Jessop, William

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b. 23 January 1745 Plymouth, England
d. 18 November 1814
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English engineer engaged in river, canal and dock construction.
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William Jessop inherited from his father a natural ability in engineering, and because of his father's association with John Smeaton in the construction of Eddystone Lighthouse he was accepted by Smeaton as a pupil in 1759 at the age of 14. Smeaton was so impressed with his ability that Jessop was retained as an assistant after completion of his pupilage in 1767. As such he carried out field-work, making surveys on his own, but in 1772 he was recommended to the Aire and Calder Committee as an independent engineer and his first personally prepared report was made on the Haddlesey Cut, Selby Canal. It was in this report that he gave his first evidence before a Parliamentary Committee. He later became Resident Engineer on the Selby Canal, and soon after he was elected to the Smeatonian Society of Engineers, of which he later became Secretary for twenty years. Meanwhile he accompanied Smeaton to Ireland to advise on the Grand Canal, ultimately becoming Consulting Engineer until 1802, and was responsible for Ringsend Docks, which connected the canal to the Liffey and were opened in 1796. From 1783 to 1787 he advised on improvements to the River Trent, and his ability was so recognized that it made his reputation. From then on he was consulted on the Cromford Canal (1789–93), the Leicester Navigation (1791–4) and the Grantham Canal (1793–7); at the same time he was Chief Engineer of the Grand Junction Canal from 1793 to 1797 and then Consulting Engineer until 1805. He also engineered the Barnsley and Rochdale Canals. In fact, there were few canals during this period on which he was not consulted. It has now been established that Jessop carried the responsibility for the Pont-Cysyllte Aqueduct in Wales and also prepared the estimates for the Caledonian Canal in 1804. In 1792 he became a partner in the Butterley ironworks and thus became interested in railways. He proposed the Surrey Iron Railway in 1799 and prepared for the estimates; the line was built and opened in 1805. He was also the Engineer for the 10 mile (16 km) long Kilmarnock \& Troon Railway, the Act for which was obtained in 1808 and was the first Act for a public railway in Scotland. Jessop's advice was sought on drainage works between 1785 and 1802 in the lowlands of the Isle of Axholme, Holderness, the Norfolk Marshlands, and the Axe and Brue area of the Somerset Levels. He was also consulted on harbour and dock improvements. These included Hull (1793), Portsmouth (1796), Folkestone (1806) and Sunderland (1807), but his greatest dock works were the West India Docks in London and the Floating Harbour at Bristol. He was Consulting Engineer to the City of London Corporation from 1796to 1799, drawing up plans for docks on the Isle of Dogs in 1796; in February 1800 he was appointed Engineer, and three years later, in September 1803, he was appointed Engineer to the Bristol Floating Harbour. Jessop was regarded as the leading civil engineer in the country from 1785 until 1806. He died following a stroke in 1814.
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Further Reading
C.Hadfield and A.W.Skempton, 1979, William Jessop. Engineer, Newton Abbot: David \& Charles.
JHB

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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