Bidder, George Parker 1806 - 1878

English; British

(1806-1878), civil engineer

George Parker Bidder was born at Moretonhampstead, Devon on the 13th June 1806. He had little formal education, yet it was noticed he had an extraordinary ability to handle numbers without writing them down, as well as a remarkable memory. In October 1816 benefactors of St John's College, Cambridge sent him to Wilson's Grammar School, Camberwell, Surrey, but he did not stay more than six months.

Sir Henry Jardine, king's remembrancer for Scotland, noticed Bidder while he was being exhibited in Edinburgh in 1819 and arranged for a year's private coaching before sending him to Edinburgh University in 1820 to study mathematics and natural philosophy. In 1822 he was awarded the magistrates' prize for higher mathematics, but he left in May 1824 without taking a degree. In 1846 his growing prosperity allowed him to commemorate his benefactor by founding the Jardine bursary at the university.

Bidder had his first employment at Ordinance Survey, first in South Wales and then in London but within a year he joined Henry Robinson Palmer, founder of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was resident engineer at the reconstruction of Brunswick wharf, Blackwall, with its pioneering use of cast-iron sheet piling, completed in 1834. In 1826 he first appeared before a parliamentary committee helping Palmer to oppose the second Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill. His memory and powers of mental calculation made him a formidable witness. When Brunswick wharf was finished, Bidder was reintroduced to Robert Stephenson whom he had met in Edinburgh. Stephenson hired Bidder to work on several aspects of the London and Birmingham Railway.

He worked on docks with which he was involved throughout his career—the original Victoria docks, London, being probably his greatest technical achievement. In 1845–6 he joined William Fothergill-Cooke in establishing the Electric Telegraph Company, with which he remained closely associated until it was nationalized in 1870. He was also involved in the development of submarine telegraph facilities; as early as 1850 he foresaw the global possibilities of telecommunication.

He was an active member of the Institution of Civil Engineers for nearly fifty years and president in 1860–61. He married Georgina Warren Harby in 1835, they had eight children. Bidder died unexpectedly of heart problems on the 20th September 1878.