work on this canal did not proceed too well. Two major aqueducts, the Amber and the Derwent, partially failed and the original contractors withdrew before the canal was completed. The only trouble-free achievement was the 2,966 yard-long Butterley tunnel, at that time the third longest in the country, for which Outram was responsible. In spite of the difficulties, the Cromford Canal opened throughout in 1794.

In June 1790, Francis Beresford, a local landowner and promoter of the Cromford Canal, purchased the Butterley Hall Estate adjoining the Cromford Canal. He and Outram then established an ironworks known as Benjamin Outram & Company, later to be known as the Butterley Company or Butterley Ironworks. This estate was rich in deposits of ironstone and coal and the company immediately began to make use them. In 1791 and 1792 Beresford purchased land around the nearby village of Crich in order to open a limestone quarry. In 1793, Outram connected this quarry to the Cromford Canal at Bullbridge Wharf by means of a tramway a little over a mile in length and having a gauge of 3 feet 6 inches. Waggons and L-section rails for this were manufactured at his ironworks. By this time John Wright, a Nottingham banker, and William Jessop, the civil engineer, had been brought into the partnership, the former to improve the finances and the latter to provide additional engineering experience.
 
Derby Canal

Holmes Aqueduct
The broad Derby Canal was promoted in 1792 and it was 14½ miles long, the original scheme having been drawn up by Outram. It commenced at Sandiacre, by a junction with the Erewash Canal, and proceeded by Borrowash and Spondon to Derby, where there were junctions with the 3 mile-long Little Eaton Branch Canal and a short branch to the upper reach of the river Derwent in the city. It crossed the Derwent on the level and continued by Osmaston to Swarkeston, where it joined the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The canal was significant for Holmes Aqueduct, which was built at Derby to make possible a novel crossing of the river Derwent along the top of a weir built to control the level of the water in the river. Before he could accomplish this crossing, Outram first had to build an aqueduct over a mill-stream with limited headroom below it. At that time, the normal practice would have been to build a stone aqueduct supported by an arch but this was impossible because of the limited headroom and Outram's solution was to build an iron aqueduct.

In order to achieve this he designed a prefabricated cast-iron trough and, although no records have survived, it is reasonable to assume that the components for this were produced at his own ironworks. Stone abutments were built on each side of the stream and the trough was assembled so that the ends rested on the abutments. Holmes Aqueduct, Britain's first iron aqueduct, was filled with water in February 1796 and it predates Thomas Telford's Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct by one month.

Soon after Holmes Aqueduct came into use it was clear that it was under designed and on several occasions, up until 1930, remedial work was needed to keep it functioning. Nonetheless, it survived until 1971 when it was demolished to make way for a city-centre development scheme. At that time it seems that no attempt was made to save this important structure, nor was it measured and photographed. In this manner, Britain lost its first iron aqueduct.

It is understood that in section the trough was 15 feet 6 inches wide x 5 feet 8 inches deep and that it was about 41 feet long. The two sides and base were each fabricated from four cast-iron plates, 1¼ inch thick, that were flanged to enable them to be bolted together and braced in order to withstand water pressure. The side plates represented voussoirs used in the construction of traditional stone arches.
 
Little Eaton Gangway
In 1793 work began on the Little Eaton Gangway, which was a tramway extension of the Little Eaton Branch of the Derby Canal. Outram was not initially involved with this as the line was proposed by William Jessop in a report dated the 3 November 1792. The first batch of L-section rails was ordered from Joseph Butler in 1793. However, it was completed under Outram's supervision in May 1795.

The tramway commenced at Little Eaton and it was four miles long leading to Kilbourne and Denby. Initially, it was built as a single track with passing places and the gauge was 3 feet 6 inches.
 
Nutbrook Canal
In 1793, at the second attempt, the Act for the Nutbrook Canal was passed. This was a broad canal, which commenced at the White House, near Sandiacre, by a junction with the Erewash Canal and it rose through 13 locks to Shipley. It was only 4½ miles long and it was built to carry coal. Outram was appointed as the Consulting Engineer and it was completed in 1796 without any problems.

It passed through Stanton Ironworks and then it proceeded by New Stanton, Kirk Hallam, West Hallam and Shipley Collieries to Shipley Wharf, all in the county of Derbyshire. It became unnavigable in 1895.
 
Ashton Canal

  Islington Branch
  Canal
  Stockport Branch
  Canal
  Hollinwood Branch
  Canal
  Fairbottom Branch
  Canal

  Beat Bank Branch
  Canal
Although work on the narrow Ashton Canal (known as the Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham and Stockport Canal) started in 1792, it was not until mid-1798 that the canal company appointed Outram as their Consulting Engineer. It is likely that he had been working in some capacity, possibly as a contractor, on the construction of this canal from the outset but the company finally decided to formalise his position 'in order to better bring about its completion'. The reason for his late appointment is unknown but it is known that at an earlier stage the company advertised for a Consulting Engineer but no-one was appointed.

It appears that the opening dates for the Ashton Canal, including its branches, were not recorded. The main line opened in mid-1796 and the Doncaster Journal and Yorkshire Advertiser, for the 4 February 1797, stated that 'a canal conveyance was opened a few days ago between Stockport and Manchester, there has been one to Ashton for some months'.

An interesting fact about the Ashton Canal, and a possible reason for there being no specific opening dates, is that its main line was only 6.7 miles long whereas the length of the branches added together amounted to some 10.5 miles. Had the Beat Bank Branch not been abandoned before completion then the branches would have been even longer. The shortest branch was the Islington Branch in Ancoats, Manchester, which was just over ½ mile long. Additionally, there were several private branches of which the Bradford and Clayton branches were the most prominent.

The Ashton Canal was of vital importance to the adjoining Peak Forest Canal Company as it gave access to Manchester. Though the two canals were initially independently owned, the management of both companies recognised that they had to cooperate with each other. Its line was from the intended Rochdale Canal at Piccadilly, Manchester, through Droylsden and Fairfield, then on to the Tame aqueduct in Ashton-under-Lyne and finally on to Whitelands to make a head-on junction with the Huddersfield (Narrow) Canal.

Five notable aqueducts were constructed on the Ashton Canal and its branches, these being:
  • Store Street Aqueduct over Shooters Brook at Piccadilly, Manchester.
  • Tame Aqueduct, which carries a short spur of the Ashton Canal over the river Tame to make a head-on connection with the Peak Forest Canal at Dukinfield.
  • Waterhouses Aqueduct over the river Medlock at Daisy Nook on the Hollinwood Branch Canal.
  • Crime Aqueduct over Crime Lane, near Daisy Nook, on the Hollinwood Branch Canal.
  • Valley Aqueduct over a lane adjoining Valley Farm on the Fairbottom Branch Canal.
 
Peak Forest Canal and Tramway

Marple Tramway
In 1793 Thomas Brown of Manchester and Disley surveyed, for some interested parties, the line of a narrow canal from the proposed Ashton Canal at Dukinfield via Hyde and Marple to Chapel Milton and thence by a 'Railway or Stone Road' to the limestone quarries at Loads Knowle near Dove Holes. The key figure in the Company of Proprietors of the Peak Forest Canal, as the parties became known, was Samuel Oldknow who was an industrialist based at Mellor and Marple. Among his many business interests were Mellor Mill and Marple Lime Works. The Act authorising the Peak Forest Canal was passed on the 28 March 1794.

An authorised share capital of £90,000 was to be raised in £100 shares with the ability to borrow another £60,000 when this became necessary. Initially only £80,600 was raised. The Act became effective on the 20 May 1794 and the canal company appointed Benjamin Outram and Thomas Brown as their Consulting Engineer and Resident Engineer respectively and they were jointly responsible for the construction of both the canal and tramway. Work on cutting the canal and constructing the tramway began almost immediately and cast-iron rails for the tramway were ordered from Benjamin Outram & Company at Butterley, Derbyshire, as early as December 1794.

As originally planned, the canal was to have been carried up a flight of locks between Bugsworth and the proposed terminal basin at Chapel Milton. These locks would have required a reservoir near the village of Wash to supply them with water and the land for this reservoir, across Hockham Brook, was actually purchased under the original Act. In spite of this, both Outram and Brown advised against this proposal following a re-survey of the line and in its place they recommended to the Committee that the length of the tramway should be increased.

The reasoning behind their recommendation was quite sound. A flight of 12 locks (Whitehough locks) commencing at Bugsworth, would have been required to lift the canal up to the proposed summit pound at Chapel Milton. This pound would have been fairly short and it was to have been supplied with water from Wash reservoir. Ideally, a summit pound should be as long as possible in order to store a supply of water itself and so supplement the reservoir. The pound at Chapel Milton would have been insufficiently long for this purpose and this meant that boats entering and leaving the basin at Chapel Milton would have caused an unacceptable loss of water through the locks and there was no guarantee that the reservoir could replenish this.

As a result the Committee decided in July 1795 to 'make the canal as far towards Chapel Milton as possible' on the level of the canal at Disley. Thus the canal was terminated at Bugsworth, two miles short of the proposed terminus at Chapel Milton. The canal was thus constructed two miles shorter and the tramway two miles longer than originally planned.

According to a report in the Derby Mercury, the upper level of the canal, between Marple top lock and Bugsworth, and the tramway, between Bugsworth and Loads Knowle, were simultaneously opened for trade on the 31 August 1796. The tramway included a tunnel at Stodhart, which is Britain's second oldest railway tunnel and the oldest in Derbyshire.

It is likely that the lower level of the canal was open by May 1798 when a temporary Marple Tramway, bypassing the locks, opened. Marple aqueduct was still incomplete and it may be that the tramway crossed the river Goyt on a temporary trestle bridge. The aqueduct opened on the 1 May 1800 and this is the generally accepted date for the opening of the Peak Forest Canal throughout with the exception of Marple locks. The construction of the locks was beset with financial problems as a result of which they were opened in stages. It is now believed that they opened right the way through somewhere between the first and twelfth day of November 1805.

In 1801 Outram resigned his post as the Consulting Engineer to the Peak Forest Canal Company in order to devote more time to Benjamin Outram & Company.

The Peak Forest Canal is 14¾ miles long and it rises through 16 locks at Marple. The Peak Forest Tramway was ultimately 5¾ miles long.
 
Huddersfield Canal
In April 1794 the Huddersfield Canal Act was passed but nowadays this canal is known as the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Shareholders in the Ashton Canal were the main promoters, which provided an alternative route to the Rochdale Canal over the Pennines. It commences in Huddersfield by a junction with the Huddersfield Broad Canal (Sir John Ramsden's Canal) and proceeds by Golcar, Slaithwaite, Marsden, Diggle, Saddleworth, Mossley and Stalybridge to join the Ashton Canal at Whitelands in Ashton-under-Lyne.

Outram was appointed as the Consulting Engineer and because of the difficult terrain he was faced with huge problems, the greatest of which was the construction of the mighty Standedge Tunnel between Marsden and Diggle. He decided to only work on the construction of the tunnel from the two ends so as to save the expense of sinking very deep vertical shafts that would be needed to work at more headings but this extended the completion date. It appears that this idea was later rescinded with the aim of speeding up the work.

The 20 mile-long canal, with its 74 locks, was completed in 1798 with the exception of the tunnel, which was not completed until 1811, six years after Outram's death. Standedge Tunnel is Britain's longest tunnel, being over three miles long. It also the highest canal tunnel at 645 feet above sea level.
 
Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal

Tramway
In August 1798 the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal Company sought Outram's advice about a tramway to connect the northern end of their canal to local collieries and lime works. He proposed lines to run from Cloud Hill (Breedon) and Ticknall joining at Ashby Old Parks and then gradually descending through Ashby to the canal at Willesley. The total length of this tramway was 12½ miles of which four miles were double track. The cast-iron rails were one yard long and weighed 37 pound and they were laid on stone blocks.

The company accepted his report and appointed him as their Consulting Engineer. Work started in 1799, the L-section rails being manufactured by Benjamin Outram & Company. The tramway was completed in 1802 following problems with contracts and payments.
 
Other Canals
In July 1787 he held discussions with the Erewash Canal Company concerning an extension of the canal to Pinxton but he failed to get an agreement. These discussions led to the construction of the Cromford Canal.

On the 19 August 1793 he produced a scheme for the Sheffield Canal. As built, this canal commenced at Sheffield Canal Basin and proceeded to by Attercliffe and Broughton Lane to Tinsley, where it joined the River Don Navigation.

In 1795 he surveyed the river Don.

In early 1796 he inspected the construction of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal with regard to it being built as a broad canal.

On the 11 March 1796 he reported his scheme for a canal from the Peak Forest Canal by way of Rudyard to the Caldon Canal. This came to nothing but it did lead to the later construction of the Macclesfield Canal.

In 1799 he advised the proprietors of the Fletcher canal in the Irwell Valley on how they could best make a junction with the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal.
 
Other Tramways
On the 1 July 1799 Outram advised the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Company that they should convert their tramways from using edge rails to using L-section rails.

By mid-1799 he had advised the Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company that their line to Worcester should be completed with a tramway.

In mid-1800, following criticism of his first scheme, he recommends to the Somerset Coal Canal Company that the two levels of their canal should be connected by a tramway. The coal to be carried by boat in containers that could be lifted by cranes to and from waggons on the tramway.

In October 1800, at the suggestion of the Peak Forest Canal Company, the Huddersfield Canal Company asked him to undertake a feasibility study for a temporary tramway between Marsden and Wool Road to by pass the unfinished Standedge Tunnel. Nothing came of his study.

By November 1800 his double-track temporary tramway over Blisworth Hill was complete. The purpose of this was to connect the two ends of the unfinished Blisworth Tunnel.

In 1800 he produced a scheme for a tramway to run from the Monmouthshire Canal at Risca to the Tredegar Works.

By 1800 his Penydarren Tramway was complete. This was 9¾ miles long having a single track. It connected an ironworks near Merthyr to the Glamorganshire Canal at Abercynon and George Overton engineered it. On the 13 February 1804 this tramway witnessed a most historic moment in the development of railways for it was here that Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive first ran on rails. Samuel Homfray, an ironmaster of Penydarren then made a wager of 500 guineas even money with Anthony Hill, a neighbouring ironmaster, that a steam locomotive could haul 10 tons of iron along the tramway from Penydarren to Abercynon. On the 21 February 1804 Richard Trevithick won the bet for Samuel Homfray.

By 1805, after his death, The Surrey Iron Railway (engineered by Jessop) between Croydon and Reigate was complete.
 
Minutes to be observed in the construction of railways
All tramways designed by Outram used L-section cast-iron rails or plates, first introduced underground in circa 1787 by John Curr at the Duke of Norfolk's Sheffield Park Mine. By the following year, Curr's tramways had been constructed at two places on the surface, one of these being at Joseph Butler's Wingerworth Ironworks near Chesterfield in Derbyshire and Outram was aware of this. The cast-iron rails used were 4 feet long with a weight of 24 pounds per yard run and they were laid to a 20 inch gauge.

Their use then quickly spread to many parts of the country, both on the surface and underground, and Outram became the foremost advocate of this rail system. He referred to the rails as 'my plates' and in February 1801 he published his famous paper entitled, 'Minutes to be observed in the construction of railways'. In this paper he recommended that the gauge should be 4 feet 2 inches and the Peak Forest Tramway, which opened for trade on the 31 August 1796, was the first to be completed fully in accordance with his subsequent paper.
 
Benjamin Outram's last years
In 1801 Outram took less interest in his private civil engineering consultancy practice and he devoted himself more to the business affairs of Benjamin Outram & Company. He did this with the aid of his brother, Joseph, and his managing clerk, George Goodwin. The reason for this was the firm's rapid growth.

Outram died prematurely on the 22 May 1805. The firm of Benjamin Outram & Company was formally established by a deed of partnership dated 10 December 1792 and in 1809 the name was changed to The Butterley Company. However, Benjamin Outram lived long enough to see his firm become one of the foremost ironworks in Britain, both with regard to the quality of its products and its output. Ultimately, the company became one of the largest and most prestigious ironworks in Britain, specialising in structural steelwork and railway equipment
 
Benjamin Outram the Civil Engineer
Benjamin Outram was naturally gifted and one of the earliest references to him in a consultancy role was in July 1787 (aged 23 years) when, accompanied by John Hodgkinson and others, he held discussions with the Erewash Canal Company to propose an extension of their canal to Pinxton. Although nothing came of this, it led to the construction of the Cromford Canal. Two years later, in 1789, he was appointed as the full-time assistant to William Jessop. John Smeaton had trained Jessop and he was a member of the Smeatonian Society. Between 1785 and 1805, Jessop was the premier civil engineer of the day and Outram could not have had a better mentor. In 1793 (aged 29 years) he was appointed as the Consulting Engineer to the Nutbrook Canal Company and it is likely that this was his first appointment as a consultant. The Nutbrook Canal was completed without any problems.

It had become incumbent on civil engineers of the day that they must understand the underlying mathematical principles of the design of arches and buttresses as these were common features of bridges, aqueducts and tunnels. In this respect it was crucial for them to recognise the importance of the work of the mathematician Charles Hutton (1737 - 1823). For civil engineers, the two most important works of Hutton were his 'Principles of Bridges' (1772) and 'Mathematical Tables' (1785).

It is understood that both Benjamin Outram and Thomas Brown consulted the former publication at the design stage of Marple Aqueduct and the latter publication would have been of use to them as an aid to their calculations. The University of Salford holds an original copy of the 'Principles of Bridges'.

It is also interesting to note that the second eldest son of Benjamin Outram was called James Napier Outram. It is possible that his middle name, Napier, was given in honour of the Scottish philosopher and mathematician, John Napier (1550 - 1617), who was the inventor of the decimal point and of logarithms. This is especially so knowing that there was an influential Scottish connection in Outram's family.
 
Benjamin Outram the Man
Benjamin Outram was born at Alfreton, near Matlock, Derbyshire, on the 1 April 1764 and he was baptised on the same day. He was named in honour of Benjamin Franklin, the American printer, scientist, inventor and politician who was a personal friend of the Outram family. Besides his well-known experiments with electricity, Franklin was also the inventor of the glass harmonica, which has such an enchanting sound, especially when playing Scottish airs.

Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) came to live in England in 1757 and he was Benjamin Outram's godfather. While in England, Franklin was a Colonial representative of his home state of Pennsylvania and of Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts as well.

Benjamin Outram was the second son of Joseph Outram (an iron master and surveyor) and Elizabeth and the grandson of Joseph Outram and Sara. He married Margaret Anderson the daughter of James Anderson (a Scottish lawyer, scientist, agriculturalist and writer) and ---- Seton on the 4 June 1800. In the short time that they were married they had five children, Francis Boyd, Anna Seton, James Napier, Margaret and Elizabeth.

He worked prodigiously all his life but in spite of this he still owed his business partnership a substantial sum of money at the time of his death. He had a rather extravagant life style and he spent some thousands of pounds on improving Butterley Hall where he lived. In a letter of 1805 he was described as 'a fine looking, high spirited man, of a generous temper and a relentless energy which would ill brook opposition'.

Tragically, Benjamin Outram died prematurely of brain fever in London on the 22 May 1805, aged 41 years. As his second son, James Napier, was born on the 22 February 1803 and he would scarcely have been able to remember his father. James went on to have a distinguished career in the British Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General, his full title being Lieutenant General Sir James Outram, 1st Baronet, but he was also well known by his nickname of the Bayard of India (Bayard being a French military hero). While serving in India he was involved with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. He died on the 11 March 1863 at Lucknow, aged 60 years. Benjamin's widow, Margaret Anderson, died on the 7 January 1863, aged 84 years, at 8 Forrest Street, Edinburgh, and she was described as the widow of Benjamin Outram, a Civil Engineer.
 
A final tribute
The life of Benjamin Outram is best evoked by his work, which is an everlasting memorial to him. He was a man of consummate ability and persevering industry and his character was marked throughout his life by his plane, honest and straightforward dealing guided by his candour and integrity.

If only one of his works could be chosen that best evoked the life and work of Benjamin Outram then it would have to be his magnificent aqueduct at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal.
 
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