Wood, Nicholas 1795 - 1865


Wood, Nicholas (1795–1865), civil and mining engineer, was born at the farm of Daniel at Sourmires in the parish of Ryton, Co. Durham, on 24 April 1795. He was the son of a farmer Nicholas Wood, and lived with his uncle at Hallgarth, near Winlaton. Wood studied at the village school in Crawcrook and his success attracted the attention of his father's landlord, Sir Thomas Liddell. Wood was sent to Liddell's collieries in Killingworth, Northumberland in April 1811 to learn the business of a viewer or colliery manager.

George Stephenson was also at Killingworth at that time and the two became friends. Stephenson’s son Robert was apprenticed to Wood from 1819 to 1821 at Killingworth. Wood assisted Stephenson in the development of his safety lamp, which was first tested in 1815. He was closely associated with Stephenson in his experiments with steam locomotives, and in 1821 accompanied him to Darlington, where they met Edward Pease and discussed the projected Stockton–Darlington railway line.

Wood published the classic work of early railway literature ‘A Practical Treatise on Rail-Roads, and Interior Communication in General’ in 1825, in which he discussed the various types of ‘motive power’ then in use: self-acting planes, fixed steam-engine planes, horses, and locomotive steam engines. The work appeared in three subsequent editions, in 1831, 1832, and 1838. In 1827 Wood was invited to give evidence before committees of both houses of parliament on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill. In 1829 he was one of the three judges for the Rainhill locomotive trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, won by the Stephensons' Rocket. In 1845 he joined the ‘battle of the gauges’, taking sides with the Stephensons and the ‘narrow-gauge’ lobby.

Wood's knowledge of coalmining and the geology of the north of England coalfields was frequently sought by mine owners and speculators, and he acquired interests in a number of mines in the area. Wood took over the management of the Hetton Coal Company collieries in 1844, in which he was a partner, and moved from Killingworth to Hetton Hall, Co. Durham. He took a prominent part in official investigations of the coal industry, most notably with regard to safety. A report in 1835 to the select committee on accidents stated that using men instead of children would, in many cases, mean that collieries could not be worked at a profit. He contributed to improvements in underground haulage technology, and was involved in the discussions leading to the Mines Inspection Act of 1851. In 1855 he examined all the candidates for the new mining inspectorate.

Wood was elected the first president of the North of England Institute of Mining Engineers on its formation at Newcastle in 1852. He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1829) and Mechanical Engineers (1858), and a fellow of the Geological Society (1843) and the Royal Society (1864). Wood attempted to establish a college of his own in the north-east in the 1850s, ‘for the improvement and teaching of mining science, especially as applicable to coal mines’ which failed due to of lack of financial support.

Wood married Maria Forster, daughter of Collingwood Forster Lindsay of Alnwick, clerk to the magistrates of Northumberland. He and his wife had four sons and three daughters. Wood was a widower some years before his own death on 19th December 1865 at 49 Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park, London. He was buried in the churchyard at Hetton.