Scottish civil engineer. He opened up northern Scotland by building roads and waterways. He constructed many aqueducts and canals, including the Caledonian Canal (1802-23), and erected the Menai road suspension bridge between Wales and Anglesey (1819-26), a type of structure scarcely tried previously in the UK. In Scotland he constructed over 1,600 km/1,000 mi of road and 1,200 bridges, churches, and harbours.
In 1786 Telford was appointed official surveyor to the county of Shropshire. There he built three bridges over the River Severn, among other structures. He also rebuilt many Roman roads to meet the need for faster travel, copying, to some extent, Roman road design a foundation of large tapered stones, covered with a thick layer of broken stones and a surface of gravel. Telford built roads in Scotland, and also the London Holyhead road (1815-1830). His roads were expensive, but extremely hard wearing.
As engineer to the Ellesmere Canal Company from 1793, Telford was responsible for the building of aqueducts over the Ceirog and Dee valleys in Wales, using a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast iron plates and fixed in masonry. He also built the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, and the Gotha Canal in Sweden.
In 1963 the new town of Telford, Shropshire, 32 km/20 mi northwest of Birmingham, was named after him.
Telford was born in Westerkirk, Dumfries, and began as a stonemason. Moving to London, he found employment building additions to Somerset House in the Strand under the supervision of architect William Chambers. Recognizing his talents, the rich and famous were soon consulting him about their own buildings.