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Some famous pioneers and innovators who have contributed to Britain's rich heritage in the field of transport and travel. Fuller biographies can be found in Wikipedia.



Georgian era: mostly Navigation . . .

  • James Brindley (1716-1772), first builder of an artificial canal for the Duke of Bridgewater, developer of the “Grand Cross” waterways to link the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames.
  • John Smeaton (1724-1792), civil engineer, builder of viaducts, canals, docks and the Eddystone lighthouse.
  • William Jessop (1745-1814), pupil of Smeaton, builder of canals and harbours, co-founder of the Butterley Ironworks.
  • Thomas Slade (1704-1771), naval architect, designer of the pre-eminent first rate ships of the Royal Navy including HMS Victory.
  • Thomas Telford (1757-1834), builder of canals, highways and bridges including the Pontcysyllte aqueduct and the first crossing of the Menai Strait, first President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, nicknamed “The Colossus of Roads”.
  • John Loudon McAdam ((1756–1836) invented "macadamisation", for building roads with a smooth hard surface. Modern road construction still reflects McAdam's influence. The most significant subsequent improvement being introduction of tar to bind the road surface's stones together, "tarmac".
  • John Rennie (1761-1821), civil engineer, prolific builder of canals, bridges, docks and harbours (some completed by his son, also John).
  • Benjamin Outram (1764-1805), assistant to Jessop, engineer of canals and feeder tramways including the Marple aqueduct and Standedge tunnel.
  • William Symington (1764-1837), engineer, designer of the first practical steamboat, the canal tug Charlotte Dundas.
  • Henry Bell (1767-1830), nautical engineer, inaugurated the first public passenger steamboat service.
  • Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), pioneer of the use of steam power for traction on rail and road.
  • Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), civil engineer, designer of a notable string of Scottish lighthouses including the Bell Rock.
  • George Cayley (1773-1857), aeronautical engineer, designer of the first flying craft with directional and stability controls capable of carrying a man.



Regency era: mostly Railways . . .

  • George Stephenson (1781-1848), mining engineer and railway pioneer, established the use of steam locomotives to power colliery tramways and builder of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, dubbed “The Father of Railways”.
  • James Walker (1781-1862), civil engineer, associate of Telford, builder of canals and docks and chief engineer of Trinity House.
  • John Blenkinsop (1783-1831), mechanical engineer, designer of the first practicable steam locomotive for the Middleton railway.
  • Robert Napier (1791-1876), mechanical engineer, builder of steam engines for fast paddle steamers, known as “the Father of Scottish shipbuilding”.
  • George Shillibeer (1797-1866), coachbuilder, pioneer of horse-drawn omnibus services.
  • George Hudson (1800-1871), financier, creator of the Railway Clearing House, known as the “Railway King” until brought down by allegations of fraud and corruption.
  • Robert Stephenson (1803-1859), son of George, railway engineer, constructor of the Rocket and builder of the London and Birmingham railway.
  • Joseph Hansom (1803-1882), architect, designer of the one-horse hansom cab that provided local transport for hire in London and worldwide.
  • Joseph Locke (1805-1860), civil engineer, surveyor and chief engineer of the Grand Junction Railway and the Caledonian route to Glasgow.
  • Thomas Brassey (1805-1870), civil engineering contractor who organised armies of navvies to construct large parts of the railway system in Britain and continental Europe.
  • Isambard K Brunel (1806-1859), railway engineer, builder of the line from Bristol to London known as Brunel’s billiard table; also shipbuilder (including SS Great Britain) as he sought an integrated transport path from London to New York.
  • William Armstrong (1810-1900), civil and mechanical engineer, interests in cranes and dock equipment including the lifting gear for Tower Bridge, also warships and armaments; the Armstrong company later moved into cars and aviation.
  • Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) mechanical engineer, pioneered precise measurement & devised the British Standard Whitworth screw thread - initially adopted by railways which lead to its wide acceptance. BSF and Unified threads later derived from BSW design.



Victorian era: Days of elegance . . .

  • Daniel Gooch (1816-1889), mechanical engineer, protégé of Brunel, graduated from engine driver to locomotive superintendent responsible for the Great Western trains.
  • John Fowler (1817-1898), railway engineer, designed the world’s first underground railway (London’s Metropolitan line) and the Forth rail bridge.
  • Edward Watkin (1819-1901), railway director, promoter of the Great Central Railway and proponent of a Channel Tunnel rail link from Paris to London, Sheffield and Manchester.
  • John Saxby (1821-1913), mechanical engineer, inventor of the mechanical safety interlocking system for railway signals.
  • Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898), politician and social reformer, campaigner for safety of seafarers and outlawing of 'coffin ships'.
  • Thomas Tilling (1825-1893), London horse-bus operator and transport contractor.
  • Edward Williams (1828-1910), canal engineer, designer of the Anderton boat lift and the Manchester Ship Canal including the Barton swing aqueduct.
  • Thomas Walker (1828-1889), civil engineer and contractor, responsible for completing the Severn Tunnel, Barry Docks and construction of the Manchester Ship Canal.
  • George Francis Train (1829-1904), US entrepreneur, introduced street tramways to towns in England and Ireland.
  • Vickers Bros: Thomas (1833-1915) and Albert (1838-1919), steelmakers and marine engineers, a major force in shipbuilding and later aviation.
  • Charles Tyson Yerkes (1837-1905), US businessman and fundraiser, brought together London’s tube railways as the Underground group.
  • John Dunlop (1840-1921), inventor, developer of the pneumatic tyre and founder of the Dunlop rubber company.
  • John Thornycroft (1843-1928), naval architect and industrialist, interests in boatbuilding, steam lorries and motor vehicles.
  • James Greathead (1844-1896), civil engineer, developer of the mechanical tunnelling shield for the Tower Subway and the first tube railways.



Edwardian era: Steam, Petrol, Electric . . .

  • Magnus Volk (1851-1937), pioneer electrical engineer, builder of the world’s oldest extant electric railway at Brighton.
  • Charles Parsons (1854-1931), mechanical engineer, developer of the steam turbine that powered warships and other fast marine craft.
  • William Beardmore (1856-1936), mechanical engineer and industrialist, interests in shipbuilding, torpedo boats, tanks, aircraft, motorcycles and taxicabs.
  • George Churchward (1857-1933), railway engineer, pioneer of standardisation and manufacturing precision at Swindon locomotive works.
  • Henry Royce (1863-1933), mechanical engineer behind Rolls-Royce cars and later aero engine manufacturer.
  • Herbert Garrett (1864-1913), railway engineer, inventor of a pattern of articulated locomotives for lines with sharp curvature in difficult terrain, common in the southern continents.
  • Holman Stephens (1868-1931), engineer and commercial manager, pioneered the development of low-cost light railways to serve sparse traffic flows.
  • Frederick Lanchester (1868-1946), mechanical engineer, innovator in petrol engine and transmission design for cars and boats and developer of theoretical aeronautics.
  • Dennis Bros: John (1871-1939) and Raymond (1878-1939), mechanical engineers, bicycle and early car manufacturers, opened the first purpose-built car factory in England in Guildford.
  • Short Bros: Horace (1871-1917), Eustace (1875-1932) and Oswald (1883-1969), balloonists who switched to build the first aircraft factory in the world in Kent in 1909, pioneers in ailerons, folding wings and multi-engine planes.
  • Walter Wilson (1874-1957), mechanical engineer, designer of the first WW1 tanks and the preselector gearbox, precursor of automatic transmissions.



The Quest for Speed . . .

  • Nigel Gresley (1876-1941), locomotive engineer to the GNR, designer of “Flying Scotsman” and “Mallard”, the world steam record holder.
  • William Stanier (1876-1965), locomotive engineer to the GWR and later LMS, designer of the most powerful Pacific engines to run on Britain’s rails, the “Princess Coronation” class.
  • Charles Rolls (1877-1910), motoring and aviation pioneer, marketing brains behind Rolls-Royce cars, first Briton to be killed in a flying accident.
  • Alliott Verdon-Roe (1877-1958), draughtsman and aviation pioneer, founder of the Avro company.
  • William Morris (1877-1963), industrialist and philanthropist, founder of Morris Motors, later the Nuffield Organisation.
  • Frank Pick (1878-1941), transport administrator, design patron and urban planner, responsible for much of the “look” of the London Underground developed in the Art Deco period and continuing today.
  • Samuel Instone (1878-1937), shipping and aviation entrepreneur.
  • Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965), designer and builder of many of Britain’s finest aircraft including the Tiger Moth and the Mosquito.
  • Malcolm Campbell (1885-1948), racing motorist and journalist, contender for land and water-speed records in his Bluebird cars and boats.
  • Harry Ricardo (1885-1974), developer of efficient internal-combustion engines for tanks, aircraft and particularly high-speed diesels for road vehicles.
  • Barnes Wallace (1887-1979), aeronautical engineer, leading light in Britain’s airship programme, designer of the Wellesley and Wellington WW2 bombers as well as the “bouncing bomb” and swing-wing aircraft.
  • Frederick Handley Page (1888-1962), design engineer and industrialist, founder of the eponymous company that built the HP42 airliner, flagship of Imperial Airways.
  • W O Bentley (1888-1971), designer of lightweight aero engines and founder of Bentley Motors.
  • Tommy Sopwith (1888-1989), self-taught aviation pioneer and manufacturer, under his own name and that of Hawker; also yachtsman, challenger for the America’s Cup.
  • Louis Coatalen (1879-1962) Chief Engineer for Sunbeam notably responsible for creating cars that won Grand Prix and took Land Speed Records.



Post-WW1 era: mostly Cars and Aviation . . .

  • Alan Cobham (1894-1973), test pilot and aviation publicist, prime mover in development of civil aviation.
  • R J Mitchell (1895-1937), aircraft designer, including the S6B Schneider Trophy winner and the Spitfire fighter.
  • Henry Segrave (1897-1930), RFC pilot in WW1, first Briton to win Grand Prix in a British-built Sunbeam car, first person to hold land and water-speed records simultaneously.
  • Malcolm Campbell (1885-1948) Racing driver & journalist held world speed records on land and water using vehicles called Blue Bird
  • James Martin (1897-1981), aeronautical engineer, developer of the pilot ejection seat.
  • William Lyons (1901-1985), manufacturer of motorcycles and Jaguar road and racing cars.
  • Amy Johnson (1903-1941), pioneering long-distance aviator.
  • Alec Issigonis (1906-1988), automotive engineer, noted for innovative approach to design including the post-war Morris Minor and the transverse-engined Mini.
  • Frank Whittle (1907-1998), pilot and aviation engineer, credited as the inventor of the turbo-jet engine.
  • Teddy Petter (1908-1968), aircraft designer, responsible for Westland fixed-wing designs including the Lysander, then the E-E Canberra and Lightning and the Folland Gnat.
  • Tom Rolt (1910-1974), engineer and author, cheerleader for the preservation and restoration of heritage canals and railways.
  • Anthony Heal (1907-1995) Preservation Enthusiast. Acting Hon. Sec. of VSCC and Club Captain, Chairman of National Traction Engine Club, First Chairman of Joint Historic Vehicles Committee. Author of Sunbeam Racing Cars.
  • Christopher Cockerell (1910-1999), radio engineer, inventor of the hovercraft.
National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR