Sir Thomas Bouch, Engineer

Born 1822 in the north of England
Died 1880

Thomas Bouch died shortly after the public inquest into the failure of the high girders of the Tay Bridge at his country retreat in Moffat, and is buried at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.

He was the engineer to the Edinburgh and Northern Railway during which time he designed the train ferry crossing between Granton and Burntisland.

Afterwards he became a consulting engineer. As an engineer he had a reputation for being able to build lines very cheaply. He went on to design many short distance lines for companies which could not afford heavy engineering.

History has been unkind to Thomas Bouch, not surprisingly; he was engineer and contractor for the ill-fated first Tay Bridge which opened in 1878 and for which Bouch was knighted after Queen Victoria had travelled over it.

The North British Railway company was keen to compete as part of the East Coast route with the Caledonian Railway and its West Coast partners for traffic between London and the south and Aberdeen. The North British Railway owned railways in the lowlands, fife and part ownership of the line between Dundee and Arbroath and was building a line between Arbroath and to the north of Montrose. William Deuchars, an employee of the North British Railway at Dundee, was reponsible for promoting the line and building up so much traffic that the company was having difficulty dealing with it. A train ferry operated over both the Tay and Forth estuaries (which Bouch had designed) which made the east coast route slow, liable to cancelations and even hazardous. The North British Railway determined to build bridges across the estuaries and the first of these was to be the bridge across the Tay.

The high girders of the bridge fell into the sea, with a passenger train which was passing over the bridge, on the night of the 28th of December 1879 during a storm. This storm caused much damage in Scotland including bringing down a tower of Kilchurn Castle at Loch Awe. The inquest found that Bouch had not included wind pressure calculations in his design of the bridge - in fact this was not practise at the time. There were other problems with the bridge most of which had arisen from cost-cutting (the North British Railway which paid for the bridge was over-stretching itself) such as poor smelting (this was done at Wormit) for the iron work and re-use of girder sections which had been dropped on the sea-bed during construction.

After his death his plan for a bridge across the Forth was shelved, many bridges in the north east on England gained buttresses (e.g. the bridges built on the deviations on the Stanhope and Tyne Railway) and his bridge across the Esk at the Montrose basin was demolished and replaced.

He was also responsible for many other lines and projects such as;

He invented;

Page created on 27/05/1998
Page last edited on 10/06/2002
Page editor : Ewan Crawford