Thomas Telford, engineer: €˜Colossus of Roads€™

Signature of Thomas Telford

250 years after his birth, records in the Parliamentary Archives document the work of a great engineer€¦

Thomas Telford (1757-1834) was a prolific civil engineer, responsible for the building of a number of significant roads, canals and bridges during his long career. His major achievements included the London to Holyhead road and the 579 ft span wrought iron Menai Suspension Bridge, which was begun in 1819 and completed seven years later.

The Parliamentary Archives holds a variety of records relating to works which Telford was involved in, including Acts of Parliament, deposited plans, evidence, reports and correspondence.

Many of Thomas Telford's creations required Acts of Parliament to provide the funds for building and from 1794 it was necessary to deposit with the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments various documents, including plans, for canal, navigation and water Bills. Over time, these rules were extended to apply to other types of Bills such as those dealing with  railways, turnpike roads and bridges. As a result of this, the Parliamentary Archives holds plans of the roads and canals that Telford was involved with, often signed by him.  One example are these plans of the Menai Bridge.

These maps, signed by Telford,  were presented to Parliament in 1819 with the Bill that became Public General Act, 59 George III, c. 48;  "An Act to amend an Act passed in the Fifty fifth Year of His present Majesty, for granting to His Majesty the Sum of Twenty thousand Pounds towards repairing Roads between London and Holyhead by Chester, and between London and Bangor by Shrewsbury; and for giving additional Powers to the Commissioners therein named, to build a Bridge over the Menai Straits, and to make a new Road from Bangor Ferry to Holyhead, in the County of Anglesea".

Menai Straits plan

Close up of proposed location of Menai Bridge from above map.

Above: "Map of that part of the Menai Strait which includes the sight of the new bridge and Swilly Cribinniau and Britannia Rocks".

Parliamentary Archives: HL/PO/PB/3/plan26

Left: Close up of proposed location of Menai Bridge from above map.


Right: Part of a " Map of the present and proposed mail roads between Holyhead and Bangor Ferry in the County of Anglesey", 1819.

Parliamentary Archives: HL/PO/PB/3/plan26.

Part of a Map of the present and proposed mail roads between Holyhead and Bangor Ferry in the County of Anglesey, 1819

Estimate of cost for building the Holyhead Road signed by Telford, 12th of Feburary 1819.

Being appointed as engineer to the Holyhead Road Commissioners, Telford was responsible for estimating the cost of the new road.  On 12th of February 1819 he estimated that the road across Angelsey from the new Menai Bridge to Holyhead would cost exactly £52,221, 12s, 7d.

Parliamentary Archives: HC/CL/PB/6/plan1819/24-25.


Holyhead Road Estimate (PDF PDF 1.15 MB)

Click here to see a larger image (opens in new window).

Section from Map of the line of canal from the Ellesmere and Chester Canal at Wardle Green to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Middlewich in the County of Chester showing the proposed deviation adjeacent to the Town Middlewich.

In 1793, Telford became General Agent, Surveyor, Engineer, Architect and Supervisor to  the Ellesmere canal project.  This plan and section of part of the Ellesmere Canal, signed by Telford  was submitted with the Bill that later became Local Act 7 & 8 George IV, chapter cii; ‘An Act to amend and enlarge the Powers and Provisions of the several Acts relating to the Ellesmere and Chester Canal Navigation’.

Section from " Map of the line of canal from the Ellesmere and Chester Canal at Wardle Green to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Middlewich in the County of Chester showing the proposed deviation adjacent to the Town Middlewich"

Parliamentary Archives: HL/PO/PB/3/plan57


The Scottish Highland Roads and Bridges Act, 1803, 43 Geo III c 80 established a Commission to supervise the expenditure of moneys on the construction of Highland roads and bridges.   As a result of Telford's involvement in a great number of building projects in Scotland, his name appears no fewer than 88 times in the catalogue entries for the Archive of the Scottish Commissioners for Bridges and Highways  (Parliamentary Archives reference: SC).  Here are few of those items.

This estimate for costs of building Contin Bridge signed by Telford was annexed with a letter from James Hope to John Rickman regarding work of the Scottish Commisioners for Bridges and Highways.

Parliamentary Archives: SC/1/3/310

Estimate for costs of building Contin Bridge signed by Telford.

Estimate of Contin Bridge PDF (PDF PDF 2.27 MB)

Click here to see the document in full (opens in new window).

Estimate for Strathspey Road to Nethy Road certified by Telford.

Estimate for Strathspey Road to Nethy Road certified by Telford.

Parliamentary Archives: SC/1/2/122A.


Telford must have visited Parliament on several occasions, for example when he was called as a witness to give evidence to the committee enquiring into the Aberdeen Harbour Bill of 1810.  This extract of Telford's evidence is a part of the House of Lords Main Papers collection.

Parliamentary Archives: HL/PO/JO/10/8/211

Introduction to Telford's evidence to the committee inquiring into the Aberdeen Harbour Bill of 1810.

Telford's evidence to Aberdeen Harbour Bill Committee PDF (PDF PDF 1.98 MB)

Click here to see part of Telford's evidence (opens in new window).

On his death, Telford left his papers to the Institution of Civil Engineers of which he became the first president in 1820.  Today the Institution of Civil Engineers are hosting a website devoted to Telford's 250 year Anniversary at:  http://www.thomastelford250.org/

Back to Highlights and Features
Back to Parliamentary Archives home page