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Robert Daglish

This article is part of ICE's Engineer biographies series.

DAGLISH, Robert (c. 1779-1865), mining engineer and ironfounder, was allegedly born on 21 December 1779, although there is conflict regarding census information and details of his death.

His brother John (?1781-1851) was born on 27 May 1781 in Gateshead, the son of Alexander Daglish, and Robert may be the son of Alexander and Jean Daglish, born in Glasgow on 12 December 1777.

Like his brother, he was probably trained as a coal viewer in the north-eastern coalfield and then in Leeds. He became an agent to Alexander Lindsay (1752-1825), Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, and from c. 1804 became his manager at the Haigh Foundry, Wigan, and Brook Mill Forge (James Lindsay and Company), building pumping, winding and blast engines for the local collieries, such as that at Arley, and establishing a reputation for the quality of his engineering.

Throughout his subsequent career he was heavily involved with coal mining. His work as manager at Orrell Colliery, the most important on the Lancashire coalfield, led to his involvement in early railways. He built a railway from Orrell to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in 1812 and the next year built and introduced into service a locomotive of the type evolved by John Blenkinsop (q.v.). This was so successful, saving £500 p.a. compared to the use of horses, that he built two more; they remained in service for more than thirty-six years.

Although the bulk of his activity was in mining and foundry work he maintained his interest in railways and was involved in the Bolton and Leigh Railway which obtained its Act in 1825. Although George Stephenson (q.v.) was nominally the engineer, Daglish prepared the original survey and was responsible for the line's construction. Because of the wishes of local landowners it undulated with the countryside, unlike most early lines which avoided any kind of gradient; as such it was heavily criticised by Stephenson.

Daglish's involvement with the Liverpool-Manchester scheme was small, but he rebuilt the Novelty engine in 1833 for the St. Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway on which his son Robert Jr. was working, erecting machinery for inclined planes. They subsequently operated this line from 1839 until 1848. He was consulted about the Newcastle-Carlisle Railway in 1832 and in 1834 he won a prize offered by the London-Birmingham Railway for the best form of pedestal (chair) for rails.

This may have led to his being consulted by various early North American railway companies: the Baltimore and Susquehanna; the Boston and Providence; the New York and Harlem; and Norwich and Worcester; as well as the Great North of England Railway.

Daglish's son, Robert Jr. (1809-1883), also became an engineer, a source of confusion during their active lifetime. After training with Hick (q.v.) and Rothwell, he joined the St. Helens Iron Foundry of Lee Watson and Company where Robert Sr. had an interest. Under his stewardship this foundry expanded greatly and supplied a variety of machinery for mills, mines, waterworks and glassworks, as well as for railways where early iron lattice truss bridges were supplied to the Liverpool-Bury Railway in 1846. He also became a general railway contractor.

Robert Daglish Sr. became a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1830. He died at his residence at Orrell, Lancashire on 28 December 1865 and is buried at All Saints, Wigan. He had a number of children by his marriage to Margaret Twizel apart from Robert Jr. The eldest surviving, George (1805-1870), became a surgeon but it is believed that his other sons, John (b. 1811), John (b. 1812) and Charles (b. 1814), died young.


  • 1812-1813- Orrell Railway, Engineer, 2 miles
  • 1825-1827. Bolton & Leigh Railway, 5 miles

Written by MIKE CHRIMES.

This text is an extract from A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, published by ICE in 2002. Beginning with what little is known of the lives of engineers such as John Trew who practised in the Tudor period, the background, training and achievements of engineers over the following 250 years are described by specialist authors, many of whom have spent a lifetime researching the history of civil engineering.

--The Institution of Civil Engineers