Armed with letters of introduction from friends back in
Langholm, he was introduced to two of the greatest architects
of the day – Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers.
Telford was set to work on the new Somerset House,
squaring and levelling the great blocks of the rusticated
Portland stone. It was during this time that he qualified as
a Master Mason – in the operative sense.
Through his contacts he became acquainted with William
Pulteney, who through marriage had succeeded to great
estates in Somerset, Shropshire and Northamptonshire.
They became firm friends and many commissions resulted
from this friendship, such as alterations at the vicarage of
Sudborough in Northamptonshire, followed by building
at Portsmouth dockyard.
By 1786 Pultney had become MP for Shrewsbury, so
Telford found himself ordered to the town to superintend
a thorough renovation of the castle, where living quarters
were found for him. Within six months, and probably due to
the influence of the local MP, he was appointed the Surveyor
of Public Works for the County of Shropshire. Soon after
his appointment he was to supervise the construction of the
county gaol and the alterations to the old Salop Infirmary.
The prison is still in use at the Dana, and the front entrance
particularly has been little altered from Telford’s original
design. The bust of John Howard, the prison reformer, who
was instrumental in getting Telford the commission, is in
prominent position directly above the main entrance. Telford
also designed and supervised the building of the Laura Tower
at Shrewsbury Castle and the excavation of the Roman City of
Uricronium near Wroxeter was another of his undertakings.
It was around this time that he was consulted by the
churchwardens of St. Chad’s Church about the repairs to
the church roof. After an inspection of the premises he told
them that it was pointless thinking of repairing the roof until
emergency measures were taken to secure the walls due to
He was scoffed at and dismissed out of hand, the
churchwardens making pointed remarks about professional
men making jobs for themselves and saying that the cracks
he had pointed out had been there for hundreds of years.
He walked out of the meeting and his parting shot was if
they were going to continue their deliberations much longer
it would be safer to do so outside just in case the church fell
down around them.
His words were prophetic, because just three days later
in the early morning as the clock began to strike four, the
entire tower collapsed with a tremendous roar and crashed
through the roof of the nave, completely demolishing the
northern arcade. This did Telford’s credibility in the town
no harm at all! Although not involved in the restoration
of St. Chad’s, he did later go on to design and build a church
elsewhere in the county – St. Mary’s in the High Town
An engineering print of the Menai Bridge
Web site created by Mark Griffin