William Jessop (1745 – 1814)

Pioneer civil engineer.

William Jessop is remembered as one of this country’s foremost civil engineers, particularly famed for his work on canals, harbours and early raliway lines.

He was chief engineer on the Grand Union Canal and the Erewash Canal on the Notts/Derbys border.  He also worked on the Cromford Canal for Sir Richard Arkwright in Derbyshire.  He was Chief Engineer for the Avon Docks at Bristol and the West India Docks in London.

Dedication from Jessop's 'Plan of the River trent', drawn in 1782.  Note the signature: 'William Jessop, Engineer'.

Dedication from Jessop’s ‘Plan of the River Trent’, drawn in 1782. Note the signature: ‘William Jessop, Engineer’.

Born in Devon in 1745, Jessop was taken on as a pupil by John Smeaton (the noted road builder) who also acted as his guardian following the death of Jessop’s father.

In 1790 William Jessop founded the Butterley Ironworks in Derbyshire with fellow engineer, Benjamin Outram.

Here they manufactured cast iron edge rails for early railways, a design Jessop had used successfully with flanged wheels on a horse drawn wagonway for coal in Loughborough.

He was also engineer on the Surrey Iron Railway of 1802.

In 1809 he designed the Floating Harbour at Bristol (see picture below)- an artificial lake formed by damming the tidal River Avon – without which the continued expansion of Bristol into a major port could not have occured.  It is still the largest enclosed stretch of water in the world (See photograph below)

The Newark connection

William Jessop's home on Appletongate, Newark - as it appears today (2014)

William Jessop’s house on Appletongate, Newark – as it appears today (2014)

William Jessop lived in Newark from 1784 to 1805 in a house directly opposite the old police station on Appletongate. (A plaque now commemorates his time there).  He was a partner in the firm that ran Newark’s cotton Mill (Messrs Handley, Sketchley, Jessop & Youle), and was Mayor of Newark in 1790 and 1803.

For more information of Newark’s cotton mill, click HERE


Plaque on William Jessop's House, Appletongate, Newark.

Plaque on William Jessop’s house, Appletongate, Newark.

It is sometimes erroneously stated that Jessop – living in the town as he did – was the engineer chosen to oversee the creation of the Newark Navigation below Newark Castle.  This has now been disproven by Prof. Stanley Chapman in his article ‘The Newark Navigation: the development of trade and industry 1740 – 1880′ in Transactions of the Thoroton Society vol.117 (2013) pp.109-126.

The 'Floating Harbour' at Bristol, created by Jessop in 1809 (Photographed 2014)

The ‘Floating Harbour’ at Bristol, created by Jessop in 1809 (Photographed 2014)

For a full consideration of Jessop’s life and work, see William Jessop: Engineer by Charles Hadfield & A.W. Skempton