by "DEE".
The Gallovidian, 1911.

Of the many famous British engineers, Thomas Telford will always hold a foremost place - a place attained in spite of his lowly origin. He was born in the parish of Westerkirk, in Eskdale, near the "Muckle toon o' Langholm," on 19th August, 1757, his father being a shepherd in that lonely district. On leaving school he was sent to learn the trade of a stonemason at Langholm. At the age of 23 he went to Edinburgh, and two years later, in 1782, he removed to London, where he was employed by Sir William Chambers, who was engaged at the erection of Somerset House Telford's talents were soon recognised. In 1784 we find him being appointed superintendent at the erection of the Resident Commissioner's house at Portsmouth Dockyard, a work which gave him a splendid opportunity of mastering the details of constructing docks, &c. In 1787, he was appointed surveyor of public works for Shropshire, and it was at this period that he built the two bridges over the Severn at Moutford and Buildwas, the result of which was that, he was appointed to plan and superintend the Ellesmere Canal to connect the navigation of the Severn, Dee, and Mersey. In 1790, he was appointed by the British Fishery Society to inspect their harbours, and in 1801 the Government of the day commissioned him to report on the public works required in Scotland.

It was in this year that he first visited the Stewartry, inspecting Kirkcudbright harbour, along with Col. Dirom of Mount Annan. Both were pleased with the situation, and promised their support to have the harbour improved. Mr Telford was also consulted by the Town Council in regard to the bridge proposed to be thrown across the river above the landing-stage. It was, doubtless, owing to the visit he then paid to the county, that he was called upon to prepare plans for the present handsome bridge across the river at Tongland.

On 6th October, 1801, the Commissioners of Supply reported on the best line of road from Kirkcudbright to the confines of Ayrshire, in the parish of Dalmellington. The report stated that the county engineer had surveyed the proposed line, commencing at the east corner of Claycroft, within the burgh property, and running through the Milncrofts, Milnflats, and the Town's Common to the south-west corner of the Earl of Selkirk's Nursery (now Burnside). From there the road ran through part of Fishercroft, Laigh Boreland, and Carse, to the east end of Tongland Bridge. With slight exceptions this route was recommended. The line then followed the old road by way of Bogra, Deebank, Upper Barncrosh, the bottom of Dunjop, Balmaghie, and on to Glenlochar Bridge. The committee recommended that this road also be utilised, as giving convenient access to the harbour at Tongland for the parishes of Balmaghie, Crossmichael, and Parton. The general idea appeared to have been the desire of linking the road with that to Castle-Douglas and Dumfries. It was also recognised that a new bridge would require to be built at Tongland, and a proposal had been made to erect one at the Boat Pool. The committee recommended that they be instructed to commence their operations for the road at the end next Balmaghie and, at the same time, at the Kirkcudbright end, coming no nearer the present bridge of Tongland (the old bridge) than " Pit 183 " upon the north, nor the junction of the new road with the old road at Fishercroft on the south, until it was seen whether a new bridge could be got.

Great activity was shown at this period in the making of new roads, which ultimately proved of the greatest benefit to the county. At the same time many ancient roads were suppressed, a goodly number being in the Kirkcudbright district, and numbers have been lost sight of in the march of time.

The Town Council of Kirkcudbright, alive to the importance of the proposed new road, and still more so of the proposed new bridge, spared no efforts, so far as the burgh was concerned, to bring the project to a successful issue.

The road at that time left the burgh at Townend, along High Millburn Street, past the mill, and entered the Common at the back of what is now known as Tongland Road. It then took a line for Burnside, in front of the Poorhouse, on past the back of the villas in Tongland Road, and continued in that line till it reached the old bridge.
The Magistrates were enjoined to cause a report thereon to be ready before the annual meeting of Commissioners, and to take further necessary steps to having the road made as soon as possible, we suppose in conjunction with the county authorities. It is not till November of the following year that we find them again discussing the matter. That they were alive to the importance of the project is shown by the fact that, considering the advantage that the burgh must derive from the new road from the Creek Park to Tongland Bridge, they were unanimously of opinion that the town should advance and lend the half of the expenses of making the road. 

This was to be upon the credit of the tolls to be levied at Tongland Tollbar, from which they could be repaid their advances in the same manner as the other creditors on that bar; provided the Earl of Selkirk advanced the other half, to be repaid in the same manner. The Provost (William Ireland) was also authorised to draw on the Chamberlain for the town's half of the expenses. Proper fences were ordered to be built along the new road from the Town's Common to Fishercroft, "the footpath to be on the west side of the road ; also to lift one of the gate dykes running through the Common towards Little Stockerton; shut up that road in so far as it went through the Common until it joined the Nursery; and to open a road from the new one along the south side of the Nursery until it joined the present road near Jirie's brae; but this road not to be altered until the Earl of Selkirk's approbation is obtained." 

That the County Commissioners were moving strongly in the matter is evident from the fact that it was represented to the Council that a new and very expensive bridge was proposed to be built at the Boat Pool at Tongland, upon the new line of road communicating with the different outlets of the county. As the bridge must be of the first consequence to the burgh, and could not be obtained without liberal assistance from private subscriptions, the Council resolved to unite their efforts with the County in endeavouring to promote "so great and beneficial an undertaking." They resolved to subscribe £150, to be paid by instalments of £50, provided the bridge was contracted for within twelve months from that date. But a clause was inserted that "it was to be understood that their subscription was not to prevent the town from claiming damages for the road now making from the burgh to Tongland, if they should see proper to do so." 

Difficulties appear to have accumulated, as later on in the year it was reported that Mr Telford was to be in town in a few days in regard to harbour matters, and it may be presumed that his advice was sought for in regard to the new road and bridge, for the latter of which local contractors were totally incompetent. Recognising the importance of the bridge, the burgh rose nobly to the occasion, and authorised the Provost to subscribe a bond for £1000, to be ultimately discharged by the private subscriptions. At this juncture, it is interesting to note there was laid before the Council a letter from the Provost of Dumfries requesting the support of Kirkcudbright in an application made by the inhabitants of Dumfries and neighbourhood to the Postmaster-General for Scotland for a daily mail-coach between Edinburgh and Dumfries, "to prevent the risks and dangers to which property and correspondence was exposed by the present mode of conveyance." 

Kirkcudbright Council considered that the proposed mail-coach would be of considerable advantage to the commercial and trading part of the country. They resolved to give the application their warmest support, and desired the Provost, in name of the Council, to co-operate with the Magistrates of Dumfries in procuring the establishment of such a coach. Eventually all difficulties were smoothed away in regard to the road, but at the building of the bridge the delay was long and vexatious.

The foundation stone had been laid with Masonic honours on 22nd March 1804, by Sir Alexander Gordon, Provincial Grand Master, and at that time Sheriff of the county. What these delays were can best be seen from the difficulties which beset the Commissioners' Committee entrusted with the building of the bridge.

The Commissioners met at Kirkcudbright on 26th July, 1805 - Sir Alexander Gordon of Culvennan presiding - and prior to this, on 30th April, a third instalment of £250 had been paid to the contractors towards the cost of the bridge, the contract price of which was £2420. Sir Alexander Gordon laid before the meeting the report of the committee appointed for building the bridge, bearing that they had already expended £3005 6s 5d, and that the contractors had declared their inability to finish the bridge unless the committee continued to make the necessary advances until the bridge was completed and opened for the use of the public. The meeting authorised the committee to finish the bridge, provided the expenses yet to be incurred did not exceed £500. It was also agreed to recommend to the general meeting in the following April to grant a further aid towards completing the bridge. From the report of the Bridge Committee it appeared that private subscriptions were obtained to the amount of £1150.

The Commissioners, on 30th April, 1803, in consideration of the great utility of the proposed bridge, and of the very liberal subscriptions towards it, pledged the county to grant the sum of £1000 in aid of the bridge, to be paid by equal instalments in that and the three following years, and appointed a committee to contract with tradesmen for building the bridge. The committee, after considering various plans and estimates and advising with gentlemen of experience on the subject, proposed that the plan and estimates given in by Samuel M'Kean, Alexander M'Kean, Samuel Hyslop, and Andrew M'Guffie be accepted, and contracted with them for the execution of the work for the sum of £2420. The contract was dated 29th July, 1803.

After the work had proceeded for about twelve months, and the contractors had received £1422 to account, the committee "discovered that the contractors were by no means adequate to the undertaking, and that they had formed a very erroneous estimate of the expense of it; because the wood for supporting the centres of the huge arch having been injudiciously placed in the bed of the river, it was swept away by a spate in the month of August last. Although so large a sum of money had been paid to the contractors, not one half of the materials were laid down for the bridge; and it appeared to the committee that the contractors did not understand the method of putting up centres for so large an arch in such a difficult situation.

To remedy these defects as far as possible, and anxious for the completion of an improvement so useful to the county and to the public, the committee procured an engineer of ability and experience from England, under whose direction the centres of the bridge have been made and erected in a substantial and satisfactory manner. The credit of the contractors having failed, the committee have also been under the necessity of ordering and paying for materials, and of paying the men's wages employed in the work; and there is now every reasonable probability that the great arch will be completed in the course of three or four weeks from this date.

But whilst the committee have been thus industriously employed in forwarding the execution of the bridge, they have expended no less than £3005 6s 5d, including the sum paid to the contractors before the wooden work for supporting the centres was swept away by the river in the month of August last. Unless the committee continue to make the necessary advances, all the trouble and expense hitherto incurred must be thrown away and lost, because, at a meeting of the committee, held on 5th current, the contractors declared their inability to finish the bridge without such advances being continued to be made.

On considering the question as affecting the contractors, it will be proper to keep in view that the prices of timber, iron, and other materials, and the value of labour, have been greatly enhanced by the war; that, in point of situation and size of arch, the bridge is of greater difficulty and magnitude than anything of the kind ever attempted in this part of the kingdom; and that, although the contractors have proved inadequate to the undertaking, they have in various other instances built bridges in the county which continue to be permanent improvements. The contractors have, moreover, surrendered the whole stock and materials of timber and iron in the centres of the bridge to indemnify the county of the advances the committee have made, and may yet have occasion to make, to complete the bridge." The committee therefore prayed the Commissioners to give a further grant in aid to indemnify them for the advances they had made, and might yet have to make, before the bridge was completed.

The Commissioners unanimously approved of the report, and recommended to the general meeting in April following to grant a further aid of £1000.

A second report was submitted on 13th June, 1806, in which the Bridge Committee give the further information that the cautioners of the contractors were Alexander M'Lean, Mark; Samuel Brown, Campbelton; and John M'Geoch, timber merchant, Girthon, Kirkcudbright. It appears that the greater part of the timber and other materials were saved from the flood of August, 1804. The loss, however, was so considerable that the contractors were unable to construct a centre for an arch of the immense span of 110 feet, over a rapid river, subject to great floods, and they asked for the assistance of an experienced engineer. At this time the committee, having learned that Mr Telford, civil engineer, was passing from the west of Scotland to England, they requested him to inspect and report upon the work. This inspection was made on 19th October 1804, and the great engineer sent down a competent man to work to his plans and superintend the erection of the bridge. 

A proper centre was constructed, and the beautiful arch successfully thrown. It appears Telford had also sent in an estimate for the work, as the committee state that it amounted to £3960. They stated they had been taught by experience that, of all those who furnished estimates, Mr Telford alone was capable of judging of the expense of a bridge so greatly exceeding in magnitude any hitherto executed in this part.

Telford's report was to the effect that he had, at the request of Mr Mure, examined the state of Tongland Bridge, and stated that it appeared to him that the materials employed were of good quality, and the workmanship also sufficiently good. Any temporary obstacles had arisen from a want of knowledge and experience of similar works, and not from any disposition on the part of the contractors to perform the work in a slight and inefficient manner. He condemned the manner in which the centre had been erected, and it was fortunate that it was carried away at an early stage, otherwise there would have been accidents. Under his direction the masons were employed during the winter in cutting and arranging the arch stones, and preparing the parapets and other parts of the bridge, and also the earthen embankments at each end of the bridge.

The Commissioners also took into consideration the improvement of Tongland Harbour, and the protection of the bridge from vessels beating against it, Mr Telford being asked for advice.

The Commissioners met at the bridge on 28th April, 1808, and came to the conclusion that, when properly completed, "the bridge must be a useful, elegant, and permanent improvement to the county and to the public." Shortly afterwards the bridge was opened, having taken about four years to complete. Including the embankment, it cost the county and subscribers £7710. The structure is a beautiful example of bridge-building, and is justly admired, the arch being circular and the span 110 feet.

It only remains to say that the greater portion of the stone used in building the bridge came from Annan, supplemented by Netherlaw stone for the coping.

Among the great works carried out by Telford are the Caledonian Canal, more than one thousand miles of road in the Highlands, Lanarkshire, and Dumfriesshire, besides about 1200 bridges, in addition to churches, manses, harbours, &c. A great work of his was the road from London to Holyhead, including the erection of Menai Suspension Bridge. Other famous bridges of his are those of Conway, the Broomielaw at Glasgow, and the all too well-known Dean Bridge at Edinburgh. Canals embrace the Macclesfield, Birmingham, and Liverpool Junction, and the Gloucester and Berkeley. He was the first President of the Institute of Engineers, supplying the nucleus of the library, and leaving towards it a bequest of £2000. By Southey he was termed the "Colossus of Roads." He died at Westminster on 2nd September 1834.

The only other relics in the Stewartry of the great engineer are local plans presented to Kirkcudbright Town Council and the Stewartry County Council by the Institute of Civil Engineers, London. That which hangs in the Council Chamber is a plan of the estuary of the Dee, and a number of other plans are in the custody of the County Council.