Benjamin Piercy
born  16th March 1827, near Trefeglwys, Montgomeryshire, Wales, UK
died  24th March 1888, 15 Portman Square, London, UK
buried  29th March 1888, Kensal Green cemetery, London, UK
era  Georgian and Victorian
A biographical summary
According to Eminent Welshmen (published 1908), Welsh railway champion Benjamin Piercy was the engineer "... from whose surveys and plans nearly every mile of railway in Montgomeryshire and Mid-Wales was made".
He gained a reputation as an expert witness for railway proposals in parliamentary committees, and worked on a great many Welsh and border lines, including some constituents of the Cambrian Railways group. His railway viaducts over the estuaries of the rivers Severn, Mawddach and Traeth Bychan, and the Talerddig Cutting — once the deepest in the world — are testaments to his skill. He also engineered groundbreaking projects in Sardinia, France, India and Myanmar, and was decorated by the King of Italy.
Piercy started his career working as a land surveyor in his father's office. From 1847, he assisted Charles Mickleburgh with surveying and road construction. He studied railway engineering in spare moments, and helped Henry Robertson (1816-88) with parliamentary surveys for extensions to the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway, as well as development of two early routes for the Oswestry & Newtown Railway.
In 1856-58, he worked with David Davies (1818-90) and Thomas Savin (1826-89) on construction of the Vale of Clwyd Railway. He joined them again on the Oswestry & Newtown Railway, and worked with Davies on the Newtown & Machynlleth Railway and with Savin on the Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway. He also started an enduring engineering partnership with his elder brother Robert Piercy (1825-94).
In 1862, he began what would become a long association with the Italian island of Sardinia. He and Davies re-surveyed Royal Sardinian Railway Company's proposed rail routes, and considerably reduced the tunnelling and earthworks originally suggested by the Baratelli Company. Piercy negotiated concessions for the construction of the first railways on Sardinia, though work was suspended 1865-69 by war between Italy and Austria. Nevertheless, by 1872 he had completed 197km of standard gauge track, and a further 194km by 1881. He also designed railways in Assam in India, and across the Indian-Myanmar frontier.
Piercy's later life was spent on civil engineering works in Wales, developing rail links to Liverpool. He held shares in many of the railways he had engineered. A practical, modest and well-liked man, he brought his schemes to fruition with thorough forward planning and diligence. In private he was both intellectual and sporty, a fine player of chess and cricket. He was also generous — bequeathing money to hospitals, railway benevolent institutions, and Wesleyan and Methodist chapels.
1827 Born 16th March near Trefeglwys, Montgomeryshire, to parents Robert Piercy (1773-1855, surveyor, road contractor and land valuer from Chirk) and Arabella Williams (c.1794-1863), with siblings Henry (bapt.1818), Pamelia (bapt.1819), Mary (bapt.1820), Margaret (bapt.1823), Robert (1825-94), Arabella (b.1831), Jane Elizabeth (b.1834) and Samuel (born c.1838)
pre 1847 Works in his father's office
1847 Chief assistant to surveyor and land agent Charles Mickleburgh of Montgomery, Powys, Wales
1851 Assists Henry Robertson (1816-1888) on Shrewsbury & Chester Railway (opened 1846) and Oswestry & Newtown Railway (built 1855-60), lodges in Arthur Street, Montgomery
1852 Starts working independently as a civil engineer
1852-3 Prepares drawings for Shrewsbury & Welshpool Railway, credited with getting it approved by parliament (Act passed 1856, construction 1859-62), living in Welshpool
1855 Marries (19th September) Sarah Davies (c.1833-1912), daughter of farmer Thomas Davies of Montgomery, nine children — Robert Charles (1856-1945), Arabella Margaret (1858-1949), Florence Ada (1860-1958), Lilian Edith (1862-1915), Eva Gertrude (b.1865), Henry Charles William Egerton (1866-1929), Ethel Mary (1867-1952), Benjamin Herbert (1870-1941), Helena Louise (1874-1943)
1856-8 Works with Welsh railway contractors David Davies (1818-90) and Thomas Savin (1826-89) on Vale of Clwyd Railway and Oswestry & Newtown Railway, resident engineer with elder brother Robert under Joseph Cubitt (1811-72) on the latter
1857 Appointed engineer to Llanidloes & Newtown Railway after the death of its original engineer Rice Hopkins (1807-57)
1862-6 Chief engineer, Napoléon-Vendée Railway (257km, Tours to Sables d'Olonne), France
1862-81 Working on the first railways in Sardinia, Italy — re-surveys routes with David Davies, supervisory visit (1865), later chief engineer
1866 Scheme for rebuilding Rome's Aqua Marcia aqueduct and canalising the River Tiber
1870-81 In residence in Sardinia as chief engineer to Royal Sardinian Railway Company, assisted by brother Robert, also designs harbour works, created Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy
1879-83 Builds Villa Piercy on his 3,700 hectare Sardinian estate near the highest point of the railway network
1879-85 Working with brother Robert and apprentice Ricciotti Garibaldi on 145km railway through tea plantations to the coalmines for Assam Railways & Trading Company, India (he was a shareholder), also works on extending Assam Railway into Burma (Myanmar)
1883 Stands as a parliamentary Liberal candidate for by-election (22nd June) in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, but withdraws to avoid splitting the Liberal vote
1888 Contracts pneumonia at a City of London Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers dinner, dies (24th March) of pneumonia and cardiac failure after a brief illness, wealth at death recorded as £324,574
Selected works
Shrewsbury & Welshpool Railway, Shropshire to Montgomeryshire, UK .... 1852-1853
Vale of Clwyd Railway, Denbighshire, UK .... 1856-1858
Oswestry & Newton Railway (Cambrian Railways), mid Wales, UK .... 1856-1858
Llanidloes & Newtown Railway (Cambrian Railways), mid Wales, UK .... 1857
Denbigh, Ruthin & Corwen Railway, Denbighshire, UK .... 1859-1860, 1862-1864
Newtown & Machynlleth Railway (Cambrian Railways), Powys, UK .... 1859-1861
Talerddig Cutting, Powys, UK .... 1859-1861
Hereford, Hay & Brecon Railway, Herefordshire to Powys, UK .... 1859-1864
Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway, Wales, UK .... 1861-1864
Bishops Castle Railway, Shropshire to Powys, UK .... 1861-1866
Cambrian Coast Railways, west Wales, UK .... 1861-1867
Bristol & North Somerset Railway, Somerset, UK .... 1862-1865
Napoléon-Vendée Railway, France .... 1862-1866
Wrexham, Mold & Connah's Quay Railway, Wrexham and Flintshire, UK .... 1862-1867
Connah's Quay Dock, River Dee, Flintshire, UK .... 1862-1867
Kington & Eardisley Railway, Powys to Herefordshire, UK .... 1862-1867
Royal Sardinian Railways, Sardinia, Italy .... 1862-1881
Hoylake Railway, Birkenhead to Hoylake, Wirral, UK .... 1863-1866
Barmouth Viaduct Barmouth, Gwynedd, UK .... 1864-1867
Buckley Railway, Flintshire, UK .... 1865-1866
Pont Briwet River Dwyryd, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd, UK .... 1865-1867
Caernarvonshire Railway, Caernarfon to Menai Bridge, Wales, UK .... 1866-1867
Chester & West Cheshire Junction Railway, Cheshire, UK .... 1865-1874
Assam Coal & Trading Company Railway, Assam, India .... 1879-1885
All items by Benjamin Piercy
Everything built ... 1827 - 1888
Sources
Peter Cross-Rudkin and Mike Chrimes eds, Piercy, Benjamin (1827-1888), A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, 2008, Volume 2: 1830-1890, Thomas Telford Publishing Limited, Institution of Civil Engineers, London, pp.623624
Stephen Hughes, Piercy, Benjamin (1827-1888), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2011, online edn, Sept 2011
Obituary: Benjamin Piercy, 1827-1888, Minutes of ICE Proceedings, Vol.96, pp.333-339, London, January 1889
Further reading
H. V. Bowen ed., Buildings and Places in Welsh History: A New History of Wales, chapter on Talerddig, Gomer Press, 2013
Gwyn Briwnant-Jones, Railway Through Talerddig, Gomer Press, 1990
Peter Johnson, The Cambrian Railways: A New History, Oxford Publishing Company, Hersham, Surrey, 2013
Evan David Jones FSA, Piercy, Benjamin (1827-1888), Welsh Biography Online, National Library of Wales, 2007
T.R. Roberts, Eminent Welshmen, The Educational Publishing Company Ltd, Cardiff & Merthyr Tydfil, 1908
Richard Williams, Montgomeryshire Worthies, Phillips & Son, Newton, 1894
Obituary, The Engineer, p.283, 6th April 1888
The Piercy Collection (plans for railways in northeast Wales), The National Library of Wales
Portrait public domain

home  •  news  •  search  •  FAQs  •  references  •  about  •  sponsors + links
engineer
Biography
Benjamin Piercy
This biography was funded by
the ICE R&D Panel
Institution of Civil Engineers
| |
sign up for our newsletter
© 2017 Engineering Timelines
engineering-timelines@severalworld.co.uk
Cricket ground, Marchwiel Hall
In 1881, Piercy bought the now-Grade II listed Marchwiel Hall and its estate in the Welsh county of Denbighshire, where he was a Justice of the Peace. A keen cricketer, he laid a cricket ground here in 1883 (pictured). It is recognized as one of the best in Wales and is now used by Marchwiel & Wrexham Cricket Club. After the Piercy family, the estate was owned by civil engineer, Sir Alfred David McAlpine (1881-1944), founder of the eponymous construction firm and chairman of Denbighshire Cricket Club.
Photo: by Geoff Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Villa Piercy, Sardinia
Villa Piercy on Piercy's 3,700 hectare estate at Badde Salighes, near Bolotana, Sardinia, Italy — near the highest point of the Sardinian Railway network. The family used the estate from the 1880s onwards and a number of Piercy's descendents married into the Italian nobility. Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82) was among Piercy's guests here, and his son Ricciotti Garibaldi (1847-1924) was Piercy's godson. The villa was restored in 2005-07.
Photo: by Gianf84 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
engineering timelines
explore ... how?   explore ... why?   explore ... where?   explore ... who?  
home  •  NEWS  •  search  •  FAQs  •  references  •  about  •  sponsors + links
Buttington Station, Shrewsbury & Welshpool Railway
In 1852, Piercy prepared drawings for the proposed Shrewsbury & Welshpool Railway. He succeeded against strong opposition in getting the bill for the railway through Parliament, establishing himself as a parliamentary committee witness and precipitating his involvement in a great number of Welsh rail proposals. The picture shows the railway peeling right, splitting from the main Oswestry to Welshpool line at Buttington Station (closed 1960). The photo dates from 1963.
Photo: by Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Talerddig Cutting
Talerddig Cutting, constructed in 1859-61, lies at the summit of the Newtown & Machynlleth Railway in Powys, Wales — engineered by Piercy and his elder brother Robert. The cutting is reached by gradients as steep as 1 in 52. It is 366m long with the rail track some 37m below ground level, making it the world's deepest railway cutting when completed. It remains one of the deepest cuttings on British railways.
Photo: by John Lucas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Barmouth Viaduct
Grade II* listed Barmouth Viaduct, built 1864-67, crosses the estuary of the River Mawddach carrying the Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway. It was constructed under the supervision of first Piercy, then Henry Conybeare (1823-84), George Owen (c.1827-1901) and Alfred Jones Collin as chief engineers. At 699m long, it is one of the longest timber viaducts in Britain. Its opening span, originally a sliding drawbridge, last opened in the 1980s.
Rendering: © Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales | © Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru
Pont Briwet
Piercy's Grade II listed Pont Briwet or Penrhyndeudraeth Bridge, constructed 1865-67 and shown here in 2008, was a timber rail and road bridge across the River Dwyryd in Gwynedd, Wales. It had 22 spans in timber and carried the Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway. However, it has recently been replaced by a wider prestressed concrete bridge.
Photo: by Anonymous and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence