William Chapman (engineer)

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William Chapman (1749 – 1832) was an English engineer. Born in Whitby, he worked on the construction of the Old and Humber Docks in Hull, as well as many drainage and canal projects. He is credited with the invention of the bogie and articulation (see Articulated vehicle) for rail vehicles.[1]

Personal life[edit]

William Chapman was born on 7 March 1749 in Whitby. His father, Captain William Chapman, already had three daughters from his first marriage, but William was the first of ten children born to his second wife, Hannah Baynes. He left home in 1765, moving to Barnes, Sunderland, and then to Newcastle. Two years later, he joined the Merchant Navy, and was able to enrol in the Guild of Master Mariners in 1769. Next he set up as a merchant and coal fitter, and with his brother, took out a lease on collieries at St. Anthony's and Wallsend in 1778. Despite initial success, the project ran into financial difficulties, and both men were declared bankrupt in 1782. The failure did not deter him, and he worked first as a mechanical engineer and then as a civil engineer. Although he lived in Ireland, near York and at Morton in County Durham at various times, he maintained an office and a house in Newcastle. He was active in his profession until shortly before his death, on 29 May 1832.[2] His burial was at St Andrew's Church in Newcastle. His large library, which ran to 535 volumes, was auctioned the following year, but his widow Elizabeth donated his printed reports to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1837.[3]


Skew bridges[edit]

Chapman is important for his work on the theoretical design of skew bridges, as he developed the first methodical technique for their design. This was his 'spiral method', as described in Rees's Cyclopædia.[4] It was based on work he had done for the Kildare Canal in Ireland in 1787.[5] In this, the arch is considered as a series of arch slices, parallel to the arch faces and at an angle to the abutments. The arch soffit (the curved underside) is drawn out into a flat plane, a parallelogram grid drawn on this, and then these diagonal lines (each one representing an arch slice) transferred to the centring of the constructed arch.[4] This method had been applied to the design of Finlay Bridge at Naas,[6] employing an arch barrel based on a circular segment that is smaller than a semicircle. This method would later be described in standard texts on railway masonry, such as Nicholson.[7]


  1. ^ A. W. Skempton (1 January 2002). "Chapman, William MRIA". A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland: 1500-1830. Thomas Telford. pp. 124–132. ISBN 978-0-7277-2939-2. 
  2. ^  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Chapman, William". Dictionary of National Biography. 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  3. ^ Skempton (2002), pp. 124-129
  4. ^ a b Beckett, Derrick (1984). Stephensons' Britain. David & Charles. p. 49. ISBN 0-7153-8269-1. 
  5. ^ Long, G., ed. (1842). The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Vol. XXII (Sigonio – Steam-vessel) (1st ed.). London: Charles Knight & Co. p. 87. 
  6. ^ McCutcheon, William Alan (1984). The Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland. p. 16. ISBN 0-8386-3125-8. 
  7. ^ Nicholson, Peter (1860) [First published 1839]. Cowen, R, ed. The Guide to Railway Masonry, containing a Complete Treatise on the Oblique Arch (3rd ed.). London: E. & F. N. Spon. Preface p. 10. 

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