James Henry Greathead: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on James Henry Greathead

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Henry Greathead

Statue of Greathead in London which was erected in 1994
Personal information
Birth date 6 August 1844(1844-08-06)
Birth place Grahamstown, South Africa
Date of death 21 October 1896 (aged 52)
Place of death Streatham, London
Significant projects Tower Subway
Blackwall Tunnel
Waterloo & City Line
Significant Awards Elected to the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1884

James Henry Greathead (6 August 1844 - 21 October 1896)[1] was an engineer renowned for his work on the London Underground railway.


Early life

Greathead was born in Grahamstown, South Africa; of English descent, Greathead's grandfather had emigrated to South Africa in 1820. He was educated at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown, and the Diocesan College private school in Cape Town, and completed his education in England between 1859 and 1863 at the Westbourne Collegiate School, Westbourne Grove. He returned briefly to South Africa before finally moving to London in 1864 to serve a 3 year pupillage under the civil engineer Peter W. Barlow. He spent some time (around 1867) as assistant engineer on the Midland Railway between Bedford and London (working with Barlow's brother, William Henry Barlow).


Soon after, in 1869, he rejoined Barlow and they began work on designs for the Tower Subway, only the second tunnel to be driven under the river Thames in central London. Barlow was the engineer for the tunnel and Greathead was in charge of the actual drive. The tunneling shield for driving the Tower Subway, while designed by Greathead, was inspired by Barlow's ideas for a circular tunneling shield which he had patented in 1864 and 1868. The shield was named the Barlow-Greathead shield and consisted of an iron cylinder 7 ft 3 in (2.21 m) in diameter fitted with screw jacks which enabled it to be jacked forward. In use, the shield was inched forward as the working face was excavated, while behind it a permanent tunnel lining of cast iron segments was fitted into place, itself an important innovation.[2] Greathead patented many of his improvements including the use of compressed air and forward propulsion by hydraulic jacks, both of which are now standard features of tunnel construction.

He was also a consultant in relation to the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel .


In 1873 Greathead became resident engineer on the Hammersmith extension railway and the Richmond extension of the Metropolitan District Railway, a post which he leld for 4 years. After this he assisted in the preparation of the Regents Canal Railway (1880), the Metropolitan Outer Circle Railway (1881), a new London-Eastbourne line (1883) and in various light railways in Ireland (1884). Also in 1884, Greathead was engaged as engineer on the London (City) & Southwark Subway, later the City & South London Railway (and now part of the Northern Line) which was, when it opened in 1890, the world's first underground electric railway. In 1888, he became joint engineer with Sir Douglas Fox on the Liverpool Overhead Railway and also worked with W.R. Galbraith on the Waterloo & City Railway. His final work was on the Central London Railway with Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker.[3]


  • An English Heritage blue plaque marks his home in Barnes, south-west London, 3 St Mary's Grove, where he lived between 1885 and 1889.
  • In January 1994 the statue shown on this page was erected outside the Bank Underground Station next to the Royal Exchange in the City of London. It was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London and is positioned on a plinth which hides a ventilation shaft for the Underground. While Bank Station was being refurbished a section of the Barlow-Greathead shield was discovered in a passageway between the Underground and the Waterloo and City Railway. The section has been painted red and a brass plate erected as a further memorial to his achievements.


  1. ^ Green, Oliver (2003). The Moving Metropolis: A History of London's Transport Since 1800. Laurence King Publishing. pp. 96. ISBN 1856693260.  
  2. ^ West, Graham (2005). Innovation and the Rise of the Tunnelling Industry. Cambridge University Press. pp. 116–118. ISBN 0521335124.  
  3. ^ "Civil engineers, Architects, etc". Steamindex. http://www.steamindex.com/people/civils.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-23.  

Further reading

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JAMES HENRY GREATHEAD (1844-1896), British engineer,. was born at Grahamstown, Cape Colony, on the 6th of August 1844. He migrated to England in 1859, and in 1864 was a pupil of P. W. Barlow, from whom he became acquainted with the shield system of tunnelling with which his name is especially associated. Barlow, indeed, had a strong belief in the shield, and was the author of a scheme for facilitating the traffic of London by the construction of underground railways running in cast-iron tubes constructed by its aid. To show what the method could do, it was resolved to make a subway under the Thames near the Tower, but the troubles encountered by Sir M. I. Brunel in the Thames Tunnel, where also a shield was employed, made engineers hesitate to undertake the subway,, even though it was of very much smaller dimensions (6 ft. 7 in. ' Great Falls was a pioneer among the cities of the state in the development of a park system. When the city was first settled its site was a "barren tract of sand, thinly covered with buffalo-grass and patches of sage brush." The first settler, Paris Gibson, of Minneapolis, began the planting of trees, which, though not indigenous, grew well. The city's sidewalks are bordered by strips of lawn, in which there is a row of trees, and the city maintains a large nursery where trees are grown for this purpose. A general state law (1901) placing the parking of cities on a sound financial basis is due very largely to the impulse furnished by Great Falls. See an article,. "Great Falls, the Pioneer Park City of Montana," by C. H. ForbesLindsay, in the Craftsman for November 1908.

internal diameter) than the tunnel. At this juncture Greathead came forward and offered to take up the contract; and he successfully carried it through in 1869 without finding any necessity to resort to the use of compressed air, which Barlow in 1867 had suggested might be employed in water-bearing strata. After this he began to practise on his own account, and mainly divided his time between railway construction and taking out patents for improvements in his shield, and for other inventions such as the "Ejector" fire-hydrant. Early in the 'eighties he began to work in conjunction with a company whose aim was to introduce into London from America the Hallidie system of cable traction, and in 1884 an act of Parliament was obtained authorizing what is now the City & South London Railwaya tube-railway to be worked by cables. This was begun in 1886, and the tunnels were driven by means of the Greathead shield, compressed air being used at those points where water-bearing gravel was encountered. During the progress of the works electrical traction became so far developed as to be superior to cables; the idea of using the latter was therefore abandoned, and when the railway was opened in 1890 it was as an electrical one. Greathead was engaged in two other important underground lines in London-the Waterloo & City and the Central London. He lived to see the tunnels of the former completed under the Thames, but the latter was scarcely begun at the time of his death, which happened at Streatham, in the south of London, on the 21st of October 1896.

<< Great Harwood

The Great Lakes Of North America >>

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address