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Civil Engineering During The Industrial Revolution In Britain History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The industrial revolution was a period in Britain from the mid 18th century to the 19th century where many new inventions led to changes in the general infrastructure of the country. This improved social and economic conditions in the United Kingdom before spreading worldwide. Mechanical engineering is often cited as being the core professional practice during this period but out of the many innovations during this period, there were many useful contributions from civil engineering.

Coalbrookdale in 1709 is widely regarded as the birthplace of this revolution. There was an abundance of coal and industry in areas in Shropshire, but there was no bridge across the River Severn to carry goods and people. In 1776 King George III granted permission for a toll bridge to be built over the river, which was designed by local architect Thomas Pritchard.

This arch bridge was built by Abraham Darby III, following the death of Pritchard and was the first bridge in the world to be built out of cast iron. Cast iron was previously shunned as being a material far too expensive to be used on large structures, but the blast furnace in Coalbrookdale lowered the cost of its production.

Cast iron is a brittle material so is it has many cracks on its surface which are susceptible to breaking. In order to stop them from propagating, it is held in compression which also exploits the cast iron’s strength. The ‘Iron Bridge’ was constructed as an arch bridge for a reason, as the best way to keep the whole bridge in compression. Compression in a structure is when all of the force is directed downwards. Arch bridges are semi-circular structures that put the pressure of its weight on its abutments.

The British road system was very poorly maintained and unsuitable for transporting goods. However during the 1750’s was the emergence of turnpike trusts, local companies that were set up to maintain roads. They set up many toll roads, which were not financed by the government at the time. These are privately built roads which drivers pay a fee (toll) to access. Major turnpikes came from London in order to allow the royal mail to distribute throughout the rest of England. Eventually the government took responsibility for the development of roads throughout the UK but the engineers who made significant improvements to roads were John Metcalf, Thomas Telford and John McAdam.

It was in Knaresborough, in the English county of Yorkshire, where John Metcalf began his road building legacy. In 1765 when the government passed an act to build toll roads in the Knaresborough area, he won a contract to build a 3 mile section between Minskip and Ferrensby, part of a new road from Harrogate to Boroughbridge. He went on to build roads throughout the counties of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Chesire and Lancashire. This was at a time when road building was non-existent.

Metcalf believed that roads should have good foundations and also have a convex shaped surface. This meant that roads would be rounded in order to allow rainwater to drain quickly down into ditches at the side of the road. This trait is evident in many roads today, as poor drainage is what caused most of the problems on the roads at that time.

Another important civil engineer during the industrial revolution was Thomas Telford who built over 1000 miles of road during his career. He placed small stones on top of rock foundations and covered the surface with a mixture of broken stones and gravel. He raised the pavement level for good drainage and drained the surrounding area where a structure could not be raised. His method became known as ‘Telford pitching’.

In 1820 John McAdam invented a process called ‘macadamisation’ for building roads. This is widely regarded as the greatest advancement in road construction since the Roman times. This involved using singled aggregate layers of angular stone bound with gravel and using soil as the foundations rather than rocks, just adding road crust to it, to protect it from wear and water. Central to his theory was that the stones could not exceed 6 ounces in weight. He achieved by breaking them down with hammers. Keeping stones smaller than tyres of chariots that ran over them allowed there to be a good running surface. Angular layers of stone would be compressed by traffic so under pressure, his roads were self-sustaining.

McAdam’s system of road building quickly spread across the world, most notably the ‘National Road’ in America completed in the 1830’s. The ‘McAdam road’ was the standard type of road construction throughout the 19th century until the development of automobiles. Large rubber tyres tore small stones out of their bedding, so this lead to the development of the ‘tar McAdam road’, which was patented by civil engineer Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1901. This was a more durable road surface with a mixture of asphalt or concrete. This just shows the legacy that John McAdam left.

Canals were another area of construction during the industrial revolution that was needed, as large amounts of bulk materials needed to be transported throughout the country. Roads could not handle the weight of some products, plus the vehicles to carry them on the road were not available at the time so canals provided a solution to moving heavy goods over long distances and fragile goods like pottery.

The Duke of Bridgewater was responsible for many of the early canals in England. He owned coal mines in Lancashire and needed to find a way to transport them to the large market in Manchester. He gave an engineer named James Brindley the task to design and build the ‘Bridgewater canal’, which he completed in 1761. It had lots of tunnels leading directly to coal mines and proved to be great investment by the Duke. This was the beginning of many more canals to come, making the UK the first country to have a nationwide canal network and a great investment prospect. Canals had to be perfectly flat or else water would run off course.

Canals were waterproof and the sides and bottom were lined with clay and water. During the 1790’s was ‘canal-mania’ there were substantial amounts of money were invested in nearly every canal project, with the system expanding to over 4000 miles in length.

The emergence of railways from around the 1820’s began to spell the end of the significance of canals as trains could carry more goods than a canal, more people and do it much faster. The first steam locomotive to carry passengers was from Stockton to Darlington, which opened in1825; designed by engineer George Stephenson.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), which Stephenson was also responsible for, was when he made significant improvements on the steam locomotive. This locomotive was called ‘the rocket’, which contained lots of boiler tubes to allow heat transfer between gas exhausts and water to be more efficient. Water surrounded the boiler and this design meant that more steam could be produced than ever before. Copper is a good conductor of heat energy so was used to transfer hot water to the boiler. Another change was that the cylinders would be horizontal, so perpendicular to the wheels. The pistons directly drove the wheels. The L&MR was opened in 1830

Railways were being spread rapidly throughout the UK with increased demand for coal and steel. Newspapers could be sent out to different cities the postage system improved and workers could commute a lot more. The work on railways was done by people called ‘navvies’ who had to dig foundations, lay stones and fix the track. Most of the work was done by hand, using a pick axe.

An area of development during the Industrial Revolution was improving the sewerage system, starting in London. The River Thames was like an open sewer as lots of waste was emptied out into the river Thames. Part of the problem was that there were no flush toilets so excretion went into cesspits. A lot of it overflowed into drains for the purpose of catching rainwater, plus the waste from slaughterhouses and factories.

There was a cholera epidemic in London from the 1840’s as sanitation control was so poor. The summer of 1858 in London was known as ‘the Great Stink’ as there was a strong smell of untreated waste throughout central London. In response to this, chief civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette was able to implement changes to the sewerage system in London.

The summer of 1858 was very hot, enabling bacteria to thrive and encourage the smell, affecting those at work in the House of Commons. Bazalgette was the chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works so proposed to channel waste through miles of street sewers, into main intercepting sewers. This would transport waste towards the tidal Thames to eventually be swept out into the sea. He also insisted on constructing wide sewer tunnels rather than narrow pipes. He opened some major pumping stations, most notably the station at Abbey Mills. This was the first sewerage network for London, with the benefits evident today. London was relieved of the Cholera epidemic as the death toll began to drop.

The industrial revolution transformed Britain as towns boomed and more people were moving from the countryside to work in factories in towns. Britain developed into a major economic force with the fundamentals of civil engineering playing a major role in that revolution, making this country what it is today.


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