This Month in History

Galton Bridge

Galton Bridge - From Atlas to the Life of Thomas Telford, Civil Engineer containing eighty-three copper plates, illustrative of his professional labours, 1838

Planes, Trains and Automobiles


On 9th August 1757, a remarkable man named Thomas Telford was born. During his life of 77 years, Thomas was one of the great kings of civil engineering, so much so that he was elected as the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineering, and his nickname in life was ‘The Colossus of Roads’ (a pun on the legendary Colossus of Rhodes). As well as his famed roads, Thomas also built harbours, tunnels, canals and bridges: almost single-handedly opening up the north of Scotland, as well as assisting in modes of transport throughout Britain.

It seems only right that to honour a man who had such a broad mastery of modes of transportation, that we acknowledge some of the other transport-related milestones that August holds, of which there are surprisingly many!

On 30th August 1860, Britain’s first ever tramway was opened in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, narrowly beating London to the milestone. Although eventually replaced by buses, it changed the lives of those who needed to travel to work every day dramatically. A less-uplifting first occurred on 17th August 1896 when a Mrs Bridget Driscoll of Croydon, Surrey, became the first pedestrian in Britain to die after being hit by a car.

Some firsts in long-distance travel were much more welcome. 27th August 1900 saw the first long-distance bus service begin to operate between London and Leeds; a speedy journey which took a mere two days! While on 25th August 1919 the world saw the first daily air service begin, travelling the distance between London and Paris. No word on when the duty-free shop opened though.

Finally for those who love getting stuck in traffic-jams, on 3rd August 1926, Britain’s first set of electric traffic lights popped up around the streets of London. They doubtless chose to immediately turn red at the most inconvenient time possible. Some things never change.

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