Tag Archives: Duke of Wellington

Marc Isambard Brunel

1769-1849

Born in Normandy, Brunel trained as a carpenter in his youth and became a competent cabinet maker. He then joined the navy as a cadet and made his own octant.

This was the time of the French Revolution and in 1793 Brunel – a Royalist – made some unwise remarks about Robspierre, the revolutionary leader.

His life at risk he managed to flee to the USA where he worked as a civil engineer before coming to England where he invented several items of factory equipment. He invested heavily in machinery for making boots for the army but failed to gain the expected government contract. As a result his business was bankrupt and he was sent to a debtors’ prison.

He began correspondence with Alexander 1 – Tsar of Russia who was interested in discharging Brunel’s debts if he’d come to work in Russia.

Potential loss of one of the country’s talented engineer caused alarm. Several influential figures – including Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. – petitioned successfully for a government grant to clear his debts and he was released from prison.

The Wapping Tunnel was the pinnacle of his career and, due to ill health, his last project.

Wapping Tunnel and Station

Wapping station opened in December 1879 as part of the East London railway but its story began over 50 years earlier.

in the early 1800s there was a need to connect the north and south docks. There were two unsuccessful attempts to dig a tunnel but these were thwarted by the soft clay and quicksand which caused the tunnel rooves to collapse. The project was declared impractical.

A French engineer, however, believed that he had a solution. Although he he no record of tunnel building he persuaded investors to finance a tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping. One of those investors was Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. That engineer was called Marc Brunel who had patented a device called the tunnelling shield.

How did this work? Brunel had chanced upon a marine creature called a Shipworm. This bored tunnels through wood but in its wake secreted a coating of limestone particles on the tunnel walls to stop them collapsing.

The shield had similar principles, a round framework accommodating a dozen or so men who would dig into the sand and mud whilst bricklayers reinforced the tunnel walks behind them.

Construction started in 1825 and progress was slow, about a foot per week. There were often leaks and noxious river water would poor through. Other hazards were methane which was inflammable and hydrogen sulphide which was poisonous.

In 1827 the roof was breached and Brunel’s son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, repaired it using a diving bell lowered from a boat. Afterwards they held a dinner party in the tunnel to celebrate!

It was finally completed in 1843 at a cost of £630,000. Instead of being a thoroughfare between the docks it was ornately decorated and accommodated London’s second shopping arcade!

The tunnel was fashionable to visit, charged an admission fee of one penny to over 2 million people each year.

In 1865 is was purchased by the East London railway and became it’s northern terminus.

It is now the deepest underground station on the Overground network.

In the 1860s a young engineer called James Greathead, inspired by Brunel’s shield, developed his own version and used this to build the second tunnel under the Thames from Tower Hill to Southwark (if you want to know more, come on my Tower Hill walk). Greathead’s shield was subsequently used to build the first tunnelled underground lines including the Waterloo & City and Northern Lines.

The Wapping Tunnel is part of my Docklands North Bank walk.

Freemasonry

…has suffered three centuries of fake news so please set aside your preconceptions.

There are about six million Freemasons worldwide with around 200,000 in the UK.

Freemasonry’s origins are unclear but they seem to have been modelled on – or at least inspired by – the Guilds and Livery companies.

They meet in groups called lodges. The first City lodges were formed in the early 1700s and met in pubs along Fleet Street and at the Goose and Gridiron which was just north of St Paul’s cathedral.

Meetings are presided over by an officer called the Master. The title is used in both male and female lodges. It is not gender specific but denotes somebody who has mastered their trade.

The Master is supported by two Wardens – the same as in the City livery companies.

The ritual and mysticism make reference to geometry, astronomy and, not surprisingly, architecture.

Were one to witness a ceremony then it might appear there is a Christian element as the officials include a Junior and Senior Deacon and there is mention of God.

This is actually what Freemasons call the “Great Architect Of the Universe”.

It is up to each individual mason to decide, privately and personally, how he or she interprets this.

Lodges have no class barriers – a labourer may sit down with a Lord. They are strictly non-political.

Ever since conception they have been places where people of any religion could meet – even in communities which were divided by different faiths.

To this day the discussion of politics and religion is forbidden on Masonic premises.

Members  follow several principles, these include:-

  • To be honest in business and personal dealings.
  • To support a fellow member or friend in time of need.
  • To obey the laws of the land – anybody who has committed a significant crime is not allowed to remain nor become a Mason.
  • To help the less fortunate members of society. As such Freemasons in the UK give around £135,000 each day to charity (£50 million per annum) and contribute over 18 million hours voluntary work each year.

Famous Freemasons include aviator Charles Lindberg, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, scientist Edward Jenner, jazz player Louis Armstrong, politician & author Winston Churchill and Joséphine de Beauharnais whom you will know better as Joséphine Bonaparte.

In the City: Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington; author Alexander Pope and architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Women’s Rights campaigners
Several prominent members of the Suffrage and similar movements were masons:-

Lady Agnes Grove (1863-1926). Outspoken suffrage supporter, using her skills as a writer and public speaker.
Annie Besant (1847-1933) . Women’s rights activist and Suffrage leader
Annie Cobden-Sanderson (1853-1926). Militant suffragette who was sent to prison; member of Women’s Freedom League.
Charlotte Despard (1844-1939). Anglo-Irish suffragist, socialist and pacifist, founder of the Women’s Freedom League, one of the main suffrage organisations.
Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920). Prominent suffragette, having taken part in demonstrations, been arrested and imprisoned
Muriel, Countess De La Warr (1872-1930). President of the Federated Council of Suffrage Societies, which tried to unify the many disparate suffrage groups and determine a united policy.

First female masons?

The first record of female masons is in 1740s France. In UK about 5,000 women are masons, most belong to around 300 lodges under the Order of Women Freemasons which was formed in 1908.

Was Christopher Wren a Mason?

This has been subject to debate for over 200 years. There is evidence to suggest that he had begun some connection with freemasonry in the 1690s but there is no firm proof that he was ever actually a mason.