On 1 December, one of those strange coincidences found me listening to Pete Waterman promoting the National Railway Skills Academy at the National Railway Heritage Awards just after I had read Peter Alsop’s account of the early life of David Lennox (1788-1873).
The government agreed to support the Academy on 16 November.
Waterman has devoted great personal effort to inspire a renaissance of training in the rail industry, the kind of training culture that would have been taken for granted a generation ago.
Lennox’s career bears witness to the value of the transferable skills that training in the early days of civil engineering provided.
Lennox, born in Ayrshire in 1788, was trained as a stonemason, and for most of his early career worked on bridge projects associated with Thomas Telford, working under a number of contractors variously as a mason, stonecutter, and foreman mason.
These included Menai, and the Over Bridge, Gloucester with its distinctive cornes de vaches arches modelled on the work of Perronet, the great French bridge engineer. At Over Bridge under Cargill Lennox had a position of responsibility, however, at the age of nearly 40 disaster struck in his personal life – his wife Jane died leaving him with sole responsibility for his children.
Lennox moved to London, probably initially to work at St Katharine Docks, but the general consensus was there was little prospect of advancement for a man in his early 40s at a time when civil engineering had yet to feel the impact of the demand of railways for skilled workers.
Armed with references from Telford and Cargill, Lennox emigrated to New South Wales, Australia, where there was a dearth of skilled workers with his experience.
Within a short space of time he was appointed Superintendent of Bridges for New South Wales at a salary of £120 per annum.
For the remainder of his career, in New South Wales and then Victoria, he was responsible for creating an infrastructure that was the equal of that of his British mentors. Much of this survives to this day.
Most striking was the Lansdowne Bridge (see image), which copied Telford’s features from Gloucester.