Category Archives: Engineering and construction

The Dalkey atmospheric railway

Tuesday 13 May 1845

[…] afterwards we met P McHenry and we went to the Atmospheric at Dalkey we travelled at about 30 Miles Pr Hour it is the most Zig Zag narrow disgraceful thing I ever beheld

David Brooke ed The diary of William Mackenzie, the first international railway contractor Thomas Telford Publishing, London 2000

Shannon water levels

According to the Indo, which may or may not know anything about the matter itself but probably got a press release from someone [to whom the same qualification may apply], farmers along the Shannon Callows are concerned about rising water levels at Clonown, an area on the west bank below Athlone.

The level in that area is held up by the weir at Meelick. But according to Waterways Ireland today,

[…]  low water levels exist on the upstream approaches to Meelick and Victoria Lock. Water levels are currently below Summer levels.

According to the OPW gauges at Athlone, the water level is below the 50th percentile and is falling. The same applies at Banagher, although it did exceed the 50th percentile for some days.

Three lessons suggest themselves:

  • farmers might need to get used to the idea that, when it rains, it gets wet — and that, if they choose to farm on a floodplain, their land might get wet too
  • politicians might refrain from issuing nonsensical panic-laden press releases to gain free publicity [but I suppose that’s too much to ask for]
  • journalists might like to check stuff for themselves instead of reprinting press releases unquestioningly [but that too is probably too much to ask for].

Lacy and the canal

I have a short page about Lacy’s Canal, which runs from the south of the town of Mullingar to Lough Ennell (or vice versa).

Some folk say that the canal was named after Hugh de Lacy, a twelfth-century Lord of Meath, even though it was built in the eighteenth century. I have to say that that sounds improbable to me: I see no reason why the builders (or excavators) should thus summon the ghost of a long-dead lord, and I know of no evidence for the assertion. I accept, of course, that it may exist and, if so, I would be glad to hear about it.

However, it seems to me to be more likely that the canal was named after the eighteenth-century person who built it, who owned the land or who ran a business selling turf. I was therefore interested to read this advertisement in Saunders’s News-Letter of 29 April 1829:

COUNTY WESTMEATH

To be sold, the interest in a lease for three young lives or 26 years unexpired, of about 50 acres of the lands of Grange, adjoining the Royal Canal, and the Great Barrack now building, and within half a mile of Mullingar: the lands are of prime quality, and one of the best situations in Westmeath for a lodge, dwelling, farm house, or dairy, there being the materials of a mansion upon the premises which would build it upon a site commanding an extensive prospect of the beautiful lake and improvements of Belvedere and Rochfort.

The crops of oats and potatoes can be had at a valuation. A purchaser of this interest will acquire many other advantages; immediate possession can be given when the value is offered. Apply to Edward Lacy, Mullingar, or Mr Charles Crampton, No 45, Clarendon-street, Dublin.

Grange and Mullingar (OSI ~1840)

Thus it seems that there were folk (or was at least one person) called Lacy living near Mullingar in the early nineteenth century. Unfortunately the Landed Estates Database does not cover Leinster, so I have no more information about them (or him).

This month’s header

Bartlett drawing of turf boats below Wellesley (now Sarsfield) Bridge, Limerick.

P J G Ransom

P J G Ransom died on 27 March 2019.

I don’t know anything about his work on railways, but he gave generous coverage to Irish history in his waterways books. His Holiday Cruising in Ireland (David & Charles 1971) was carefully researched; if memory serves, his is still one of the few accounts of cruising on the Corrib. Finally, it was he who found the drawing of William Watson’s 120-foot canal passenger boat, developed for the Limerick Navigation; the drawing is now in the Canal & River Trust Museum & Archive at Ellesmere Port.

Meelick

Sinn Féin has a TD called Martin Kenny who, in the Dáil on 29 May 2019, asked about repairs to a walkway across Meelick Weir. He said that

The weir is a crossing point on the Shannon on an important walkway, the Beara-Breifne Way, which runs from Breifne in Leitrim to the Beara Peninsula, straight through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

I’m not sure that he’s got the direction of travel right, but let that pass. He also said

The problem is that people using the walkway have not been informed it is closed. Many businesses, particularly tourism businesses, are directing people up the walkway as far as the bridge but they cannot cross it. Over the past several days, some tourists could not cross the river at the point.

One Seán Kyne, a mini-minister, said in reply that

In 2009, during an extreme weather event, the weir and its walkway from which the weir boards are placed and removed were extensively damaged. In the 2015-16 severe weather event, the last remnants of the walkway were destroyed.

If the “many businesses, particularly tourism businesses” have not noticed that the walkway has been out of action for almost ten years, it suggests that the Beara-Breifne Way is used by very few people and that its reinstatement is not important, or at least not urgent. On the other hand, it might suggest that the operators of the tourism businesses in question have not paid as much attention to the route as they might have.

The minister, by the way, said

Meelick weir was originally built in the 1790s as part of the Shannon navigation.

I thought it was built by the Shannon Commissioners in the 1840s.

The latest header

The Pierhead in Liverpool (not to be confused with the Pierhead in Killaloe), seen from the Ferry ‘cross the Mersey. I recommend the round trip.  And they don’t play the entire song.

Hail glorious St Patrick

Navigation of the Mersey

The St Patrick Steam Ship; The Majestic; The St George &c

There are few promenades more interesting and attractive than the marine parades of our town. George’s Dock Pier presents a delightful and ever-varying panorama, bounded to the westward by the Welsh mountains slumbering in their mists, and behind by the lofty piles of warehouses and mansions, overtopped by the gigantic spires of St George, St Michael, and St Thomas, the cupola of the Exchange, and that of St Paul; while the beautiful village of Everton, with its princely villas and gothic-towered church, scarcely visible through the cloud of smoke that hangs over the town, rises in the back ground.

The “Yo heave ho!” of the seaman, or the curling rush of water from vessel’s bow, mingle with the distant roar of commerce, and the stroke of the shipwright’s hammer. On the opposite shore, the fields of Cheshire appear like a coloured map; and Birkenhead (with its embowering trees), Woodside and Seacombe, and numerous hamlets and villas, smiling in the sunbeam, entice many an idle wight to step into one of the ferry boats that constantly ply to and fro.

The Mersey, studded with innumerable vessels of all descriptions, from the puny skiff to the stately East Indiaman, extends from north to south for many miles, and presents a continual shifting of marine scenery, as vessels glide up or down with the tide, or stretch across its sunny surface; some, amidst the shout of the boatman and the rude ejaculation of the pilot, setting sail for a far distant land; others returning portward, freighted with the riches of America or of India. Here a long-absent party landing amidst the welcomes and thick-coming inquiries of their friends; there some luggard wight alternately waving farewel to his friends who linger on the pier, and exhorting the speed of the rowers, who waft him towards some vessel already sailing on her outward voyage.

In such a scene, the actors experience emotions of the most opposite nature. Some oppressed with a silent, pensive regret, on leaving the land of their fathers, perhaps for ever, for some darkling and precarious prospect of ameliorated condition; others bounding with gladness, on returning from hardships and perils, to the place of their affections, and the security of an independent home. The sublime communion of nature and art which this noble inlet of the ocean thus presents, rouses, in the contemplative mind, a thousand speculations; and the charms of the picture are heightened and enriched by the delicate and fresh touches of the pencil of fancy.

Since the improvements made of late years in our naval architecture, the superiority of our vessels, both in speed, comfort, and safety, over those of our ancestors, has, in a great degree, rendered a voyage to sea a matter of much less gravity and portent than it was wont to be. In their days, the adventurer on the stormy deep deemed it incumbent upon him to settle his worldly matters by testament before he embarked for the colonies of Virginia or Pennsylvania — adding, frequently, thereto, if the clouds were murky, a codicil in favour of some pious or charitable institution, by way of appeasing the wrath of the elements.

We manage these things with more economy in the nineteenth century. Such are the despatch, comfort, and regularity of our packet-ships, that the fine gentleman and his lady (who durst formerly scarce venture upon Winandermere in a good boat in the month of June) make it a matter of perfect indifference, on the score of time, comfort, and safety, whether he spend a couple of months at the lakes in Cumberland, or in a tour through the Highlands of Scotland; or take a trip, in the same time, to Long Island, and thence to sun himself for a fortnight on the banks of Lake Ontario. A voyage of seven weeks or two months was reckoned expeditious to North America, in the olden time, when performed by our portly, bluff, John-Bull looking merchantcraft, of so Aldermanic-like a mould as to move with the dignity and composure of a floating haystack.

But now-a-days, our dandy packet-shops are so sleek, so genteel, and so wedge-like, that a puff of wind makes them start off like race-horses; on they dash through thick and thin, like Tam o’Shanter and his mare, “despising wind, and rain, and fire”; and the Atlantic Ocean is crossed in eighteen or twenty days. Many of our coasting and Irish smacks, too, show very houndish propensities when they stuff the gale; and it was long imagined that the surly sea defied all further invention or contrivance of man to improve our marine vehicles, or render them, in any degree, less dependant on fair winds, smooth seas, and patent canvas.

Steam navigation, if hinted at as probably feasible, was generally scouted as ridiculous; and the old jack-tar, while he shrugged up his shoulders with self-gratulating importance, laughed at the notion, as being just as good as that of a pair of blacksmith’s bellows on the poop to fill the royals in a calm; and deemed the whole a land-lubbers’ device to encroach upon the unalienable and indivisible privileges of mainsail, foresail, and jib. Yet, notwithstanding the sneers of honest Jack, he has lived to see vessels of upwards of 300 tons burden, and of the most beautiful models, propelled on their course by means of steam, with a velocity equal to that of a sloop of war in a topgallant breeze.

The Mersey is now enlivened, not only by the continual departure or arrival (in addition to the flotillas of ordinary merchant ships) of regularly-sailing elegant packet ships from the different large towns in the United States (than which finer or better appointed vessels never floated) but we have the grand novelty of steam ships constantly plying the river; rushing along, without a sail set, at the rate of seven to ten miles an hour; each like a monster of the deep, flapping the sea with its huge fins, spouting forth dusky streams of smoke which it trails frequently for upwards of a mile behind it, in a swelling line of melting clouds.

The arrival or departure of any of these vessels attracts crowds of individuals to the landing places, and gives an animation to the shore and river, which it did not before possess. Nor is this to be wondered at, when we witness the numbers who emigrate even in one vessel; soon after she has discharged a sufficient number of both sexes, to people a moderate sized colony. Besides the larger packets which proceed to the Isle of Man, Dublin, Glasgow, Dumfries, Holyhead, and other parts of Wales, there are numbers, proportionably neat and convenient, plying almost hourly to the different ferries on the river, as far up as Runcorn.

For the information of our distant readers, and those in town who have not had an opportunity of seeing the interior accommodations provided in these vessels, which are exclusively adapted for passengers, we have visited two of them recently built and equipped at our own port, and shall endeavour to describe one of them.

The St Patrick Steam-Ship

This vessel (built by Messrs Mottershead and Hayes) is 130 feet in length, and admeasures 300 tons. Her rig is that of a two-masted schooner, with foretopsail; and her deck is flush as far as a small poop, and presents a fine roomy area, without that complication of cordage which so much cramps regular sail-ships; no part of the machinery rises in the centre of the deck so as to destroy its general openness and amplitude. Her chimney is proportionally lower than any we have yet seen, and, being whitened, has not the usual clumsy and disfiguring effect; and her whole appearance (having a handsome figure-head and quarter-galleries) is like that of what sailors term a rakish privateer; and gives a lively idea of the terrible effects of such a vessel even with one great-gun, if employed in harassing an enemy’s fleet in a calm. This observation applies also to the Majestic steam-ship, the St George, and most of the other packets in the trade.

It is due to the thriving town of Greenock, whence, we believe, our steam packet owners first derived the idea of these elegant steam ships, to state, that the beautiful figure-heads, on nearly all of them, were carved by a gentleman of that town, who is particularly eminent in that art.

We shall now describe

The front cabin

This neat and commodious room is of considerable capacity. A large table stands in the centre, and forms, or couches, cushioned in black-hair cloth, extend around it, The walls are neatly pannelled and painted, and open by respective doors into eight state-rooms, each containing three comfortable beds. The upper part of these doors is composed of mahogany Venetian blinds, for the freer admission of light and air; a wax-cloth covers the floor. This room is intended chiefly for a sleeping and dressing room for gentlemen — has every suitable convenience; and, as in the other cabins, a steward is in constant attendance.

The engine-room

Not far from the front cabin is the engine-room, near the top of which is a passage leading to a little gallery, with brass railings, where the curious may stand and have a full view of the whole engines at work, without interrupting those who superintend them. The engines were made in Liverpool, by Messrs Fawcett and Littledales, and, it is acknowledged by judges, are constructed and finished in a most correct and masterly manner. The improvement here exhibited on the plan of those first adopted in steam-vessels, is, to any one of the slightest mechanical turn, at once obvious; the whole being admirably contrived to avoid unnecessary weight of metal, and, by compactness and arrangement, to throw the main weight of the engines (which, we understand, with the boilers, to be about 130 tons) as low down as possible. The cylinders are 42 inches diameter, and the engines (both exactly alike, worked by a common boiler, and with a railed passage between them for the protection of the engineer) are upwards of 100-horse power. [We saw those of the St George, of the same power, and by the same makers, set a-going for the first time, not until the vessel was under weigh with passengers for the Isle of Man; so well could the manufacturers rely on their correctness and precision, that no previous trial was deemed necessary.]

Without being judges of the grand, we may say noble, art of engineering, we were struck with admiration on beholding the triumph of human art and genius, exhibited by the giant motion of these powerful engines. The castings combine neatness with strength; the minutest rods, and even screws, are of the highest polish and finish; and the regularity and smoothness of every movement left a conviction, that the art had reached the summit of perfection. One grand improvement we also observed: the fire is not, as in some other vessels, in the engine-room, but is fed from another room, on the other side of the boiler, so that the machinery is kept free from ashes and coal-dust, and the engineers are not annoyed by the opening of the furnaces and the heaving of coals. Moreover, there are an additional number of fire-places (five in all) under the boiler, which is an improvement on the original system, as, by diffusing a more equable heat, with less waste of fuel, a more constant and even power of steam is kept up.

The ladies’ cabin

On descending from the quarter deck, by a flight of stairs handsomely and richly railed, we arrive at the two principal cabins. The sternmost is adapted exclusively for the use of the ladies. This room is lighted by four windows in the stern, with rich cornices and hangings, and a frosted sky or deck-light in the centre. The sides are entirely of pannel work, of the choicest flowered mahogany, and superbly finished and polished; between each series of pannels, a mirror forms the middle of the pillar work that divides them, and, there are three large mirrors fixed in the rudder-case, and another of ample dimensions on the wall directly opposite; the whole incased in antique carved work of polished mahogany. The mirrors have a very striking effect, and on every side magically enlarge the appartment.

Sofa fixtures in black hair cloth surround the room, and form, when required, large and commodious beds, and over each the pannels slide down on pullies, and expose well-aired and neatly-fitted bed-plpaces. The large pannel-frames which thus slide down are richly draperied with stretched silk, which is protected by handsome net or wicker-work of gilded brass, and has a very light and relieving effect. There is also a water-closet and a small room, for the use of female servants; the entrances to both being from the interior of the ladies’ cabin. There are also two elegant private cabins for families, with ample bedding, and fitted up in a style of elegance correspondent with the main cabins.

Descending a few steps from this cabin (which is under the poop) we reach

The dining room

An apartment 24 feet in length by 18. The whole is pannelled with the choicest mahogany of a beautiful polish; and, in the pillars dividing each series of pannels, a mirror is inserted. Sofa fixtures of the greatest neatness and ample dimensions are placed round the room, and over each, as in the other cabin, the woodwork slides down, and exhibits roomy and comfortable bed-places.

The room is lighted by a large oblong window in the roof, and the floor is covered with a wax-cloth. At the far end is a circular library, contrived so as to surround the mainmast. There are six fashionable tables so contrived with screws to the floor, that they may be available apart and equidistant for small select parties, or may be converted into one large complete table all round the room, the guests being seated on the sofas, and the ample area in the middle left for the convenience of the waiters.

Here also those who feel inclined to jollity may “trip it on the light fantastic toe”. We can scarcely conceive any thing more delightful than the society at the well plenished table — of the respectable individuals who will naturally meet in good humour and fellowship in such a place — while converse is chastened by the presence of females of respectability and education, and the vessel is wheeled along over the ocean wave, and gallantly progresses on her voyage. Formerly, a voyage to sea, so cramped and miserable were the accommodations, and so frequently oppressive the effluvia of tar and bilge-water, was undertaken by ladies, only on occasions of imperative necessity; and endured as a sort of unavoidable hardship, which demanded, at once, their patience and their fortitude. Here, however, a hotel offers not more comparative convenience, suitable to the dignity and delicacy of the sex; and they are free to mingle in the general throng of genteel passengers, or avail themselves of that privacy which their own cheerful apartment affords.

Since visiting the St Patrick we have seen the St George, a twin steam-ship of the same owners (built by Messrs Dawson and Pearson of this town); and her fitting-up is, in every respect, similarly elegant. She is the sharpest-built vessel in the trade, and is extremely swift. The Majestic we last year amply described. Her cabins are also elegant, and rather larger than those described. The City of Glasgow may also be mentioned as another superb vessel. Indeed we may say, with justice and impartiality, that all the steam-ships of the port approximate, more or less, to this elegance of equipment; and, any alleged superiority in those of the larger class, may, in many instances, be but a mere matter of taste.

Such of their commanders as we have any acquaintance with are men of the utmost hospitality, frankness, and urbanity of manners — gentlemen whose education and cheerfulness always ensure even the strange way-farer an agreeable companion and an attentive landlord. Most of these vessels carry a few musicians; and the lively notes of the bugle and the clarionet are often heard mellowed along the water, and mingling with the splash of the paddle-wheel.

We consider steam-navigation to be one of the noblest inventions of the age. Already it has greatly increased the annual number of travellers between Scotland, England, Ireland, and France; and its operations may, ere long, extend to more distant shores, opening a new channel of commerce, and diffusing intelligence by facilitating the communication of nations. Some have availed themselves of this easy and health-inspiring conveyance for purposes of despatch and business; others for change of air, pleasure, or a thirst for travel and research.

In the summer months, the excursion to Wales, the Isle of Man, Dublin, Clyde, and the Hebrides, is peculiarly attractive; and, as in the days of Richardson and Smollet, many of our works of fancy were enriched by the strange and embarrassing adventures of the stage-coach; we may now anticipate from some of our modern scribes, animated speculations on character and incident on board the steam-ship, which, from the vast number of passengers, of various temperaments and pursuits which congregate on board, will afford a prolific field for the ingenuity of the novelist, or the vagaries of the muse.

An idea of the general speed of these vessels may be learned from the fact, that the passage from Glasgow, a distance of 209 miles, has been performed in twenty and a half hours’ sailing. That from Dublin (120 miles) in twelve hours; and this too in defiance of wind and tides.

From The Kaleidoscope; or, Literary and Scientific Mirror vol 2 no 104 new series 25 June 1822

My attention was drawn to this article by David M Williams and John Armstrong in their article “‘One of the noblest inventions of the age’: British steamboat numbers, diffusion, services and public reception, 1812–c1823” in The Journal of Transport History vol 35 no 1 Manchester University Press, June 2014

Transports of delight

I have mentioned the Newport transporter bridge, but today Jonathan Calder provides a film about the larger [Widnes to] Runcorn transporter. There are barges and cars and all sorts.

It always strikes me as odd that Liverpool has no bridges and that you have to go miles upstream to Runcorn to cross (if you want to be above water and not on a ferry, although the ferry trip is a wondrous thing in itself).

Of course Runcorn itself didn’t always have a bridge. Before that you had to cross by ferry, per tuppence per person per trip.

Another Kerry canal

A short piece about the canal at Ross on one of the lakes of Killarney. I have little information about its origins and current use and would welcome more.