Heriot-Watt pays tribute to the 250th anniversary of John Rennie

Portrait of John Rennie, 1810, by Sir Henry Raeburn

The life and works of John Rennie, one of Scotland's greatest ever civil engineers, was commemorated by a special event to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Rennie, who was born in East Linton in Haddingtonshire on 7 June 1761, was remembered for his contribution to and achievements in engineering by Professor Roland Paxton from the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University, with the publication of an illustrated monograph.

The monograph comprises seven contemporary biographical notices, selected, illustrated and edited by Professor Paxton, who is keen to further establish Rennie's place in history alongside Thomas Telford and his mentor, James Watt.

Rennie's engineering projects

Waterloo Bridge, 1811 (click to enlarge)

Waterloo Bridge, 1811-17, designed by  John Rennie  (click to enlarge)

Many of Rennie's creations are still evident across the UK. In Scotland, these include:

  • the Crinan Canal
  • the Bell Rock Lighthouse
  • the entrance to Leith Docks, now a conserved environmental feature
  • the Berwick-upon-Tweed harbour works
  • bridges in Kelso, New Galloway, Newton Stewart, Musselburgh and Bridge of Earn

Rennie's reputation also resulted in numerous commissions south of the Border, including three bridges over the Thames in London, the Plymouth Breakwater and many major dockyards, harbours and canals, including the Lune Aqueduct. He also advised on the construction of the Union Chain Bridge near Paxton, which is now the world's oldest suspension bridge still carrying vehicles.

"A legend in his time"

Professor Paxton said, "John Rennie was a legend in his time and he should rightly be recognised for being one of the greatest civil engineers.

"His achievements, which were of great usefulness to society, have inspired and informed thousands of people over the decades and it is therefore fitting to mark his success and ensure that this tradition continues to encourage future generations of engineers and enhance public appreciation of his life and work."

Also, at the invitation of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists' Society, who recently restored the memorial to Rennie in the grounds of his birthplace, Professor Paxton presented a public lecture on Rennie's achievements in the Church at Prestonkirk on 7 June.