Benjamin Outram an the First Cast Iron Navigable Aqueduct

Magdeburg Water Bridge

Magdeburg Water Bridge. Image: Patrick Schön

On April 1, 1764English civil engineer, surveyor and industrialist Benjamin Outram was born. Outram was a pioneer in the building of canals and tramways. His commissions included becoming engineer for the Nottingham Canal in 1792, and the Derby Canal in 1793. For the latter, he erected the world‘s first cast iron navigable aqueduct (water bridge), the 13m long, single span, Holmes Aqueduct that carried the Derby Canal.

When William Jessop was approached to design and build the Cromford Canal, Benjamin Outram became his assistant. The ironworks company ‘Benjamin Outram & Company’ was founded around 1790 and one year later, William Jessop and John Wright, a Nottingham banker, also became partners. The business further expanded to include a limestone quarry, limekilns, collieries and ironstone pits. Outram further became a leading advocate in the construction of tramways using L-section rails. His first tramway was a line slightly over 1.6 km in length, built to carry limestone from quarries at Crich to Bullbridge Wharf on the Cromford Canal, for use by his works.

In 1792, Benjamin Outram became engineer for the Nottingham Canal and in 1793 the Derby Canal. In 1796, the 13m long single-span Holmes Aqueduct on the Derby Canal was opened. It was one of the first cast-iron aqueducts and was cast by Benjamin Outram & Company. Another significant extension to the Derby Canal was the Little Eaton Gangway, a feeder for the Derby Canal. Tramways like these became an important part of his later canals. Outram’s aqueduct predated Thomas Telford‘s longer aqueduct on the Shrewsbury Canal at Longdon-on-Tern by about one month.[4] The oldest currently navigable cast-iron aqueduct is Outram’s Stakes Aqueduct on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Stalybridge, built around 1801 to replace an original, stone-built, four arch structure, which had been swept away in the floods of August 1799.

At the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Benjamin Outram became a consulting engineer. In 1794 he was the engineer for the Peak Forest Canal, which included the Marple Aqueduct. In 1798, he was retained to complete the final section of the Ashton Canal which included the Store Street Aqueduct, among the first to solve the problem of skew arches. Outram further built railways for the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal such as the Ticknall Tramway and was asked to advise on railways for the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal.

His sudden death on May 22, 1805, without a will led to considerable confusion and litigation in the company’s business affairs, and it took until 1815 to resolve these with his wife and family. In 1807 Benjamin Outram and Company was renamed the Butterley Company.

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