James Brindley and the Duke of Bridgewater
James Brindley was the man who planned and carried out the building of the canals that revolutionised transport in 18th century England. This is the brief comment on Brindley and his patron, the Duke of Bridgewater, made in “A Social and Industrial History of England” (F. W. Tickner, page 525) : —
The first important English canal was due to the enterprise of the Duke of Bridgewater, who found the output of his coal-mine at Worsley greatly hampered by the difficulty of transporting the coal to Manchester, seven miles away. The engineer he employed was a millwright named James Brindley, a man of little education, but of great shrewdness and practical ability.
Now for the other side of the picture, provided by Howard Spring in a review of Bernard Falk’s “The Bridgewater Millions” (Daily Mail, June 20th, 1942) : —
He has been called the Father of Inland Navigation, but he was only its financier. The prouder title belongs to James Brindley, the illiterate Derbyshire man who did all the work and solved all the problems.
What the duke did was to risk his fortune in the venture. That was his one act of courage, and it brought him rich rewards. He spent £220,000. His income out of this was £80,000 a year, apart from enormous profits on the sale of his coal.
What did Brindley get out of it—Brindley, whose solutions of some of the problems were pure flashes of engineering genius? Well, when things were bad he and the duke pigged along together, living in pubs on bread and cheese and beer, neither of them having money because there was none.
For seven years Brindley’s salary was not paid, while the duke, prosperous now, was paying off everyone else who had lent him money—rich bankers who could enforce their , claims, and such like.
Poor awkward rustic Brindley could enforce nothing. He died with the salary unpaid. Two years later his widow was given £100. As Mr. Falk says: “The amount probably represented his Grace’s modest estimate of what was due to his brilliant coadjutor.”
G. M. Trevelyan (“British History in the 19th Century,’’ page 154) classes Bridgewater among the “great noblemen who were also great coal owners, working their own mines, and thereby becoming in due course still greater noblemen.”
The moral of which appears to be, heaven help the moneyless man of genius who falls into the grasping hands of our old nobility! Bridgewater, to quote Howard Spring, “was a great curmudgeon, a great boor, a great robber of better men’s resources.” He wasn’t even redeemed by the idiot sense of humour of his own illustrious kinsman who “will be remembered for nothing more than his habit of having his dogs at table with him, dressed in* neat little coats, with a flunkey behind the chair of each.”