Henry Williams (1753-1842)

Henry Williams perfected an engineering design that connected Blists Hill with the River Severn, and ultimately the rest of the world, for the first time.

In 1788 the company which owned the Shropshire Canal launched a competition to find a new design to improve the working of incline planes in this area. Incline planes were used to raise and lower canal boats up and down hills, where locks were not practical. The few already in existence did work, but had design issues the competition backers wished to resolve. The professional engineer Henry Williams submitted a new design with John Lowden, who was then the Shropshire Canal Company’s surveyor. Henry and John were selected as winners of the competition and were awarded 50 guineas (about £4000 today). Their design was used for three incline planes on the Shropshire Canal, including the Hay Incline Plane at Blists Hill which was built in 1793.

Henry went on to become the Shropshire Canal Company’s manager and principal engineer, later becoming a manager at the Ketley Ironworks in 1818. In 1803 he had married Martha Clayton and together they had 8 children. The family lived at Ketley Hall until Henry’s death in 1842.


Following Henry's death, Martha had this brooch made which contains a lock of his hair.

A Mourning Brooch in memory of Henry Williams (1753-1842) which belonged to his wife Martha. A lock of Henry’s hair is plaited and displayed in the centre.