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Adamson, Daniel (1820–1890), engineer and entrepreneur, was born on 30 April 1820 at Shildon, co. Durham. He was the thirteenth of fifteen children, seven sons and eight daughters, born to Daniel Adamson, landlord of the Grey Horse at Shildon, and his wife, Ann. It was the nearest house to the site of the Shildon locomotive works, the first railway locomotive works in the world, built by the Stockton and Darlington Railway. From this house his father operated a horse-drawn passenger coach service, the Perseverance, on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Adamson was educated at Edward Walton Quaker school, Old Shildon, and showed a strong aptitude for mathematics. On his thirteenth birthday he left school to become an apprentice to Timothy Hackworth, engineer to the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and had risen to be general manager of the Stockton engine works by about 1850, when he moved to become manager of Heaton foundry in Stockport. Soon after this he established his ironworks at Newton Moor, Dukinfield, 6 miles from Manchester, which exported boilers and much else all over the world. He also established the Newton Moor Spinning Company in 1862, and the Yorkshire Steel and Iron Works at Penistone, West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1863. These were the first works in the country to depend wholly upon the large-scale manufacture of steel according to the inventor Henry Bessemer's patent. He also set up the North Lincolnshire Iron Company at Frodingham in 1864–5. It was a pioneer contribution to the development of the Lincolnshire iron field.

Between 1852 and 1888, Adamson took out nineteen patents, all connected with engineering or metallurgy. He read papers to the Iron and Steel Institute, three of which were published. He received the Bessemer gold medal from Bessemer himself for his achievements. His reputation was such that in 1889 he was invited by the Italian government to report on the potential of the iron mines in Elba; but, above all, Adamson was the man who made the Manchester Ship Canal happen. He called the crucial public meeting at his house, The Towers, Didsbury, Manchester, on 27 January 1882, inviting the mayors of Manchester and surrounding towns, along with leaders of trade and industry, and of co-operative and labour movements. The engineering and commercial arguments were put forward. The cost was estimated at £4.5 million. Adamson became chairman of the provisional committee and on 6 August 1885 had the thrill of seeing the Canal Act passed. Optimistically, he declared that in five years the canal shares would have doubled in value and that the canal would save £1 million a year to the trade of the district. However, there was still inadequate financial backing. Adamson had hoped that through such arrangements as the Co-operative Share Distribution Company, which enabled shares to be acquired by weekly instalments, working men would provide much of the capital, but Rothschilds were brought in. It was recommended that the board be reconstituted so Adamson resigned on 10 February 1887, in favour of Lord Egerton of Tatton; he continued to support the project actively, but died before the canal was opened.

Adamson received wide recognition. He became vice-president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and president of the Iron and Steel Institute. He was also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Geological Society, the British Iron Trades Association, and many others. Active in public life, he was a director of the Manchester chamber of commerce, JP for Cheshire and Manchester, and chairman of Dukinfield local board; he also contested Heaton Norris for Lancashire county council as a Liberal.

Adamson was a firm disciplinarian, but generally popular with his workmen. He approved of trade unions, but as a constructive force working with management towards greater efficiency. He professed broad Anglican allegiance. He died on 13 January 1890 at The Towers, Didsbury, of an infection contracted in Italy, and was buried in the southern cemetery, Withington, Manchester, on the 16th. He left a widow, Mary, and two daughters: Alice Ann, the wife of Joseph Leigh, one-time mayor of and MP for Stockport, later knighted for his work as a director of the canal; and Lavinia, the wife of William J. Parkyn, Adamson's partner and manager of the Dukinfield works.

J. Gordon Read


J. G. Read, ‘Adamson, Daniel’, DBB · ‘Manchester Ship Canal bills’, Parl. papers (1882–5) · memoir, Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Proceedings (1890), 161–71 · Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter (18 Jan 1890) · The Engineer (17 Jan 1890) · Manchester Guardian (14 Jan 1890) · Auckland Chronicle (29 April 1876) · A memorial to Daniel Adamson (1935) · B. T. Leech, History of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1 (1907) · D. A. Farnie, The Manchester Ship Canal and the rise of the port of Manchester, 1894–1975 (1980) · private information (2004) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1890)


Greater Manchester County RO, Manchester, family and business papers |  Greater Manchester County RO, Manchester, Manchester Ship Canal archives · Lancs. RO, D. A. Parkyn MSS, DDX/101


bust, Manchester Ship Canal Company, Quay West, Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester · oils, probably Man. City Gall.

Wealth at death  

£54,168 10s. 10d.: probate, 17 Nov 1890, CGPLA Eng. & Wales