James Green was born in 1781 in Birmingham. His father was a
civil engineer and contractor in Warwickshire and the adjoining
counties and it was from him that James received his early
experiences in the field of engineering.
Between 1800 and 1807 he was employed by John Rennie, one of the
greatest civil engineers of the time, as an assistant working on
extensive surveys, canal works, and drainage of bogs and fens
and the design of engineering works generally, both in England
and Ireland. At this time, the repair and replacement of
Dymchurch, Sussex, seawall came particularly under Greenís care
and the reconstruction of the sea lock of the Chelmer and
Blackwater Navigation was entirely entrusted to him by the
landowner the Earl of St Vincent.
It was from here that Green came to Devon, and in July 1806 he
became responsible to Rennie for the instruction of a local
surveyor, Charles Tozer, at Totnes. Rennie was at that time
reporting to the Duke of Somerset on ways of improving the
navigation of the River Dart below Totnes bridge. Rennie also
employed Green on a survey of the rock at Cattewater intended
for use for the construction of the breakwater at Plymouth,
which scheme commenced in 1812.
Meanwhile in a report to Lord Boringdon of Saltram in December
1805, Rennie had proposed an embankment from Pomphlett Point to
Saltram Quay. This had a favourable reception and Lord Boringdon
contracted with Green for the construction of the embankment 890
metres long to enclose 70 hectares. Two years later, following
the collapse of the newly rebuilt Fennny bridges near Honiton,
Green contracted for the design and construction of a
replacement bridge across the river Otter; it had three spans of
12.8, 14.6 and 12.8 metres in brickwork and was 6.1 metres wide
between the parapets. In 1808 the Plymouth Eastern Turnpike
Trustees allocated funds for the construction of a bridge over
the river Yealm, at Lee Mill, to be designed and supervised by
Also in 1808 a committee of magistrates had been reminded of a
letter of July 1800 from the Clerk of the Peace of Shropshire
giving information on the conditions of appointment of Thomas
Telford as their county Surveyor. The Devon magistrates decided
to dispense with their six surveyors and appoint one civil
engineer as their county bridge surveyor. Green was appointed at
a salary of £300 per annum and therefore became Devonís first
county bridge surveyor, a title which was quickly to become
county surveyor when he took responsibility for the county
buildings. As surveyor, he was contracted to inspect over two
hundred and thirty bridges every year, to report deficiencies to
Quarter Sessions and to obtain the magistratesí sanction to
carry out repairs for a particular sum of money. Such was the
on-going development in Devon that now, in the 21st century,
there are 3,500 bridge structures in the county. Green was
allowed to seek outside work and so put a series of
advertisements in the Exeter Flying Post informing the noblemen
and gentlemen of Devon and the adjoining counties that he had
taken up residence in Exeter and was soliciting their patronage.
By 1820 some thirty-six bridges had been built or widened to
take the rapidly expanded traffic of the day. Three span bridges
were Fenny, New at Tawstock, Cadhay over the Otter, New at
Kingsteignton, Emmets over the river Dart, Hele at Hatherleigh,
Head over the Mole, Cowley near Exeter, Steps at Dunsford,
Weston near Honiton and Brightly north of Okehampton. Standard
widths were agreed with the justices for the most important
turnpike roads 5.5 - 6.1 metres, for the lesser turnpike roads
4.6 - 5.5 metres, and for other roads 3.7 metres clear.
Green commenced work on a canal from Exeter to Crediton, but
this project was halted almost immediately. For Lord Rolle and
others he carried out land reclamation of Braunton marshes on
the estuary of the river Taw where, with John Pascoe as his
surveyor, an embankment 3,660 metres long enclosed 526 hectares
and was completed in 1814. At Budleigh Salterton in the estuary
of the river Otter, Lord Rolle commissioned Green to reclaim an
area 1,830 metres long by 300 metres wide, enclosing over 567
hectares. In October 1813 he joined Joseph Whidbey, John Rennie
and others in advising the Admiralty Solicitor that enclosing a
creek at Alverstock, near Gosport, would interfere with the
tidal flow near Portsmouth!
A most important architectural assignment had come to Green in
1810 when he transformed Buckland House, damaged by fire in
1798. His work there led the architectural historian Sir
Nikolous Pevsner to say that his work showed him to be an
accomplished innovative practitioner in the neo-classical style
which was at this time becoming popular in Devon. His
construction of St Davidís Church, only 100 yards from his home
Elmfield, was commenced in 1816 and although it was replaced in
1897, the appearance of the church was well-known in Exeter from
its distinctive octagonal tower with eight Doric pillars
surmounted by a rounded dome.
In 1819 Green reported to the trustees of three turnpike roads,
the Plymouth Eastern, the Ashburton and the Exeter, concerning
the road from Exeter to Plymouth. As always in those days the
problems were the need to reduce unnecessary ascents and
descents, increase the road widths and improve the surfaces. In
all, some 22.5 kilometres of road were realigned.
Early ideas for a canal from Bude to Launceston had surfaced in
the 1770s and Robert Fulton had already suggested that inclined
planes would be more suitable than locks for the 110 metres rise
from the sea to the river Tamar. Inclined planes generally
incorporated rails with trucks onto which the craft were loaded
for them to be raised, or lowered from one level to another. In
1817 the fourth Earl Stanhope commissioned Green to prepare a
plan of a possible line for a canal and Thomas Shearm was
appointed surveyor. Work began in 1819 and Green built 56
kilometres of canal with six inclined planes fed from a dam
across the upper reaches of the river Tamar; a reservoir was
included. Green invested £3,000 of his own money in the canal
but the shares produced no return in his lifetime.
During the decade from 1821, one important scheme followed
another. Some forty-six bridges were built or widened, including
the magnificent five-arched Beam aqueduct north of Torrington
and three-span bridges at Clyst Honiton, Gosford over the Otter,
Long at Cullompton, Otterton, Tinhay over the Wolf, and Newnham
over the Taw.
In 1823-24 Green combined with Underwood, the Somerset County
Surrveyor, to produce plans for a new House of Correction to
stand alongside the County Gaol at Exeter and Green became
responsible for the construction of the £12,700 building. At
this time his salary was £550 p.a. but he insisted that the
County also paid him the fee of £87 16s. to be tranferred to
Underwood. The magistrates eventually agreed but this matter
caused resentment that was to surface in 1831 and cause a
reduction in salary.
Green became heavily involved in canal work. The Bude canal was
completed in 1824, a fine example of the use of 6 ton narrow
boats and inclined planes. In 1824 he commenced the Torrington
canal for Lord Rolle, extending from downstream of Weare Gifford
to a point alongside the river south of the town and it was here
Rolle also employed him to build new grist mills and erect the
Meanwhile in 1820 the City of Exeter had asked him to advise
them on improvements to their canal and work proceeded on
rebuilding the entrance sluice, providing a uniform depth of 3
metres lowering the cill of the Double Locks and constructing a
culvert under the canal to drain land fed by the Alphin brook
that had been cut off by the canal near Double Locks when the
canal was first built in 1566. In 1824 he proposed that the
canal should be extended 3.2 kilometres from opposite Retreat
House to Turf, where vessels drawing 3.7 metres could navigate
the estuary at all tides. The canal was further deepened but at
Exeter there was solid sandstone below the river quays. Green
therefore proposed the construction of a basin, independent of
the river. Telford was consulted, and work proceeded on this
project, the canal being opened to Turf in 1827 and the new
basin completed three years later. Green was voted the Freedom
of the City of Exeter in October 1830, his recognition was
significant and unusual in view of the fact that he followed the
beliefs of the Quaker church.
The idea of linking the Bristol and English channels had been
alive since 1768 and in 1821 Green was asked to make a survey.
He proposed a tub-boat canal to run from the existing canal near
Taunton to Beer, and in 1824 Telford was also engaged to make a
survey for a ship canal with Green signing the plans. Although
an Act was obtained no more was heard of this scheme.
During 1823-24, in conjunction with Joseph Whidbey of the
Admiralty, Green surveyed and reported on harbours of St Ives
and Ilfracombe, and in 1827 he surveyed the bay for a harbour at
Coombe Martin. Also in 1823 he proposed improvements for
Bridport harbour but instead a scheme prepared by Francis Giles
was carried out in 1824.
In 1829 a scheme prepared by Green for a dock at Cardiff was
adopted by Lord Bute and submitted to Parliament, but on the
advice of Willliam Cubitt it was altered and West Bute Dock was
subsequently opened in 1839.
Now having firm links with the Exeter Turnpike Trust, Green was
invited to make a survey of the road between Exeter and
Crockernwell, the Trustís limit on the way to Okehampton. He
produced a new route from Pocombe bridge to Tedburn St Mary
using the valley of the Alphin brook and it was opened in 1824.
For the Countess Wear Committee of the Trust he rebuilt the
swing bridge over the canal the following year.
In conjunction with a proposal to build Laira bridge, the
Plymouth Eastern Turnpike turned to Green to improve the roads
from the eastern bank towards Totnes. He produced a plan for a
direct road to Yealmpton, some improvements to Ermington and
then a new road up the Ludbrook valley, bypassing Ugbrook to
Ladydown; this required new bridges over the river Yeo, the
Ermer and the Lud. In 1825 a three-mile diversion was made just
north of Sandwell to run directly to Totnes and again he was
asked to supervise the building of a new bridge over the river
Harbourne. In 1827 he was responsible for a new road to Yarcombe
for the Chard Turnpike Trust.
In 1824 Green had built Eggesford bridge over the river Taw.
This route saved over 300 metres of unnecessary ascents and
descents and provided Green with the opportunity to build four
more bridges with a view to them being taken over by the county.
As a result of a complaint that too much was being expended on
the maintenance of the prisons, it was proposed in 1830 that
Greenís salary should revert to £300 per annum and a letter from
Rendel was produced offering to perform all Greenís duties for
£300. Green accepted the reduction in salary but was forced to
look outside the county for as much consulting work as he could
command. Besides building another twenty-seven bridges in the
next decade he turned his attention once more to canals and
other proposals. For the Barnstaple Bridge Trust in 1834 he
widened the existing 16-span bridge by cantilevering delicate
and attractive footways 1.2 metres wide on each side using
ironwork from the Neath Abbey Iron Company. In 1832 he proposed
water supply, sewerage and railway schemes for Torquay.
Rennie had built over 17 kilometres of canal from Tiverton to
the Devon-Somerset border to convey limestone from the
Canonsleigh quarries, and this had been opened in August 1814.
The Grand Western Canal proprietors wished to extend their canal
to Taunton to join the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. The
distance was only 21 kilometres but the difference in level was
80 metres Green had presented a report to the company in 1829,
advocating boats of 6.1 metres by 1.8 metres carrying 5 tonnes,
six of these to be drawn by one horse. In a further report in
1830 he suggested one inclined plane and seven perpendicular
lifts, with boats of 8 tonnes, at an estimated cost of £61,324.
Work commenced in June 1831, but operating difficulties were
experienced with both the lifts and the inclined plane and
within five years Green had ceased to be engineer. Work was
completed in 1838 at a cost of £80,000.
In 1831 a canal for Chard was proposed and Green was consulted.
He proposed the use of two lifts, two inclined planes and two
tunnels, all at a cost of £57,000. Work got under way in June
1835 but soon Green ceased to be engineer, no doubt because of
troubles with the Grand Western Canal; the Chard Canal was
completed by May 1842.
The silting of the Gwendreath estuary in South Wales in the
early nineteenth century had caused Kidwelly to lose its
facilities as a port for the coal of the valley. The Kidwelly
and Llanelly Canal and Tramway Company had obtained powers by an
Act of 1812 to extend the canal up the valley to beyond Cwm Mawr
about 76 metres above sea level and in 1832 the company called
in Green to report on extending the canal beyond the point
reached in 1824. In 1833 he recommended two locks and then three
inclined planes at an estimated cost of £35,845. By 1834 work
was well advanced but the following year Green informed the
directors that he was unable to finish his inclined planes. He
was dismissed in 1836, in the same year being dismissed as
engineer to Burry Port as the result of the collapse of a dock
In 1830-31 Greenís home was recorded at 38 Southernhay Place
while in 1833, 1834 and 1836 it was in Magdalen Street.
Following the above problems a notice of bankruptcy appeared in
the Exeter Flying Post in March 1837 following an entry in the
London Gazette. By 1838 Green had moved out of Exeter to
Alphington, no doubt to economise. The sums involved in his
failed contracts were probably so large that he had no
opportunity to recover them from his income during the closing
twelve years of his life. This would have affected his status in
the Religious Society of Friends, who might have disowned him
because of his bankruptcy.
A contract for a dock in Newport, Gwent, had been let in 1835,
but within two years the contractors were in trouble and some
time around 1840 Green was appointed to take over from the
previous resident engineer to complete the works. He took up
residence there but in the same year the Devon justices were
told that Green could not continue his work in Devon
satisfactorily without deputising the minor matters to his son.
Some magistrates complained that they were having to do the work
of the surveyor and Green was given twelve months notice from
the Midsummer 1840 Sessions.
So Green left the countyís employment and in 1841 was listed as
living in Heavitree with his son as ĎGreen James and Son, Civil
Engineers and Land Surveyors, Portview Cottage, Heavitreeí.
Green brought the work at Newport Dock to a successful
conclusion in 1843. He then settled in London but because of the
active competition of younger men, he was not so extensively
employed as he might have been.
In 1844, because of his knowledge of the estuary of the river
Exe, Green was consulted on the building of the South Devon
Railway. Exeter City opposed the Bill to safeguard its
navigation rights in the estuary and Green made a report in the
same year. The essence of his evidence was that the embankment
alongside the estuary would enclose 41 hectares which would make
a significant difference to the movement, and hence the scour,
of the water in the estuary as it crossed the bar.
The floating harbour of Bristol was made feasible by
constructing locks on the river downstream of the docks and
diverting the river Avon along a new channel to the tideway
below the locks. No thought was given to intercepting and
carrying off the sewage of the city away from the harbour.
Further sewage was brought in by the tributary river Froome,
which passed through a populous part of the city. In 1846 Green
was instructed by the Council to advise on the measures for
abating the nuisance. He recommended straightening the river
Froome, making it of uniform width to give greater scour of the
bed and intercept the sewers that discharged into it. The
Council considered that it could not proceed because it did not
have the legal powers but further instructed Green to advise on
action to be taken between Stone Bridge and Castle Moat. The
report was made in March 1846 and during the summer works were
carried out at a cost of £4,537 to clear this area of
accumulated sludge. Green presented a paper on these reports and
works carried out to the Institution of Civil Engineers in
February 1848. He had been proposed as a corresponding member by
Telford in 1824.
In May 1805, Green had married Elizabeth Dand at St Martinís,
Birmingham. A son, Thomas, died aged three in 1815, but another
son, Joseph, was born in 1817. James Green died from a heart
attack on 13 February 1849 at 67, Manchester Buildings,
Westminster, and was buried on 28 February at Bunhill Fields as
a non-member of the Religious Society of Friends, though his
connection was enough for a Quaker burial. His death was noted
in the Bristol Mirror which added that his son Joseph was
resident engineer at Bristol Docks.
The scope of the projects with which he was concerned was
incredible and few civil engineers matched his expertise in such
a variety of fields.
A B George