A portrait of Thomas Telford
which hangs in the Institution
of Civil Engineers
Researching Thomas Telford, who had been such a
well-known member of a Lodge in Shropshire, I was
surprised that virtually nothing had been written about his
In A History of Craft Freemasonry in Shropshire, by Harold
Templeton, there was just one paragraph, and no mention
of him in the History of Salopian Lodge No. 262 by George
Franklin. In Alexander Graham’s 1892 history of Shropshire
Freemasonry he is only recorded in the list of members.
Thomas Telford was born at Glendinning, near Dumfries
in Scotland on 9 August 1757, in a shepherd’s cottage beside
the Megget Water. His father John was a shepherd, but died
aged 33 only two months after Thomas was born. It was to his
mother, Janet that the responsibility fell to bring up Thomas
on her own.
As she was living in a tied cottage, six months after the
death of her husband, Janet was forced to move with her
infant son to a small cottage at the Crooks, situated in the
Megget Valley, a mile below Glendinning. They occupied
only one of the cottage’s two rooms, another family living
in the other half.
Life must have been extremely hard. Her brother and
neighbours helped out financially, which allowed Thomas
to attend the local parish school at Westerkirk. At a very early
age, Thomas was required to work on neighbouring farms,
herding cattle and sheep, living for weeks on end with
shepherds in their lonely shelters on the hills, which shaped
his character and built up his self-confidence.
On leaving school, Thomas took up an apprenticeship to
be a stonemason at Lochmaben, but his new master ill-treated
him, so after a few months he was back living with his mother
at the Crooks. Janet’s nephew Thomas Jackson came to the
rescue and persuaded a Master Mason he knew in Langholm,
Andrew Thomson, to take the boy as an apprentice. Telford
gained great experience both as apprentice and a fellow of the
Craft under Thomson’s guidance and tuition.
The young Duke of Buccleuch succeeded to the family
estates in the area and put in hand an extensive programme
of improvements. Tracks were paved, bridges constructed
to ford rivers and stone construction farm houses began to
replace the older ones, which were made from thatch and
mud. This was a time when even the town houses had mud
walls and again this made work for the team of Thomson
and Telford to reconstruct in stone.
In Langholm, it was Andrew Thomson, with his fellow
craft assistant, who built the bridge over the river Esk to
connect the new town with the old. Telford’s Mason mark
can be found on the bridge on the blocks in the western
abutment. At this time he became a firm friend with a fellow
Mason, Matthew Davidson, who was to play an important
part in his life.
Telford left his native Dumfriesshire at 23 and made his
way to Edinburgh, where his talents had greater scope with
the building of the noble Georgian streets and squares around
Princes Street in the new town. Eighteen months later he
travelled to London to find both fame and fortune.