James Meadows Rendel
James Meadows Rendel FRS (December 1799 – 21 November 1856) was a British civil engineer
Civil engineer
A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering; the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.Originally, a...


Early life & career

Rendel, the son of a farmer and surveyor, was born near Okehampton
Okehampton is a town and civil parish in West Devon in the English county of Devon. It is situated at the northern edge of Dartmoor, and has an estimated population of 7,155.-History:...

, Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

, in 1799. He was initiated into the operations of a millwright under an uncle at Teignmouth
Teignmouth is a town and civil parish in Teignbridge in the English county of Devon, situated on the north bank of the estuary mouth of the River Teign about 14 miles south of Exeter. It has a population of 14,413. In 1690, it was the last place in England to be invaded by a foreign power...

, while from his father he learnt the rudiments of civil engineering. At an early age he went to London as a surveyor
See Also: Public Land Survey SystemSurveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, and science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them...

 under Thomas Telford
Thomas Telford
Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE was a Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and a noted road, bridge and canal builder.-Early career:...

, by whom he was employed on the surveys for the proposed suspension bridge across the Mersey
River Mersey
The River Mersey is a river in North West England. It is around long, stretching from Stockport, Greater Manchester, and ending at Liverpool Bay, Merseyside. For centuries, it formed part of the ancient county divide between Lancashire and Cheshire....

 at Runcorn
Runcorn is an industrial town and cargo port within the borough of Halton in the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. In 2009, its population was estimated to be 61,500. The town is on the southern bank of the River Mersey where the estuary narrows to form Runcorn Gap. Directly to the north...

. About 1822 he settled at Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

, and commenced the construction of roads in the north of Devon. In August 1824 he was employed by the Earl of Morley
Edmund Parker, 2nd Earl of Morley
Edmund Parker, 2nd Earl of Morley , known as Viscount Boringdon from 1815 to 1840, was a British peer and Whig politician....

 in making a bridge across the Catwater, an estuary of the Plym
River Plym
The River Plym is a river in Devon, England. Its source is some 450m above sea level on Dartmoor, in an upland marshy area called Plym Head. From the upper reaches which contain antiquities and mining remains the river flows roughly southwest and enters the sea near to the city of Plymouth, where...

 within the harbour of Plymouth at Laira. To guard against the undermining effects of the current, he formed an artificial bottom. The bridge, which cost £27,126, was opened on 14 July 1827. With the exception of 1819 John Rennie
John Rennie
-People:* John Rennie the Elder , engineer * Sir John Rennie the Younger , engineer * John Rennie , naval architect...

 Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge is an arch bridge for traffic linking Southwark and the City across the River Thames, in London, England. It was designed by Ernest George and Basil Mott. It was built by Sir William Arrol & Co. and opened in 1921...

 over the Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, it was the largest iron structure then existing, and Rendel received a Telford Medal
Telford Medal
The Telford Medal is the highest prize awarded by the British Institution of Civil Engineers for a paper, or series of papers, in the field of engineering. It was introduced in 1835 following a bequest made by Thomas Telford, the ICE's first president....

 from the Institution of Civil Engineers
Institution of Civil Engineers
Founded on 2 January 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers is an independent professional association, based in central London, representing civil engineering. Like its early membership, the majority of its current members are British engineers, but it also has members in more than 150...


Plymouth partnership

He soon entered into partnership at Plymouth with Nathaniel Beardmore, and his practice rapidly grew. In 1826 he erected Bowcombe Bridge, near Kingsbridge
Kingsbridge is a market town and popular tourist hub in the South Hams district of Devon, England, with a population of about 5,800. It is situated at the northern end of the Kingsbridge Estuary, which is a textbook example of a ria and extends to the sea six miles south of the town.-History:The...

, Devon, when hydraulic power was first applied to the machinery for making swing bridge
Swing bridge
A swing bridge is a movable bridge that has as its primary structural support a vertical locating pin and support ring, usually at or near to its centre of gravity, about which the turning span can then pivot horizontally as shown in the animated illustration to the right...

s. In 1831 he introduced a new system of crossing rivers by means of chain ferries
Cable ferry
A cable ferry is guided and in many cases propelled across a river or other larger body of water by cables connected to both shores. They are also called chain ferries, floating bridges, or punts....

 worked by steam, and in 1832 he constructed a floating bridge
Pontoon bridge
A pontoon bridge or floating bridge is a bridge that floats on water and in which barge- or boat-like pontoons support the bridge deck and its dynamic loads. While pontoon bridges are usually temporary structures, some are used for long periods of time...

 on this principle, crossing the Dart
River Dart
The River Dart is a river in Devon, England which rises high on Dartmoor, and releases to the sea at Dartmouth. Its valley and surrounding area is a place of great natural beauty.-Watercourse:...

 at Dartmouth
Dartmouth, Devon
Dartmouth is a town and civil parish in the English county of Devon. It is a tourist destination set on the banks of the estuary of the River Dart, which is a long narrow tidal ria that runs inland as far as Totnes...

. Between 1832 and 1834 similar floating bridges were erected at Torpoint
Torpoint is a civil parish and town on the Rame Peninsula in southeast Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It is situated opposite the city of Plymouth across the Hamoaze which is the tidal estuary of the River Tamar....

 and Saltash
Saltash is a town and civil parish in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It has a population of 14,964. It lies in the south east of Cornwall, facing Plymouth over the River Tamar. It was in the Caradon district until March 2009 and is known as "the gateway to Cornwall". Saltash means ash tree by...

 across the Tamar
River Tamar
The Tamar is a river in South West England, that forms most of the border between Devon and Cornwall . It is one of several British rivers whose ancient name is assumed to be derived from a prehistoric river word apparently meaning "dark flowing" and which it shares with the River Thames.The...

, which greatly facilitated the intercourse between Devon and Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

. For these achievements a second Telford medal was awarded to Rendel. The Torpoint Ferry
Torpoint Ferry
The Torpoint Ferry is a car and pedestrian chain ferry, connecting the A374 road which crosses the Hamoaze, a stretch of water at the mouth of the River Tamar, between Devonport in Plymouth and Torpoint in Cornwall...

 still operates, albeit much updated. A similar floating bridge
Pontoon bridge
A pontoon bridge or floating bridge is a bridge that floats on water and in which barge- or boat-like pontoons support the bridge deck and its dynamic loads. While pontoon bridges are usually temporary structures, some are used for long periods of time...

 was implemented as the Woolston ferry
Woolston ferry
The Woolston Floating Bridge, was a cable ferry that crossed the River Itchen in England between Woolston and Southampton from 23 November 1836 until 11 June 1977...

 between Woolston, Hampshire and Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

 in 1836.

During this period Rendel was also engaged in reporting on harbours and rivers in the southwest of England, and thus acquired that mastery of hydraulic engineering on which his fame chiefly rests. In 1829 he designed the harbour which was afterwards executed at Par
Par, Cornwall
Par is a town and fishing port with a harbour on the south coast of Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The town is situated in the civil parish of Tywardreath and Par and is approximately east of St Austell. Par has a population of around 1,400.....

 in Cornwall; in 1835 he carried out works on the Bude
Bude is a small seaside resort town in North Cornwall, England, at the mouth of the River Neet . It lies just south of Flexbury, north of Widemouth Bay and west of Stratton and is located along the A3073 road off the A39. Bude is twinned with Ergué-Gabéric in Brittany, France...

 harbour, dock, and canal, and in 1836 he designed Brixham
Brixham is a small fishing town and civil parish in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and is a fishing port. Fishing and tourism are its major industries. At the time of the 2001 census it had a population of...

 harbour and the breakwater at Torquay
Torquay is a town in the unitary authority area of Torbay and ceremonial county of Devon, England. It lies south of Exeter along the A380 on the north of Torbay, north-east of Plymouth and adjoins the neighbouring town of Paignton on the west of the bay. Torquay’s population of 63,998 during the...

. In 1836-37 he designed, as a terminus to the Great Western Railway
Great Western Railway
The Great Western Railway was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament in 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838...

, the Millbay Docks
Millbay, also known as Millbay Docks, is an area of dockland in Plymouth, Devon, England. It lies south of Union Street, between West Hoe in the east and Stonehouse in the west.-Early history:Mill Bay was a natural inlet to the west of the Hoe...

, Ply mouth, afterwards executed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS , was a British civil engineer who built bridges and dockyards including the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; a series of steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship; and numerous important bridges...

. In 1843-44 he constructed canal
Canals are man-made channels for water. There are two types of canal:#Waterways: navigable transportation canals used for carrying ships and boats shipping goods and conveying people, further subdivided into two kinds:...

s in Devon, and was engaged on the Colchester and Arundel navigation; and in 1844 he designed harbour improvements for Newhaven
Newhaven, East Sussex
Newhaven is a town in the Lewes District of East Sussex in England. It lies at the mouth of the River Ouse, on the English Channel coast, and is a ferry port for services to France.-Origins:...

 and Littlehampton
Littlehampton is a seaside resort town and civil parish in the Arun District of West Sussex, England, on the east bank at the mouth of the River Arun. It lies south southwest of London, west of Brighton and east of the county town of Chichester....

 in Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

. At the same time he was largely employed on marine works by the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 and other government departments, as well as by public companies. The exchequer loan commissioners engaged him in 1835-37 in the repair of the Montrose suspension bridge after its fall. There he introduced the principle of truss
In architecture and structural engineering, a truss is a structure comprising one or more triangular units constructed with straight members whose ends are connected at joints referred to as nodes. External forces and reactions to those forces are considered to act only at the nodes and result in...

ing the framing of the roadway. This system of preventing the undulation, by which so many structures of the kind have been destroyed, was quickly acknowledged to be essential to their safety.

London practice

About 1838 Rendel dissolved his partnership with Beardmore at Plymouth, and settled in London, but still was chiefly employed on work for his native county. In 1841 he constructed the Millbay pier, Plymouth, a work of considerable difficulty owing to the depth of water in which it was built. Here he first introduced the method of construction since employed in Holyhead
Holyhead is the largest town in the county of Anglesey in the North Wales. It is also a major port adjacent to the Irish Sea serving Ireland....

 and Portland
Portland Harbour
Portland Harbour is located beside the Isle of Portland, off Dorset, on the south coast of England. It is one of the largest man-made harbours in the world. Grid reference: .-History:...

 harbours. In 1839 he was engaged in preparing schemes for a railway between Exeter and Plymouth, running over Dartmoor
Dartmoor is an area of moorland in south Devon, England. Protected by National Park status, it covers .The granite upland dates from the Carboniferous period of geological history. The moorland is capped with many exposed granite hilltops known as tors, providing habitats for Dartmoor wildlife. The...

. At the time sufficient funds could not be raised, but an alternative coast line was afterwards carried out by I. K. Brunel. In 1843 he made plans for docks at Birkenhead
Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. It is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool...

, which he defended before parliamentary committees against hostile local influence. The contest was long protracted, and the incessant labour served to shorten Rendel's life; his published evidence forms a valuable record of engineering practice of the period. In 1844-53 he constructed docks at Grimsby
Grimsby is a seaport on the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire, England. It has been the administrative centre of the unitary authority area of North East Lincolnshire since 1996...

; in 1848-53 extensions of the docks at Leith
-South Leith v. North Leith:Up until the late 16th century Leith , comprised two separate towns on either side of the river....

; in 1850-53 docks at Garston
Garston, Merseyside
Garston is a district of Liverpool, Merseyside, England. It is bordered by Aigburth, Allerton, and Speke.-History:Gaerstun, meaning 'grazing settlement' or 'grazing farm' in Old English, is one possible root of the name....

 on the Mersey, with extensions of the East and West India and the London docks. As constructor of the Grimsby docks he was one of the first to apply W. G. Armstrong
William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong
William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong CB, FRS was an effective Tyneside industrialist who founded the Armstrong Whitworth manufacturing empire.-Early life:...

's system of hydraulic machinery for working the lock gates, sluices, cranes, &c. For this work he received a grand medal of honour at the Paris Exhibition of 1855
Exposition Universelle (1855)
The Exposition Universelle of 1855 was an International Exhibition held on the Champs-Elysées in Paris from May 15 to November 15, 1855. Its full official title was the Exposition Universelle des produits de l'Agriculture, de l'Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris 1855.The exposition was a major...

. For the admiralty he planned in 1845, and afterwards constructed, the packet and refuge harbour at Holyhead, and in 1847 he constructed the harbour of refuge at Portland. In the making of these great harbours he contrived, by means of elevated timber staging, to let down masses of stone vertically from railway trucks, and, by building up the masonry with unexampled rapidity to a point above sea level, contrived to reduce to comparative insignificance the force of the sea during building operations. As many as 24,000 tons (24 kt) of stone were deposited in one week. In 1850 he commenced making a new harbour at St. Peter Port, Guernsey
Guernsey, officially the Bailiwick of Guernsey is a British Crown dependency in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy.The Bailiwick, as a governing entity, embraces not only all 10 parishes on the Island of Guernsey, but also the islands of Herm, Jethou, Burhou, and Lihou and their islet...


River improvements

Rendel was much occupied in the improvement of rivers. In 1852, in conjunction with Sir William Cubitt
William Cubitt
Sir William Cubitt was an eminent English civil engineer and millwright. Born in Norfolk, England, he was employed in many of the great engineering undertakings of his time. He invented a type of windmill sail and the prison treadwheel, and was employed as chief engineer, at Ransomes of Ipswich,...

 and Richard John Griffith
Richard John Griffith
Sir Richard John Griffith , was an Irish geologist, mining engineer and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, who completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and was author of the valuation of Ireland - known ever since as Griffith's Valuation.-Biography:Griffith was born in Hume...

, he examined and reported to the treasury upon the arterial drainage works in Ireland, and in 1855 he completed the suspension bridge across the Ness
River Ness
The River Ness is a river flowing from Loch Ness in Scotland, north to Inverness and the Moray Firth. On a hill above the river in Inverness stands Inverness Castle. The river is overlooked by the Eden Court Theatre, one of the largest theatres in Scotland. St. Andrews Cathedral also lies along...

 at Inverness
Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands. It is the administrative centre for the Highland council area, and is regarded as the capital of the Highlands of Scotland...

 for the commissioners of highland roads and bridges. His aid was also sought by foreign countries. In 1852-53 he designed docks for Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

; in 1853-55 he reported on the harbour of Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro , commonly referred to simply as Rio, is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city of Brazil, and the third largest metropolitan area and agglomeration in South America, boasting approximately 6.3 million people within the city proper, making it the 6th...

; in 1854 he reported to the Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n government on a naval establishment at Heppens
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

 on the river Jade
Jade River
The Jade is a 22 km long river in Lower Saxony, northwestern Germany. Its source is near Oldenburg, and it flows into the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea, near Varel.- Literature :* Klaus Dede: An der Jade...

; and in 1854-55, by direction of the Hamburg senate, he inspected the Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

 from Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 to Cuxhaven. For the Spanish, he devised a system of railways between Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

 and Oviedo
Oviedo is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias in northern Spain. It is also the name of the municipality that contains the city....

, as well as improvements of the river Ebro
The Ebro or Ebre is one of the most important rivers in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the biggest river by discharge volume in Spain.The Ebro flows through the following cities:*Reinosa in Cantabria.*Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León....


In England his railway work was somewhat restricted, but he executed the Birkenhead, Lancashire, and Cheshire Junction line and in India he directed the construction of the East Indian and the Madras railways. In 1856 he reported on the new Westminster Bridge
Westminster Bridge
Westminster Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge over the River Thames between Westminster on the north side and Lambeth on the south side, in London, England....

. His last work was a design for the suspension bridge across the ornamental water in St. James's Park
St. James's Park
St. James's Park is a 23 hectare park in the City of Westminster, central London - the oldest of the Royal Parks of London. The park lies at the southernmost tip of the St. James's area, which was named after a leper hospital dedicated to St. James the Less.- Geographical location :St. James's...

, London.

In 1852 and 1853 Rendel served as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which he joined in 1824. He became a fellow of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 on 23 February 1843 and was elected a member of the council. He died at 10 Kensington Palace Gardens
Kensington Palace Gardens
Kensington Palace Gardens is a street in west central London which contains some of the grandest and most expensive houses in the world. It was the location of the London Cage, the British government MI9 centre used during the Second World War and the Cold War.A tree-lined avenue half a mile long...

, London, on 21 November 1856.


Rendel was a man of great energy, and implicit confidence was felt in his efficiency, tact, and honesty. His greatest enterprises were the construction of the harbours at Holyhead and Portland works, which go some way to justify the linking of his name with Smeaton
John Smeaton
John Smeaton, FRS, was an English civil engineer responsible for the design of bridges, canals, harbours and lighthouses. He was also a capable mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist...

, Rennie, and Telford.

Rendel contributed several valuable papers to the 'Proceedings' of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He married Catherine Jane Harris, who died on 18 July 1884, aged 87. His third son, Stuart Rendel
Stuart Rendel, 1st Baron Rendel
Stuart Rendel, 1st Baron Rendel was a British industrialist, philanthropist and Liberal politician. He sat Liberal Party Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire between 1880 and 1894 and was recognised as the leader of the Welsh MP's...

, at one time managing partner in London of Sir William Armstrong's engineering firm, was M.P. for Montgomeryshire
Montgomeryshire, also known as Maldwyn is one of thirteen historic counties and a former administrative county of Wales. Montgomeryshire is still used as a vice-county for wildlife recording...

 from 1880–94, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Rendel in 1895. Other children include:
  • Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel
    Alexander Meadows Rendel
    Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel was a British civil engineer.Rendel was born in Plymouth. He was the eldest son of the engineer James Meadows Rendel and his wife Catherine Harris...

     (1829–1918) – civil engineer
  • George Wightwick Rendel
    George Wightwick Rendel
    George Wightwick Rendel was a British engineer, and naval architect. He was closely associated with the Tyneside industrialist and armaments manufacturer, William George Armstrong.-Family:...

     (1833–1902) – civil engineer
  • Emily Frances Rendel (1836–1897) married Charles Bowen, 1st Baron Bowen in 1862.
  • Emily Catherine Rendel (1840–1921) married Clement Francis Wedgwood in 1866
  • Hamilton Rendel (1843–1902)

The firm he started became a partnership called Rendel Palmer & Tritton in the early 20th century and trades today as High-Point Rendel.
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