Engineer of the Week No.50: Alice Tredwell (nee Pickering) (5th January 1823 - 14th June 1867)
On the 152nd anniversary of her untimely death, today we remember railway contractor, Alice Tredwell.
Alice Tredwell was another one of our ‘Engineers-by-marriage’. Born into a family of building contractors, as her father John Pickering and all his sons were in the railway contracting business in Cumberland. The family were quite prosperous as they had servants, but they lived at Beck Brow in rural Cumberland, to the southwest of Carlisle, so Alice was probably educated at home. Her father died when she was eighteen and from the time she was married at the age of 21, in 1846, her mother and various of her brothers and their families lived with her. The man she married, Solomon Tredwell, was a self-made man from relatively humble beginnings but who was a very successful engineer, who worked with both Isambard Brunel and Robert Stephenson, working as a railway contractor. After their marriage the Tredwells leased Highfield Hall, a large country house in Leek, Staffordshire, owned by silk manufacturers and now demolished. Alice’s daughter, also Alice, was born there in 1849. Solomon Tredwell, with his company Tredwell & Co did construction work for many railways in the Midlands and North of England and in 1859 took on the contract to build the Bhore Ghat line for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, after another contractor had failed.Solomon and Alice sailed to India, arriving in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 16th November. The Ghats were a series of steep escarpments, with a rise in height of over 1800 feet in a length of 15 miles, which were difficult for the railway builders, calling for25 tunnels and 8 viaducts. Some 25,000 workers were employed and were exposed to cholera epidemics in 1859-60 which claimed about a third of the workforce.
Two weeks after the Tredwells landed her husband had himself died of dysentery or perhaps cholera and had been buried.Instead of returning to England and family, Alice Tredwell remained in India to take on the responsibility for her husband’s contract for the Bhor Ghat incline, and she took on the Railway’s local engineers Swainson Adamson and George Louis Clowseras her agents to oversee the remaining work on the incline on her behalf. In the months when she was in India she took a number of photos of the Bhore Ghat project, which suggest that she travelled into the country, before sailing back to England a few months later. The Bhor Ghat contract was completed in 1863. The Report to the Secretary of State for India in Council on Railways in India, for the year 1862–3 said “The directors of the GIPR noted that ‘On Mr Tredwell’s decease, serious embarrassment and delay to the works would no doubt have occurred, had not Mrs Tredwell, with a high spirit in the midst of her affliction, conducted the business of the contract’, while Sir Bartle Frere, governor of Bombay, refers to ‘the brave Englishwoman who, in the midst of her own sore affliction, thought more of her husband’s honour than her own distress, and carried on a work the magnitude of which might well have appalled a Titan of old’”.
Perhaps her own health had been affected by her visit to India as she died on the Isle of Wight in 1867, aged only 44 years.