4th October 1821

Death of engineer John Rennie the Elder

John Rennie the Elder was a prolific engineer whose work can still be seen throughout Britain and Ireland. He constructed or contributed to bridges at Musselburgh, Kelso and London (London Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Southwark Bridge); Plymouth Breakwater; docks at London, Blackwall, Liverpool and Dublin; aqueducts at Lune and Dundas; and the Royal Observatory.

Rennie, transport engineer

Born in East Lothian he became, in effect, the motorway builder of his time, overseeing the construction of several important canals, which were used to move goods around the rapidly industrialising country. These included the Crinan Canal between Crinan and Ardrishaig, and the Reading to Bristol Kennet and Avon Canal.

He is known as John Rennie ‘the Elder’ on account of his son, another John, carrying on in the same profession following ‘the Elder’s’ death in 1821.

“National calamity”

The Morning Post of 11 October that year called his death “a national calamity. His loss cannot be adequately supplied by any living artist; for, though we have many able engineers, we know of none who so eminently possess solidity of judgement and with profound knowledge, and the happy tact of applying to every situation, where he was called upon to exert his faculties, the precise form of remedy that was wanting to the existing evil.” Those evils, in the words of the paper, included the boisterous sea, the pestilence of stagnant marsh, and the need to level hills or bridge valleys. In each of these respects, it believed, “Mr Rennie had no rival.”

So admired was he, and so important his work that on 23 October, the Manchester Mercury reported that “the mortal remains of the late John Rennie Esq, the celebrated civil engineer, were conveyed to their final place of interment in St Paul’s Cathedral, [London]… the talents and worth, which had obtained for Mr Rennie the estimation of his country while living, caused an immense concourse of respectable persons to follow his body to the grave… the coffin was of gigantic proportion, covered with black velvet, and ornamented with gold.”



Other events that occured in October

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