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Grave of Sir Benjamin Baker
St Nicholas churchyard, Idbury, Oxfordshire, UK
Grave of Sir Benjamin Baker
associated engineer
Sir Benjamin Baker
date  19th May 1907
UK era  Modern  |  category  Grave of Engineer  |  reference  SP235201
photo  © John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Benjamin Baker had the rare talent of being able to realise engineering concepts where others had failed. His intelligence, tenacity and ability to innovate led him to excel in many fields of civil engineering and he also advanced engineering knowledge through his papers and lectures. He is probably best known for his work on the Forth Rail Bridge, including his memorable demonstration of the cantilever principle using some sticks, three men and piles of bricks.
Benjamin Baker was born on 31st March 1840 at Keyford in Frome, Somerset. He grew up in the later part of Britain’s Industrial Revolution and started his engineering career serving an apprenticeship at Neath Abbey Ironworks in south Wales, from 1856 to 1860.
In 1861 or 1862, he became an assistant to engineer John Fowler (1817-98, knighted 1885), working on London’s underground railway system. The two men collaborated on many pioneering schemes and in 1875, Baker became Fowler’s engineering partner, cementing their close friendship.
From late 1887 to about 1892, Baker was involved with construction of the Hudson River Tunnel from Jersey City to Manhattan in New York state, USA. The project, begun in 1874, faced the challenges of working under compressed air and using tunnelling shields, suffering numerous fatalities and interruptions from lack of finance. It was completed in 1908.
Along with Fowler, Baker was engineer of the Forth Rail Bridge (1882-90), which marked the first large scale use of steel — rather than cast or wrought iron — in bridges. Thanks to Baker's ingenious cantilever design, it was the largest spanning bridge in the world at the time of construction. The project rightly earned him a knighthood and a place in engineering history.
Another notable achievement is his work as consulting engineer for the first Aswan Dam (1898-1902) and the subsidiary Assiut Barrage on the River Nile in Egypt. The 1.95km long gravity dam was so successful that Baker was commissioned again to raise its height, a project that was completed in 1908, after his death.
Baker died suddenly on the 19th May 1907, from syncope (loss of consciousness) and heart failure, at his home in Bowden Green in Pangbourne, Berkshire. He was buried in the Baker family plot at St Nicholas’ church in the Cotswold village of Idbury, Oxfordshire.
The Grade I listed church dates from around 1150, and was extended with a north aisle in the 14th century. Further alterations to the fabric were made in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, with subsequent additions and refurbishment at intervals into the 20th century.
The Baker family grave lies on the north side of the churchyard. Its stone memorial consists of a Celtic cross supported on four curved flying buttresses. The plot also contains the remains of Baker's mother, Sarah Baker (1815-91), and his sister, Fanny Maria Kemp (1838-1911).
Baker’s life and works are commemorated in a stained glass memorial window in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey's nave. It was designed by architect Sir John Ninian Comper (1864-1960) and unveiled on 3rd December 1909. The inscription at the base of the window reads:
In memory of Sir Benjamin Baker, Civil Engineer. Forth Bridge. Assouan Dam. B.1840. D.1907
Research: ECPK
"Obituary, Sir Benjamin Baker, KCB, KCMG, DSC, LLD, MAI, FRS, 1840-1907", Minutes of the Proceedings of the ICE, Vol.170, pp.377-383, London, 1907
"Obituary, Sir Benjamin Baker", The Engineer, p.524-525, 24th May 1907
reference sources   OSHDNBBDCE2

Grave of Sir Benjamin Baker