Thomas Penson
born  5th May 1790, probably Wrexham, Denbighshire, Wales, UK
died  20th May 1859, Bryn Tail farm, Groeswen, Caerphilly, Wales, UK
buried  Holy Trinity church, Gwersyllt, Wrexham, Denbighshire, Wales, UK
era  Georgian / Victorian
A biographical summary
Thomas Penson junior is usuaully remembered for his road bridges in Wales, where he was County Surveyor for Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire for many years. However, his prolific output as an architect, civil engineer and surveyor includes buildings of all kinds as well as bridges. He was part of an engineering mini-dynasty that consisted of his father, Thomas Penson senior (1760-1824), and two of his sons — Richard Kyrke Penson (1815-85) and Thomas Mainwaring Penson (1817-64).
Details of Penson's early education are unknown, but he did become a student of renowned Neo-classical architect Thomas Harrison (1744-1829). Harrison's influence on Penson's bridge schemes is clear, particularly in relation to Llanymynech Bridge (constructed 1826-28) and Long Bridge at Newtown (1827, extended 1857). Penson's work also reflects the design philosophy of Thomas Telford (1757-1834), who worked in north Wales and was Surveyor of Public Works in neighbouring Shropshire.
One of Penson's first recorded projects was the rebuilding of Overton Bridge on the River Dee south of Wrexham. In August 1813, the single-span masonry bridge that his father had been constructing collapsed. Penson senior was dismissed and, supervised by architect John Carline II (c.1758-1834), his son took over, realising the double-arch sandstone crossing we have today.
Penson worked with materials other than stone, such as cast iron and terracotta, and the wide range of his projects demonstrates his versatility as an engineer. He worked on more than 30 buildings — including seven schools, seven churches, goals, workhouses and residential buildings — and at least 36 bridges, new and reconstructions. His cast iron bridges at Llandinam (1846), Abermule (1852-53) and Caerhowel (1858) exemplify Telford's principles.
As County Surveyor for more than 40 years, his schemes contributed significantly to the improvement and general development of road links in mid and north Wales. He held public office — as Mayor (1840) and Alderman (1841) of Oswestry in Shropshire, close to the Welsh border, and as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire (1852). He was also a Member (equivalent to a Fellow today) of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1848).
Fittingly, after his death in 1859, he was buried in the grounds of Holy Trinity church in Gwersyllt near Wrexham, which he had designed in 1850-51. His last project, the masonry Cilcewydd Bridge in Powys was completed posthumously in 1861 by his son Richard.
1790 Born (5th May) to Thomas Penson senior (1760-1824, engineer) and Charlotte Brown (d.1824), his brother was John William Todd Penson (1796-1826, artist)
1814 Marries (18th August) Frances Kyrke (1789-1856), daughter of Wrexham ironmaster Richard Kirk (1747-1839, surname later changed to Kyrke) and lives in Overton Cottage, their ten children include Richard Kyrke Penson (1815-85, County Surveyor of Montgomeryshire, Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire), Charlotte Elizabeth Penson (c.1816-46), Thomas Mainwaring Penson (1817-64, County Surveyor of Cheshire and Flintshire), Eleanor/Ellinor (Ellen) Venables Penson (born c.1823), James Penson (born c.1826) and Caroline Mary Penson (1830-97)
1817 Appointed County Surveyor of Montgomeryshire (now Powys), a post he holds for the rest of his life
c1820 Becomes County Surveyor of Denbighshire
c1823 Sets up office at 35 Willow Street, Oswestry, Shropshire, and lives with his family at 19 Willow Street
1839 Elected an Associate of ICE, inherits (14th May) a house at Gwersyllt Hill, Wrexham, from Richard Kirk and remodels it in neo-Jacobean style
1840 Becomes Mayor of Oswestry
1841 Transferred (17th August) from Associate to Member of ICE
1844 Articles of partnership (24th May) between "Thomas Penson of Oswestry, Salop, architect and surveyor and Richard Kyrke Penson of Oswestry, architect, eldest son", signed and sealed by both parties
1848 Becomes (20th March) Fellow of RIBA
1852 Appointed (3rd August) Deputy Lieutenant of Denbighshire
1859 Dies (20th May) at Gwersyllt Hill, buried Gwersyllt Church (27th May), will proved (9th December), his total effects amount to nearly £16,000
Selected works
Overton Bridge, River Dee, Wrexham, Wales, UK .... 1813-1816
Llanymynech Bridge, River Vyrnwy, English-Welsh border, UK .... 1826-1828
Long Bridge, Newtown, River Severn, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1827, 1857
Montgomeryshire County Gaol, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1830-1832
Vaynor Park estate buildings remodelling, Berriew, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1840-1853
St David's church, Newtown, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1843-1847
Llandinam Bridge, River Severn, Llandinam, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1846
Pont Dyffryn, Dyffryn Arth, Ceredigion, Wales, UK .... 1847
Pont Glanbran, Dyffryn Arth, Ceredigion, Wales, UK .... 1847
Pont Rhydsaeson, Dyffryn Arth, Ceredigion, Wales, UK .... 1847
The Butchers Market, Wrexham, Wales, UK .... 1848
Holy Trinity church, Gwersyllt, Wrexham, Wales, UK .... 1850-1851
Abermule Bridge, River Severn, Brynderwen, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1852-1853
Caerhowel Bridge, River Severn, Trwstllewelyn, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1858
Cilcewydd Bridge, Cilcewydd, Powys, Wales, UK .... 1861
All items by Thomas Penson
Everything built ... 1790 - 1859
Alec Skempton ed., Penson, Thomas, Jr. (1790-1859), A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1: 1500-1830, Thomas Telford Publishing Limited, Institution of Civil Engineers, London, pp.518519
Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, Yale University Press, London, 3rd edition, 1995
Richard Haslam, Powys, Pevsner Architectural Guides, Yale University Press, London, January 1979
Further reading
Antonia Brodie, Directory of British Architects, 1834-1914: Vol.2 (L-Z), British Architectural Library, Royal Institute of British Architects, A&C Black, December 2001
Stephen R. Hughes, The Archaeology of the Montgomeryshire Canal, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales, 1989
Terry Marsh, The Severn Way, Cicerone Press Limited, February 2014
Notice of Death. Thomas Penson, Minutes of ICE Proceedings, London, Vol.20, p.156, January 1861
portrait  Thomas Penson junior's signature, courtesy ICE, from the membership records

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Thomas Penson junior
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Holy Trinity, Gwersyllt
Holy Trinity church, Gwersyllt near Wrexham, was designed by Penson in 1848 and constructed 1850-51. It is also Penson's place of burial (1859).
Photo: © Richard Hoare and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Caerhowel Bridge
The present Caerhowel Bridge (1858) over the River Severn was designed by Penson to replace a taper-chain suspension bridge by James Dredge senior (1794-1863), which collapsed in 1858, killing one person. It has two equal spans of 22.1m, and was strengthened for highway loading in 2004. Grade II listed.
Photo: © Eirian Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Cilcewydd Bridge
Cilcewydd Bridge, designed by Penson and completed by his son Richard Kyrke Penson in 1861, two years after Penson's death, carries the A490 over the River Severn on four masonry arches.
Photo: © Kevin Skidmore and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
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Overton Bridge
Grade II listed Overton Bridge (1816) near Wrexham in Wales was begun by Penson's father but collapsed in 1813 while under construction. Penson took over, supervised by architect John Carline II (c.1758-1834).
Photo: © Jim Thornton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Long Bridge, Newtown
Penson's Long Bridge (1827) in Newtown, Powys, is also now Grade II listed. The white cast iron arches were added by him in 1857 to enable the widening of the carriageway.
Photo: © Kevin Skidmore and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
St David/'s, Newtown
St David's (1847), Newtown, Powys — one of seven churches designed by Penson. Constructed in brick in the Victorian Gothic style, it it is now Grade II listed, though it closed in 2006.
Photo: © John Lord and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Llandinam Bridge
Grade II* listed Llandinam Bridge (1846) is the earliest of three cast iron bridges by Penson over the River Severn. It's three-rib segmental arch spans 27.4m.
Photo: © Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales | © Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru
Butchers Market, Wrexham
The Butchers Market (1848) on Wrexham's High Street — a 19th century neo-Jacobean 'superstore'. Now Grade II listed.
Photo: © Eirian Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence