Cubitt, William (1785-1861) (DNB00)

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CUBITT, Sir WILLIAM (1785–1861), civil engineer, son of Joseph Cubitt of Bacton Wood, near Dilham, Norfolk, miller, by his wife, Miss Lubbock, was born at Dilham in 1785, where the small amount of education afforded him was received at the village school. Subsequently his father removed to South Repps, and William at an early age was employed in the mill, but in 1800 was apprenticed to James Lyon, a cabinet-maker at Stalham, from whom he parted after a rude service of four years. At Bacton Wood Mills he again worked with his father in 1804, and in his leisure constructed a machine for splitting hides. Determined at length to commence life on his own account, he joined an agricultural machine maker named Cook, at Swanton, where they constructed horse threshing machines and other implements, and he became celebrated for the accuracy and finish of the patterns made by him for the iron castings of these machines. Self-regulating windmill sails were invented and patented by him in 1807, at which time he settled at Horning, Norfolk, in regular business as a millwright; but as his progress was not so rapid as he desired, he in 1812 sought and obtained an engagement in the works of Messrs. Ransome of Ipswich, where he soon became the chief engineer of the establishment. For nine years he held this situation, and then became a partner in the firm, a position which he retained until his removal to London in 1826. Before that period his attention was directed to the employment of criminals; and for the purpose of utilising the labour of convicts he invented the treadmill, with the object of grinding corn, &c., not at first contemplating the use of the machine as a means of punishment. This invention was brought out about 1818, and was immediately adopted in the principal gaols of the United Kingdom (Third and Fourth Reports of Society for Improvement of Prison Discipline, 1821, p. 187, 1822, p. 148; Monthly Mag. 1823, pt. ii. pp. 55–60). From 1814 Cubitt had been acting as a civil engineer, and after his removal to London he was engaged in almost all the important undertakings of his day. He was extensively employed in canal engineering, and the Oxford canal and the Liverpool Junction canal are among his works under this head. The improvement of the river Severn was carried out by him, and he made important reports on the rivers Thames, Tyne, Tees, Weaver, Ouse, Nene, Witham, Welland, and Shannon. The Bute docks at Cardiff, the Middlesborough docks and the coal drops on the Tees, and the Black Sluice drainage were undertakings which he successfully accomplished. On the introduction of railways his evidence was much sought in parliamentary contests; and as engineer-in-chief he constructed the South-Eastern railway, where he adopted the bold scheme of employing a monster charge of eighteen thousand pounds of gunpowder for blowing down the face of the Round Down Cliff, between Folkestone and Dover (26 Jan. 1843), and then constructing the line of railway along the beach, with a tunnel beneath the Shakespeare Cliff (Illustrated London News, 4 Feb. 1843, pp. 76–8, with nine views). On the Croydon railway the atmospheric system was tried by him, and he certainly did all in his power to induce its success. On the Great Northern railway, to which he was the consulting engineer, he introduced all the modern improvements of construction and locomotion. The Hanoverian government asked his advice on the subject of the harbour and docks at Harburg. The works for supplying Berlin with water were carried out under his direction; and the Paris and Lyons railway was by him carefully surveyed and reported on. On the completion of the railway to Folkestone, and the establishment of a line of steamers to Boulogne, he superintended the improvement of that port, and then became the consulting engineer to the Boulogne and Amiens railway. Among his last works were the two large landing-stages at Liverpool, undertakings novel in their details and successful in their operation, and the bridge for carrying the London turnpike road across the Medway at Rochester. He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as a member in 1823, became a member of council in 1831, vice-president in 1836, and held the post of president in 1850 and 1851. While president in 1851 he undertook very active and responsible duties in connection with the erection of the Great Exhibition building in Hyde Park, and executed them so successfully that at the expiration of his services he was knighted by the queen at Windsor Castle on 23 Dec. 1851. He became a F.R.S. on 1 April 1830, was also a fellow of the Royal Irish Academy, and a member of other learned societies. He retired from business in 1858, and died at his residence on Clapham Common, Surrey, on 13 Oct. 1861, and was buried in Norwood cemetery on 18 Oct.

Cubitt, Joseph (1811–1872), civil engineer, son of Sir William Cubitt, born at Horning, Norfolk, on 24 Nov. 1811, was educated at Bruce Castle School, Tottenham, and trained for the profession of civil engineer by his father. He constructed great part of the London and South-Western railway, the whole of the Great Northern railway, the London, Chatham, and Dover railway, the Rhymney railway, the Oswestry and Newtown railway, the Colne Valley railway, Weymouth pier, the extension of the north pier and other works of Great Yarmouth haven, and the new Blackfriars bridge. He was a member of the Geographical Society, and for many years vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was also a lieutenant-colonel of the Engineer and Railway Staff volunteers. He died on 7 Dec. 1872 (Men of the Time, 1st edit.; also 11th edit., necrology).

[Minutes of Proc. of Instit. of Civil Engineers, xxi. 554–8 (1862); F. S. Williams's Our Iron Roads (1883 edit.), pp. 123–6.]

G. C. B.