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James Green (1781-1849)

First County Surveyor of Devon.
The plaque is fixed on the right of the entrance to the Imperial Hotel, St David's Hill, Exeter. The building was originally Green's home when it was known as Elmfield House. The plaque was unveiled by Edward Chorlton, Devon County Council's Environment Director on Monday, 3 December 2001. OS ref: SX912933

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 Green.

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 machinery.

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 wall.

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