Thomas Steers was thought to have been born in 1672 in Kent and died in 1750. He was England's first major civil engineer and built many canals, the world's first commercial wet dock, the Old Dock at Liverpool, St. George's Church at the site of Liverpool Castle, and a theatre. He designed Salthouse Dock in Liverpool, which was completed by Henry Berry after Steers' death.
Thomas Steers was born in 1672, probably at Deptford or Rotherhithe. He is thought to have had a good education, in view of his obvious skills in mathematics, and he joined the army during his teenage years. He was part of William of Orange's 4th Regiment of Foot (The King's Own), which fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and subsequently campaigned in the Low Countries against the French until the Peace of Namur was signed in 1697. He probably learnt about hydraulics at this time, a skill which served him well in later years. In 1698 or 1699 he married Henrietta Maria Barber, and her father gave them a house in Queen Street, Rotherhithe.
At the time, the Great Dock at Rotherhithe was being constructed, on land leased from Elizabeth Howland, which formed part of the Howland Estate. There is no record of Steers's direct involvement in the project, although he produced a survey of the completed docks in 1707, and seems to have been employed as a surveyor for the estate. A lease agreement at the time described him as a house-carpenter.
In 1708, plans for a dock at Liverpool, similar to that at Rotherhithe, were formulated, and had been drawn up by George Sorocold and Henry Huss by mid-1709. Neither man accepted the offer to act as engineer for the construction of the docks. On 17 May 1710, the Town Council learned that Steers was in Liverpool, and had his own designs for the project, which involved reclaiming land from the Pool, rather than building the dock of existing land. The precise reason for Steers' arrival in Liverpool is not clear, but may well be connected to the rise to power of James Stanley, who became mayor in 1707 and Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire until 1710, and who had noticed Steers in Flanders, while commanding the 16th Regiment of Foot. Steers' design was accepted, and the construction was overseen by him, assisted by William Braddock. He also contracted for some of the excavation work, and although it was incomplete at the time, the dock opened for shipping in 1715. A tidal basin and three graving docks or dry docks were authorised by another Act of Parliament obtained in 1717, and during their construction, various alterations and extensions were made to the original dock. The works were completed in 1721. Since 1717, Steers had also acted at Dock Master, for which he was paid £50 per year, and Braddock had been the Water Bailiff. From 1724, he took over Braddock's role as well, though was no longer paid, as this post included a number of perks and fees.
Concurrently with his work on the Liverpool Docks, Steers was active in other projects. He surveyed the rivers Irwell and Mersey from Bank Quay at Warrington to Manchester in 1712. An Act of Parliament authorizing the Mersey and Irwell Navigation was passed in 1721 and the work, which included eight locks in a distance of 15 miles (24 km) to overcome a rise of 52 feet (16 m), was completed about 1725. It is generally believed he was the engineer. The authorising Act named him as one of the Undertakers.
He also made surveys for the Douglas Navigation which connected the Ribble estuary to Wigan in 1712, and was again named as an Undertaker in the Act of Parliament obtained in 1720. He built a lock and a bridge, straightened a section of the river, and started the construction of a tidal lock, but his partner William Squire, who was raising finance for the scheme in London, became involved in the South Sea Bubble, and appears to have lost most of the money he raised.With the money gone, Steers moved on. The navigation was eventually completed in 1742, and carried coal from Wigan to Liverpool and onwards to Ireland by ship.
His most significant navigation achievement was the Newry Canal, in Ireland, which was the first summit-level canal in the British Isles. The promoters asked him to act as engineer for the scheme in 1729, but then declined to pay him the fees he requested, and so the initial construction work was overseen by Edward Lovett Pearce. Pearce died in 1734, and his assistant Richard Castle took over the role. Steers returned to the project in 1736, when he conducted a survey of the existing work. Castle was sacked in December 1736, and Steers then supervised construction until 1741, working on a part-time basis. The work took longer than expected, 19.4 miles (31.2 km) of canal included 13 locks, and ran from Newry, where it connected to Carlingford Lough and the sea by a narrow channel, which was made into a ship canal in the 1760s. At its northern end it ran to Portadown where it joined the Upper Bann River to reach Lough Neagh. It was built to transport coal from the Tyrone collieries to Dublin.and the canal finally opened in the spring of 1742. The
In order to build locks with a larger fall than was possible with conventional gate paddles, Steers built two of the locks with sluices and ground paddles, which fed water into the bottom of the lock through the side walls. Water supply for the summit level was taken from local streams, supplemented by water from Lough Shark, which was used as a reservoir. As a whole, the work was not well executed, and the innovative locks had to be rebuilt soon after 1750.
Besides his work on docks and canals, Steers was involved with a wide range of other projects. Even the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Douglas Navigation were promoted not just to make carriage of existing trade easier, but to generate new trade which would contribute to the prosperity of the region. Jointly with Sir Cleave Moore and Sir Thomas Johnson, he promoted the Liverpool Waterworks in 1720. He set up a smithy making anchors near the Liverpool Docks, and was a partner in the Dove, a ship which traded between Liverpool and the West Indies.
He appears to have been a keen amateur architect (before that term was in popular parlance) and as well as the work on Liverpool Old Dock, executed alongside chief mason Edward Litherland, is paid in the accounts of The Blue Coat School (1715) once again with Litherland, "a new Street, called Chorley Street or Squire's Garden" (1720), St. George's Church (1725) (Litherland cited as mason) and what would become Salt House Dock once again winning the contract along regular collaborator Litherland. Their working relationship ended with Litherland's death in 1739. His best known architectural work was that of "Seel's House" on Hanover Street, Liverpool which would later become a bank before making way for the Liverpool One Tesco supermarket. It is highly likely that he designed a number of other buildings in Liverpool, no longer extant, including buildings on Paradise Street.
In 1725 he became a commissioner for the turnpike road from Prescot to Liverpool, and drew up plans for St George's Church on the site of the Liverpool Castle. He subsequently was responsible for the construction of its foundations and steeple. He built houses for poor and destitute seamen in 1739, and opened the Old Ropery Theatre in the following year.
Steers became a Freeman of the town of Liverpool in 1713, and served on the town council in 1717. In 1719 and 1722, he was a Town Bailiff, became mayor of Liverpool from 1739 to 1740, and was an Out-burgess in Wigan in 1746. He was responsible for the fortification of Liverpool during the Jacobite rising of 1745.
Steers' first marriage to Henrietta Maria ended in 1717 with her death. Of their seven children, four died in childhood, while the other three are thought to have become seamen, and all had died by 1732. In 1719 he married Ann Tibington, who came from Rotherhithe and was the widow of a seaman. She had a son called John, and they had four children of their own, two of which died in childhood. He died in 1750, and was buried in the grounds of St Peter's Church. His only surviving son, Spencer, carried on his anchor making business after his death.
There was also a Thomas Steers, lime burner of Greenwich (probably the owner and/or digger of "Jack Cade's Cavern" and of a nearby sand mine) who was born about this time and in the right area, but who was probably not the same person. Other Steers were involved in pottery. This hints at an extended Steers family with interests in kilns and building mortar.
Despite his considerable contribution to civil engineering, his death went almost unnoticed, although the civil engineer John Smeaton, writing to the Calder and Hebble Navigation in 1757, noted that Steers was an esteemed man of character and ability in his profession. He built the first successful commercial dock in the world, and the United Kingdom's first summit level canal. He trained his assistants well, as several went on to have illustrious careers of their own. Above all, he understood his work in its wider social context, being active in the politics and trade of Liverpool, and understanding the need for the town to be well-connected to its hinterland. His work paved the way for Liverpool to become one of the world's greatest ports, and was a contributory factor in the industrial revolution which began shortly after his death.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a canal in Northern England, linking the cities of Leeds and Liverpool.
The Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal is a disused canal in Greater Manchester, England, built to link Bolton and Bury with Manchester. The canal, when fully opened, was 15 miles 1 furlong (24 km) long. It was accessed via a junction with the River Irwell in Salford. Seventeen locks were required to climb to the summit as it passed through Pendleton, heading northwest to Prestolee before it split northwest to Bolton and northeast to Bury. Between Bolton and Bury the canal was level and required no locks. Six aqueducts were built to allow the canal to cross the rivers Irwell and Tonge and several minor roads.
The Manchester Ship Canal is a 36-mile-long (58 km) inland waterway in the North West of England linking Manchester to the Irish Sea. Starting at the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool, it generally follows the original routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell through the historic counties of Cheshire and Lancashire. Several sets of locks lift vessels about 60 feet (18 m) to the canal's terminus in Manchester. Landmarks along its route include the Barton Swing Aqueduct, the world's only swing aqueduct, and Trafford Park, the world's first planned industrial estate and still the largest in Europe.
The Bridgewater Canal connects Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh, in North West England. It was commissioned by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, to transport coal from his mines in Worsley to Manchester. It was opened in 1761 from Worsley to Manchester, and later extended from Manchester to Runcorn, and then from Worsley to Leigh.
The Sankey Canal in North West England was opened in 1757. Eventually, it connected St Helens to the River Mersey at Spike Island in Widnes. Originally it followed the valley of the Sankey Brook from the Mersey through Warrington to Parr. Extensions were constructed at the Mersey end to Fiddlers Ferry and then to Widnes, while at the northern end it was extended to Sutton, which became part of St. Helens.
The Port of Runcorn is in the town of Runcorn, Cheshire, England. It is situated to the west of a point where the River Mersey narrows, known as Runcorn Gap. Originally opening directly into the Mersey, with the building of the Manchester Ship Canal, it now links with this canal.
Francis Giles (1787–1847) was a canal engineer and surveyor who worked under John Rennie and later became a railway engineer.
The Newry Canal, located in Northern Ireland, was built to link the Tyrone coalfields to the Irish Sea at Carlingford Lough near Newry. It was the first summit level canal to be built in Ireland or Great Britain, and pre-dated the more famous Bridgewater Canal by nearly thirty years and Sankey Canal by fifteen years. It was authorised by the Commissioners of Inland Navigation for Ireland, and was publicly funded. It was opened in 1742, but there were issues with the lock construction, the width of the summit level and the water supply. Below Newry, a ship canal was opened in 1769, and both Newry and the canal flourished.
Josias Jessop (1781–1826) was a noted canal engineer, and second son of William Jessop, one of the great canal engineers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was trained by his father, and worked under him on his early projects, but proved his abilities during the construction of Bristol harbour. He became an independent consulting engineer from 1811. He died fourteen years later, a little before he reached the age of 45.
The Douglas Navigation was a canalised section of the River Douglas or Asland, in Lancashire, England, running from its confluence with the River Ribble to Wigan. It was authorised in 1720, and some work was carried out, but the undertakers lost most of the share money speculating on the South Sea Bubble. Alexander Leigh attempted to revive it eleven years later, and opened it progressively between 1738 and 1742. Leigh began work on a parallel canal called Leigh's Cut to improve the passage from Newburgh to Gathurst, but progress was slow and it was unfinished in 1771.
The Manchester and Salford Junction Canal was a canal in the city of Manchester. It was originally built to provide a direct waterway between the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Rochdale Canal. The canal opened in 1839 and was abandoned in 1922.
Josiah Clowes (1735–1794) was a noted English civil engineer and canal builder. His early years were spent running a canal carrying company with Hugh Henshall, and although he worked on some canal projects before 1783, that year marked his switch to being an engineer. His first major project included the Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames and Severn Canal, which despite huge engineering difficulties, gained him a reputation which enabled him to become the first great tunnelling engineer, responsible for three of the four longest canal tunnels built.
The Mersey and Irwell Navigation was a river navigation in North West England, which provided a navigable route from the Mersey estuary to Salford and Manchester, by improving the course of the River Irwell and the River Mersey. Eight locks were constructed between 1724 and 1734, and the rivers were improved by the construction of new cuts several times subsequently. Use of the navigation declined from the 1870s, and it was ultimately superseded by the Manchester Ship Canal, the construction of which destroyed most of the Irwell section of the navigation and the long cut between Latchford and Runcorn.
The Runcorn to Latchford Canal ran from Runcorn, Cheshire to the Latchford area of Warrington, then in the historic county of Lancashire, England. It connected the Mersey and Irwell Navigation to the River Mersey at Runcorn.
Hugh Henshall (1734–1816) was an English civil engineer, noted for his work on canals. He was born in North Staffordshire and was a student of the canal engineer James Brindley, who was also his brother-in-law.
Henry Robinson Palmer (1795–1844) was a British civil engineer who designed the world's second monorail and the first elevated railway.
The Hulme Locks Branch Canal is a canal in the city of Manchester. It is 200m in length and was built to provide a direct waterway between the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Bridgewater Canal. The canal opened in 1838 and was superseded in 1995 by a new lock at Pomona Dock 3. As both of its locks remain closed, the canal is now overgrown.
Robert Whitworth was an English land surveyor and engineer, who learnt his trade under John Smeaton and James Brindley, and went on to become one of the leading canal engineers of his generation.
The Lagan Canal was a 44-kilometre (27 mi) canal built to connect Belfast to Lough Neagh. The first section, which is a river navigation, was opened in 1763, and linked Belfast to Lisburn. The second section from Lisburn to Lough Neagh includes a small amount of river navigation, but was largely built as a canal. At its peak it was one of the most successful of the Irish canals, but ultimately it was unable to compete with road and rail transport, and the two sections were closed in 1954 and 1958. The central section from Sprucefield to Moira was destroyed by the construction of the M1 motorway in the 1960s. Responsibility for most of its remains passed first to the Department of Agriculture and then to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, although the section between Aghalee Bridge and Lough Neagh, including the final ten locks, passed into private ownership. There is an active campaign to re-open the canal, including reinstatement of the central section.
The Carlisle Canal opened in 1823, to link Carlisle to the Solway Firth, to facilitate the transport of goods to and from the city. It was a short-lived venture, being replaced by a railway which used the canal bed for most of its route in 1854.
|Preceded by|| Engineer to Mersey Docks and Harbour Board |