From the archive: William Henry Barlow

The Network Rail archive is the custodian of a vast collection of historic documents and plans relating to today’s railway infrastructure.

It represents the development of the most significant structures, engineers and innovation on the railway from the 19th century to the present.

Each month we will delve into the archive to shine a light on the development of our network through the ages.

May: William Henry Barlow

One of Britain's most important railway engineers was born on this day (May 10) in 1812. William Henry Barlow was a civil engineer known for his large-scale engineering projects in the late nineteenth century.

He was responsible for the magnificent train shed roof at St Pancras station, the largest in the world when constructed.

In the wake of disaster, he designed the new Tay Bridge, setting new standards for civil engineering.

His investigations into steel and the engineering of girders led to the design of the Forth Bridge, one of the most impressive railway structures in the world.

William Henry Barlow

Barlow’s profile rose considerably following the retirement of ‘father of the railways’ George Stephenson – in 1857, Barlow became consulting engineer at the Midland Railway.

Barlow's Tay Bridge

His major commission from the Midland Railway came with the company’s extension from Bedford into London. Starting in 1862, the extension gave them independent access to London for the first time.

Barlow was responsible for the arrangement of St Pancras station, the company’s own terminus on Euston Road. This included the station’s magnificent train shed roof; at 240ft, it was at the time of construction the largest in the world.

Barlow's Tay Bridge

In wake of disaster

After the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879, Barlow joined the committee investigating the causes of the accident.

The North British Railway, keen to rebuild the bridge across the Tay, invited him to recommend the next and best course of action.

His recommendation was to build a new double line bridge, completely independent of the old.

Designed by WH Barlow & Son and constructed by William Arrol of Glasgow, work on the new Tay Bridge started in 1882, and opened for traffic in June 1887.

Barlow's Tay Bridge

After the collapse of the first Tay Bridge, work on a bridge across the Forth stopped immediately. Barlow, as consultant engineer to the Midland Railway, was asked along with Sir John Fowler and T E Harrison to report on the construction of a new bridge across the Forth.

Multiple designs were put forward, including one for a continuous girder bridge by Benjamin Baker, based on a patent design obtained in 1859 by Barlow.

Benjamin Baker’s design was accepted and Barlow improved the stability of the bridge by modifying the vertical columns to all the piers in the cantilever design.

Barlow, along with Fowler and Harrison were asked to obtain permission to construct the bridge by the newly formed Forth Bridge Railway, a consortium of the Midland, North British, Great Northern and North Eastern railway companies.

Once permission to build the bridge was granted, construction was handed to Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker.