James Brindley 1716 - 1772
Timeline 1772

James Brindley was born in 1716 near Buxton in Derbyshire but his family moved to Leek in Staffordshire when his father bought a farm there.

At 17 he was apprenticed to a millwright and wheelwright but he was not initially a good apprentice. He failed to impress his master Abraham Bennett but, during a contract to repair machinery at a silk mill, he earned a better reputation. So he continued with the same firm until Bennett's death in 1742, by which time he was almost running the business. Over the next 10 years Brindley was asked to engineer a number of projects, including building mills, and gained a respected name as a designer and planner.

Bridgewater Canal Norton

The Bridgewater Canal near Norton, Cheshire
That reputation led the Duke of Bridgewater to employ him to create a canal  from mines at Worsley, near Manchester, to the River Mersey to ship coal to Liverpool. The scheme involved building a huge aqueduct at Barton across the River Irwell. The three-arch aqueduct was unlike anything seen in Britain before. It was 200 yards long, 12 yards wide and 13 yards above the river at its highest point. It soon became a tourist attraction.

The Bridgewater Canal was a success and Brindley was soon asked to engineer a canal from mines around West Bromwich in the Midlands to the heart of Birmingham. That canal opened in 1769 to celebrations in the city streets because the price of coal fell overnight to about a third of its previous value. The canal was eventually extended past Wolverhampton to connect with other waterways being cut across the country. Brindley dreamed up a plan for a "grand cross" of canals that linked the four main rivers of Thames, Severn, Trent and Mersey and brought easy transport to the heart of the country.

The Birmingham canal opened up new supplies of raw materials for the city as well as providing transport to markets all over Britain and the rest of the world. It helped create Birmingham's reputation as "the workshop of the world" and "city of 1,000 trades".