Thomas Dadford
born  c.1760, (thought to be born in) Wolverhampton, West Midlands, UK
died  2nd April 1801, Crickhowell, Brecknock, Powys, Wales, UK
buried  6th April, St Teilo, Llanarth, Monmouthshire, Wales, UK
era  Georgian
A biographical summary
Thomas Dadford (junior) came from a family of pioneering canal builders whose work played a vital role in the industrial development of Wales. He has been praised for his contribution to civil engineering in general and for his technical proficiency.
Dadford's father and younger brothers James and John were also engineers. However, little is known of Thomas' early life, although evidently he did receive schooling. His three brothers attended Sedgley Park School (Catholic, founded 1763) in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, where they boarded — Thomas does not appear on the list of pupils.
The young engineer was trained by his canal-building father, Thomas Dadford senior (1730-1809), and at the age of 16 he began to assist him in the construction of Stourbridge Canal in the West Midlands. However, in 1777 its committee decided that Thomas junior's services be "discontinued". In 1782, he helped his father with a survey of the River Trent with the aim of making improvements to its navigability.
In 1789, Thomas junior surveyed the course for the Leominster Canal in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and was appointed its engineer two years later. Also in 1789, he began work alongside his father and Thomas Sheasby senior (c.1740-99) on the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire.
The 1790s was an exhausting but productive decade for Dadford. He was working concurrently on a series of canals, though perhaps not able to give all of them his full attention. His engineering skills were in demand on the Glamorganshire Canal, the Neath Canal, the Monmouthshire Canal, the eastern branch of the Montgomeryshire Canal, the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, the Ellesmere Canal and the Brecon, Hay & Whitney Canal, among others.
Among his best-known works are the flight of Fourteen Locks (1798) between Rogerstone and Newport on the Monmouthshire Canal and the four-arch Brynich Aqueduct (1799-1800) carrying the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal over the River Usk.
He was undoubtedly an excellent canal engineer but tunnelling seems not to have been his forte. In 1795, he was criticised by John Rennie (1761-1821) after Southnet Tunnel on the Leominster Canal partially collapsed. He may also have been partly liable for the construction cave-in on the Ashford Tunnel on the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal — Benjamin Outram's (1764-1805) advice was sought in 1799.
Though his works are well documented, Dadford's character remains elusive. He followed the Catholic faith and probably spoke with a Black Country accent. His actions could be impetuous at times.
He was only 40 years old when he died in 1801, while still engineer to the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal. There was no will and his "goods, chattels and credits", totalling £2,000, were granted to his widow Ann Dadford after administration. He was buried in Wales, where his main works are concentrated.
c1760 Born, probably in Wolverhampton, eldest child of Thomas Dadford snr (1730-1809) and Frances Brown (1737-1809), four siblings: James (1768-1804), John (1769-1809, emigrated to USA in 1796), Mary (1770-1848) and William (born 1774-7, also believed to have moved to USA)
1776 Assists his father on Stourbridge Canal
1782 Assists his father with a survey of the River Trent for Trent & Mersey Canal Co, they recommend locks, side cuts, dredging and a towpath
1789-91 Assisting his father and Thomas Sheasby snr (c.1740-99) as contractors on Cromford Canal
1789 Surveys the route for the proposed Leominster Canal
1790-92 Engineer to Neath Canal, working with his father and brother John
1790-94 Engineer and contractor for Glamorganshire Canal, working with his father and Sheasby, estimate £48,288
1791 Appointed general surveyor for Glamorganshire Canal and later engineer over Jonathan Gee as engineer-contractor
1791-96 Engineer to Leominster Canal, value £93,000
1792 Resigns from his position at Neath Canal and Sheasby takes over
1792-98 Engineer to Monmouthshire Canal, including Fourteen Locks at Cefn, contracted to give three quarters of his time to Monmouthshire Canal and the remainder to the Leominster Canal
1794-97 Working as assistant to his brother John, who was engineer to Montgomeryshire Canal, including Vyrnwy and Berriew aqueducts
1796-1801 Engineer to Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, including Brynich Aqueduct, paid £100 per quarter from 1797 until his death
1797 Marries 15th August, Ann Parker (1765-1837), daughter of James and Ann Parker of Bluntington Green, Worcestershire, with sister Mary as witness, the couple have no known children
1801 Dies 2nd April, aged 40, at Crickhowell, buried at St Teilo church in Llanarth, Monmouthshire
Selected works
River Trent survey, Midlands and NW England, UK .... 1782
Leominster canal survey, Hereford & Worcester, UK .... 1789
Cromford Canal, Derbyshire, UK .... 1789-91
Neath Canal, Neath Port Talbot, Wales, UK .... 1790-92
Glamorganshire Canal, Glamorganshire, UK .... 1790-94
Leominster Canal, Hereford & Worcester, UK .... 1791-96
Southnet Tunnel, Leominster Canal, Hereford & Worcester, UK .... 1796
Monmouthshire Canal, Wales, UK .... 1792-98
Ellesmere Canal report, UK .... 1793
Brecon, Hay & Whitney Canal survey, UK .... 1793
Montgomeryshire Canal, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1794-97
Fourteen Locks, Cefn, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1798
Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, Powys, UK .... 1796-1801
Gilwern Embankment, Brecknock & Avergavenny Canal, Powys, UK .... 1797
Brynich Aqueduct, Brecon, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1800
Ashford Tunnel, Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, Powys, UK
Aberdare Canal survey, Glamorganshire, UK .... 1800
All items by Thomas Dadford jnr
Everything built ... 1760 - 1801
Sources
Alec Skempton ed., Dadford, Thomas Jr. (c.1761-1801), A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1: 1500-1830, Thomas Telford Publishing Limited, Institution of Civil Engineers, London, pp.166–169
With particular thanks to John Norris and Paul Dadford for additional information
Further reading
Stephen R. Hughes, The Archaeology of the Montgomeryshire Canal, Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, 1989
Joseph Priestley, Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, London, 1831
signature illustration  Thomas Dadford junior, on a 5th June 1797 receipt for a report about Draining the Level of the Hundred of Wentlooge & part of the Level of the Hundred of Caldicot... from Gwent Archives : Q/COFS/2/5, courtesy Gwent Record Office

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Biography
Thomas Dadford jnr
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Vyrnwy Aqueduct
Vyrnwy Aqueduct (1797) on the Montgomeryshire Canal. The canal's engineer was Dadford's younger brother John, with Dadford acting as his assistant (1792-98).
Photo: © Alan Fairweather and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Ann Dadford's will
A detail from Ann Dadford's will (proved 1837). Thomas Dadford had married Ann Parker (1765-1837) at Belbroughton in Worcestershire on 15th August 1797 — just four years before his own untimely death. She was the daughter of James and Ann Parker of Bluntington Green, near Chaddesley Corbett in Worcestershire. Thomas and Ann had no children, and everything, including "all my shares and interest in Canals", was divided into five portions shared between her nephew Thomas Downing and his sisters Hannah, Elizabeth and Lucy, and her niece Mary Ann Parker.
St Teilo Church, Llanarth
Dadford died in 1801 at Crickhowell near Abergavenny. He was buried at St Teilo church in Llanarth, were his gravestone can be found under a large yew tree south of the church porch. Dadford's headstone was rededicated on 22nd April 2013 and his descendants were among those who contributed to its restoration.
Photo: © Stuart Wilding and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
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Neath Canal
A restored lock on the Neath Canal (1790-92) at Clyne, close to where the canal crosses the River Neath on the Ynysbwllog Aqueduct. Canal construction began at Neath and reached this point in mid 1792, a distance of 10.6km. Dadford then resigned to run the building of the Monmouthshire Canal.
Photo: © Hywel Jenkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Fourteen Locks, Cefn
In 1792-98, Dadford worked as engineer for the Monmouthshire Canal, which included the construction of the Fourteen Locks at Cefn. The photo shows the lower half of the flight in about 1935.
Photo: courtesy Ray Haydon, MBACT Archive Officer
Monmouthshire Canal
The Monmouthshire Canal in about 1912 — Locks 59-61 at Pontnewydd, Cwmbran.
Photo: courtesy Ray Haydon, MBACT Archive Officer
Brynich Aqueduct
The Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, engineered by Dadford, includes a number of canal aqueducts. The best known is the Brynich Aqueduct (1799-1800), which crosses the River Usk. The canal is now part of the Monmouthshire & Brecon system.
Photo: © Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales | © Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru
Brynich Aqueduct
Brynich Aqueduct close up.
Photo: © Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales | © Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru
Gilwern Embankment
The Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal crosses the River Clydach on the 24m high Gilwern Embankment (1797), one of the largest earthworks on a canal in Wales. Shown is the single arch for the river. At the north end is a second tunnel once used by a tramroad.
Photo: © Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales | © Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru