Sir John Hawkshaw 1811 - 1891
John Hawkshaw was an engineering giant, and a true visionary, who was one of the earliest proponents of underground railways criss-crossing central London, and of a Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France. Just a few years younger than Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he remained at the height of his powers for nearly thirty years after their early deaths in 1859, and was responsible for some of the most magnificent achievements of the age.
He was the dominant personality driving the growth of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway during its period of rapid expansion following the Railway Mania of the 1840s, and continued as the company’s consulting engineer until his retirement in 1888.
The Severn Tunnel between England and South Wales was his greatest challenge, and its successful completion ranks as his most notable achievement. He built railways, docks and harbours around the world, and was knighted for the construction of the great breakwater and harbour of refuge at Holyhead.
Already engineer of the Amsterdam Ship Canal, his report on the Suez Canal was crucial in enabling that controversial undertaking to proceed to a triumphant conclusion.
A fierce opponent of Brunel’s broad gauge, which conflicted with his vision of a national network of interconnected railways, Hawkshaw was nevertheless responsible, with W H Barlow, for the major re-design and successful construction of the Clifton Suspension Bridge at Bristol - now erroneously seen as one of Brunel’s greatest achievements.
This biography by Martin Beaumont is a fascinating account of a talented and multi-dimensional figure, equally at home in scientific and in literary circles, whose rise from humble origins and amazing career epitomise the Victorian virtues of ‘Self-Help’ and ‘Perseverance.’
Hardback, 160 pages, black & white photographs
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Updated: 1 June 2020