Thomas Yeoman

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Thomas Yeoman
Born 1709 or 1710
Probably Somerset
Died 23 January 1781 (age about 70)
Resting place Bunhill Fields
Nationality English
Known for First president of the Society of Civil Engineers
Notable work Limehouse Cut

Thomas Yeoman (1709 or 1710 – 23 January 1781) was a millwright, surveyor and civil engineer who played a significant part in the early industrial revolution and became the first president of the first engineering society in the world, the Society of Civil Engineers, now known as the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers.

The Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers was founded in 1771, and was originally known as the Society of Civil Engineers, being renamed following its founder's death. It was the first engineering society to be formed anywhere in the world, and remains the oldest.



"The Cotton Mill on the River Nen", (Marvel's Mill) from Noble and Butlin's 1746 map of Northampton - the earliest known pictorial representation of a cotton mill Marvels Mill Northampton.jpg
"The Cotton Mill on the River Nen", (Marvel's Mill) from Noble and Butlin's 1746 map of Northampton – the earliest known pictorial representation of a cotton mill

Although his origin and early life are obscure, he was probably born in Somerset and is first known as a wheelwright skilled in "turning iron & Brass, & making machinery for grinding" recruited by Edward Cave to operate a water-powered cotton roller-spinning mill at Northampton in 1741 under licence from Lewis Paul. He was here with his wife Sarah and their son James. Yeoman established himself as a millwright constructing machinery such as ventilators invented by the clergyman Stephen Hales and began to take an active part in Northampton's business. Yeoman was a notable member of the local Baptist Church in College Lane. Yeoman's contribution to society in general was rewarded when he became president of the Northampton Philosophical Society. This society met in his house and included the inventor William Shipley and nonconformist leader Philip Doddridge among its members. [1]

Edward Cave British publisher

Edward Cave was an English printer, editor and publisher. He coined the term "magazine" for a periodical, founding The Gentleman's Magazine in 1731, and was the first publisher to successfully fashion a wide-ranging publication.

Northampton Place in England

Northampton is the county town of Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England. It lies on the River Nene, about 67 miles (108 km) north-west of London and 54 miles (87 km) south-east of Birmingham. It is one of the largest towns in the UK. Northampton had a population of 212,100 in the 2011 census.

Lewis Paul English inventor

Lewis Paul was the original inventor of roller spinning, the basis of the water frame for spinning cotton in a cotton mill.

As his social standing rose he moved first to Gold Street, where he built and sold scientific instruments, and then to Bridge Street. His ventilators sold as far as Rotterdam, for use on the British merchant fleet. He also first surveyed the river Nene in 1744. [2]

River Nene river in the east of England

The River Nene is a river in the east of England that rises from three sources in Northamptonshire. The tidal river is about 100 miles (160 km) long, about 3.7 miles (6.0 km) of which forms the border between Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. It is the tenth-longest river in the United Kingdom, and is navigable for 88 miles (142 km), from Northampton to The Wash.

Yeoman and his wife had another son, Samuel, before Sarah died in 1746. He married Anne Remington on 18 August 1747 and they had a son Thomas in 1748 and a daughter Anne in 1752. [1]


In 1756, Yeoman moved to London where he advertised his services in The Gentleman's Magazine and took up residence in Little Peter Street, Westminster. He had Admiralty contracts to install ventilators both in ships of the fleet and in their naval hospitals. [1] He also ventilated the Drury Lane Theatre and the Houses of Parliament. [3] He was elected to the Society of Arts which was founded by his friend William Shipley in the 1760s. He introduced other members and he was the active chairman of the Committee of Mechanics for many years.

<i>The Gentlemans Magazine</i> London periodical

The Gentleman's Magazine was founded in London, England, by Edward Cave in January 1731. It ran uninterrupted for almost 200 years, until 1922. It was the first to use the term magazine for a periodical. Samuel Johnson's first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman's Magazine.

Westminster area of central London, within the City of Westminster

Westminster is an area of central London within the City of Westminster, part of the West End, on the north bank of the River Thames. Westminster's concentration of visitor attractions and historic landmarks, one of the highest in London, includes the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.

Admiralty British Government ministry responsible for the Royal Navy until 1964

The Admiralty, originally known as the Office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs, was the government department responsible for the command of the Royal Navy first in the Kingdom of England, later in the Kingdom of Great Britain, and from 1801 to 1964, the United Kingdom and former British Empire. Originally exercised by a single person, the Lord High Admiral (1385–1628), the Admiralty was, from the early 18th century onwards, almost invariably put "in commission" and exercised by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who sat on the Board of Admiralty.

Limehouse cut, connecting the Lee Navigation to the Thames Limehouse Cut (2) - - 788025.jpg
Limehouse cut, connecting the Lee Navigation to the Thames

On arrival in London he gave evidence to the parliamentary commission for the River Nene and in 1758 was employed as surveyor and engineer on the works. After this his main work was as surveyor and engineer on numerous canal and river navigations including the Stort, Lea, Chelmer, Medway, Stroud and Thames. [3] In many of these he worked as an assistant to John Smeaton and a major achievement was the Limehouse Cut which allowed shipping to avoid the sinuous River Lea. [4] As early as 1763 he was described as a "surveyor and civil engineer" by Thomas Mortimer's Universal Director , together with John Smeaton, one of the first recorded uses of the term. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1764, described on his application citation as an Inspector of Ventilators in his Majestys Fleet. [5] [6]

Stort Navigation river in the United Kingdom

The Stort Navigation is the canalised section of the River Stort running 22 kilometres (14 mi) from the town of Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, downstream to its confluence with the Lee Navigation at Feildes Weir near Rye House, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

Lee Navigation

The Lee Navigation is a canalised river incorporating the River Lea. It flows from Hertford Castle Weir to the River Thames at Bow Creek; its first lock is Hertford Lock and its last Bow Locks.

Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation canalised river in Essex, United Kingdom

The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation is the canalisation of the Rivers Chelmer and Blackwater in Essex, in the east of England. The navigation runs for 13.75 miles (22.13 km) from Springfield Basin in Chelmsford to the sea lock at Heybridge Basin near Maldon. It was opened in 1797, and remained under the control of the original company until 2003. It is now run by Essex Waterways Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Inland Waterways Association.

In 1771 Smeaton and Yeoman were joined Robert Mylne, Joseph Nickalls (1725–1793), John Grundy, John Thompson, and James King at the King's Head in Holborn where they "agreed that the civil engineers of this Kingdom do form themselves into a Society". [7] This was the "first group of non-military engineers in the English-speaking world". [7] He was elected the first president of a Society of Civil Engineers in 1771 which was later called the Smeatonian Society. (This society was to become the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1818.) [2] Yeoman probably made President because of his seniority but it was a position he approached with enthusiasm taking the notes for the first few meetings and also covering parts of its costs. [7] Yeoman died a widower in 1781, being buried in Bunhill Fields. [1]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Bates, David L., Yeoman, Thomas, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. 1 2 Musson, A. Albert Edward; Robinson, Eric (1969), "The profession of Civil Engineer in the Eighteenth Century, a portrait of Thomas Yeoman, FRS", Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution, University of Manchester Press, pp. 141, 372–392
  3. 1 2 "Notes and News". GREATER LONDON INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY SOCIETY. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  4. 1 2 Inwood, Stephen (2012). Historic London: An Explorer's Companion. Pan Macmillan. p. 388. ISBN   0230752527.
  5. "Fellows Details". Royal Society. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  6. A. W. Skempton, ed. (2002), "Yeoman, Thomas", A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1, Thomas Telford, p. 815
  7. 1 2 3 Mike Chrimes, 'Society of Civil Engineers (act. 1771–2001)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. accessed 12 Aug 2013