John Birkinshaw

John Birkinshaw

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John Birkinshaw was a 19th Century railway engineer from Bedlington
Bedlington
Bedlington is a town in Northumberland, to the north of the Tyne and Wear urban area. It lies north of Newcastle and southeast of the county town of Morpeth. Other nearby places include Ashington to the north northeast, Blyth to the east and Cramlington to the south.The parish of Bedlington...

, Northumberland
Northumberland
Northumberland is the northernmost ceremonial county and a unitary district in North East England. For Eurostat purposes Northumberland is a NUTS 3 region and is one of three boroughs or unitary districts that comprise the "Northumberland and Tyne and Wear" NUTS 2 region...

 noted for his invention of wrought iron
Wrought iron
thumb|The [[Eiffel tower]] is constructed from [[puddle iron]], a form of wrought ironWrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon...

 rails in 1820. Up to this point, rail systems had used either wooden rails, which were totally incapable of supporting steam engines, or cast iron rails typically only 3 feet in length. These cast iron rails, developed by William Jessop
William Jessop
William Jessop was an English civil engineer, best known for his work on canals, harbours and early railways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.-Early life:...

 and others, only allowed very low speeds and broke easily and although steam locomotives had been tested as early as 1804 by Richard Trevithick
Richard Trevithick
Richard Trevithick was a British inventor and mining engineer from Cornwall. His most significant success was the high pressure steam engine and he also built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive...

, these experiments had not been economically successful as the rails frequently broke.

"John Birkinshaw's 1820 patent for rolling wrought-iron rails in 15ft lengths was a vital breakthrough for the infant railway system. Wrought iron was able to withstand the moving load of a locomotive and train unlike cast iron, used for rails until then, which was brittle and fractured all too easily."

Birkinshaw's wrought iron rails were taken up by George Stephenson
George Stephenson
George Stephenson was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public railway line in the world to use steam locomotives...

 in 1821 for the proposed Stockton and Darlington Railway
Stockton and Darlington Railway
The Stockton and Darlington Railway , which opened in 1825, was the world's first publicly subscribed passenger railway. It was 26 miles long, and was built in north-eastern England between Witton Park and Stockton-on-Tees via Darlington, and connected to several collieries near Shildon...

, despite the fact that Stephenson already held the rights to the best cast iron product and it was this railway that effectively launched the rail era.

Career

  • In 1821, whilst an engineer at Bedlington Ironworks
    Bedlington Ironworks
    Bedlington Ironworks, in Blyth Dene, Northumberland, England, operated between 1736 and 1867. It is most remembered as the place where wrought iron rails were invented by John Birkinshaw in 1820, which triggered the railway age, with their first major use being in the Stockton and Darlington...

    , Birkinshaw developed a new method of rolling wrought iron rails in fifteen feet lengths.
  • Assistant engineer with Robert Stephenson
    Robert Stephenson
    Robert Stephenson FRS was an English civil engineer. He was the only son of George Stephenson, the famed locomotive builder and railway engineer; many of the achievements popularly credited to his father were actually the joint efforts of father and son.-Early life :He was born on the 16th of...

     on the London & Birmingham Railway (L&BR)
    London and Birmingham Railway
    The London and Birmingham Railway was an early railway company in the United Kingdom from 1833 to 1846, when it became part of the London and North Western Railway ....

    .
  • Assistant engineer with Robert Stephenson
    Robert Stephenson
    Robert Stephenson FRS was an English civil engineer. He was the only son of George Stephenson, the famed locomotive builder and railway engineer; many of the achievements popularly credited to his father were actually the joint efforts of father and son.-Early life :He was born on the 16th of...

     on the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway
    Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway
    The Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway was a British railway company. From Birmingham it connected at Derby with the North Midland Railway and the Midland Counties Railway at what became known as the Tri Junct Station...

    .
  • Consulting Engineer for the Malton & Driffield Railway (MDR).

See also

  • Permanent way (history)
  • Rail transport
    Rail transport
    Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on...