Keys to the Past


Smeaton, John

Born near Leeds, (Yorkshire), Smeaton is regarded as the first civil engineer. Naturally skilled in engineering as a child, he abandoned his father's legal profession whilst in London. He was elected to The Royal Society in 1753AD, for whom he wrote articles in their Transactions on compasses, air pumps, pulley combinations, and won that society's gold medal for experimental work contrasting wind- and water-milling. He travelled widely for study and in his work - but lived most of his life at Austhorpe.
His projects included the famous Eddystone Lighthouse (south of Plymouth), 1756-1759AD, dams, bridge-building at Banff and Perth, (Scotland), 1779AD and 1771AD, Ramsgate harbour works, and the Forth-Clyde canal, 1768-1790AD. He also served as Receiver to the Greenwich Hospital northern estates. A club which Smeaton founded in 1771 AD in London later became the Institution of Civil Engineers. Many of Smeaton's instructions for his projects have been published.

Smeaton's work in the north of England included bridges at Cornhill (1763-1766AD) and Hexham (1781-1782AD) Northumberland, a pair of Newcastle windmills - one of which survives on Claremont Road of 1782AD, a dam at Acklington Park,Northumberland (1776AD) and probably another at Winlaton, Tyne and Wear. The work at Hexham was a failure caused by floods undermining the abutment and Smeaton never built a bridge again. His work at Acklington Park was revolutionary; the dam used waterproof concrete - the first since the Roman period, and in it's curved form to disperse the water pressure to the abutments. An encyclopaedia published after Smeaton's death refers to the Acklington mill dam as the best example for readers to study - though by this time the mill had changed use, though was still reliant upon the dammed water supply.

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