BAKER, Benjamin (1840-1907)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 3 Kensington Gate, Kensington, London, W8 5NA, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Engineering and Transport
Sir BENJAMIN BAKER 1840-1907 Civil Engineer and Designer of the Forth Bridge lived here 1881-1894
The engineer Benjamin Baker is best remembered for designing the Forth Bridge and engineering many of London’s earliest underground railways. He undertook these world-famous projects while living at 3 Kensington Gate, near Hyde Park in central London.
LONDON TUBE PIONEER
Baker arrived in London in 1860 to work on the Victoria Station & Pimlico Railway, which took the line from Brighton into London’s West End. Two years later he joined the office of Sir John Fowler, who would go on to be Baker’s partner on many of his biggest projects.
In 1862–9 Baker executed the designs and oversaw the construction of the Metropolitan, District and St John’s Wood Railways, and from 1869 to 1871 he was resident engineer on the extension of the District Railway. Fowler and Baker later acted as consulting engineers for the first deep-level ‘tube’, the City and South London Line, and with James Henry Greathead were the joint engineers for the Central London Railway, opened in 1900.
Baker introduced a significant and much-emulated innovation for London’s underground railways: the creation of a dip in the track between stations in order to reduce the power needed to accelerate and brake.
THE FORTH BRIDGE
The Forth Bridge, in eastern Scotland, which Baker worked on with Fowler, was the longest span bridge in the world when it opened in 1890, and paved the way for the widespread use of structural steel. Fowler’s biographer called it ‘the crowning victory of engineering science in the nineteenth century’.
While the bridge was a joint project between the two men, the design was Baker’s, and for this he gained the title ‘the hero of the Forth Bridge’.
THE KENSINGTON YEARS
Baker lived at 3 Kensington Gate from 1881 until 1894, during which time he pursued many of his most important projects. As well as building the Forth Bridge, he served on the Ordnance Committee from 1888, consulted on the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (1891–2), reported to the London County Council on the capital’s main drainage (1891) and was consulting engineer on the Blackwall Road Tunnel under the Thames in east London (1891–7).
Major later works included the Aswan Dam across the Nile and its subsequent raising (1902, 1904) and the Avonmouth Docks, near Bristol (from 1902).
Baker spent much time at the sites of his engineering projects, particularly during the seven years it took to build the Forth Bridge (1883–90). But he still enjoyed the social life of London, and entertained eminent men and women from the arts and sciences at his Kensington home, which he shared with his mother, sister and niece. He later moved to Marylebone and finally to Pangbourne in Berkshire, though he returned to the capital often to visit his club, the Athenaeum. He died suddenly from heart failure on 31 May 1907, aged 67, at his Berkshire home.