Our speaker last month was Roy Murphy, retired college lecturer and Chairman of Droitwich History and Archaeology Society, whose subject was “James Brindley, First Canal Engineer”. Brindley was born in 1716 at Tunstead, Derbyshire, and was apprenticed to a mill owner. He quickly earned a reputation for practical problem solving and was much in demand. He was employed by John Gilbert, the Duke of Bridgewater’s agent at Worsley in what is now Greater Manchester. He solved the problem of flooding in the Duke’s mines, built a 42 mile network of canals at different levels within the mines and small boats known as starvationers (because their ribs were visible) to navigate them and bring the coal out. These were the forerunners of the narrow boat which became familiar throughout the canal system which Brindley helped to create. To transport the coal to Manchester, Brindley designed the Bridgewater Canal which, instead of descending to the level of the River Irwell by a flight of locks, then rising on the other side, crossed it by an aqueduct, thereby maintaining a level. This was a wonder of the age and ensured that other planned canals to service the Industrial Revolution sought Brindley’s expertise. Brindley’s first major project was the Trent & Mersey Canal, 93 miles long and with several tunnels, Harecastle being 1¾ miles long, something never before attempted. Bearing in mind there were no Ordnance Survey maps, only an elementary knowledge of geology and the only means of travelling to site was on horseback or on foot, you get some idea of the scale of Brindley’s task. He took on so much work that he had to delegate many jobs which inevitably led to problems and led to his dismissal by the Coventry Canal Co. Roy showed us many pictures of the various canals that Brindley surveyed including the Staffs & Worcs Canal and Droitwich Barge Canal two of the few he lived to see completed. He died in 1772 of overwork and being out in all weathers, a fate shared by many early surveyors. Finally, we saw Leek Mill in Staffordshire, a corn mill built 1744 at which Brindley was the mill owner which is now open to the public. Full information is available on our website www.eveshamprobus.co.uk Alan Smith