Ordish, Rowland Mason (DNB00)
ORDISH, ROWLAND MASON (1824–1886), engineer, son of John Ordish, land agent and surveyor, was born on 11 April 1824, at Melbourne, near Derby. Beyond the opportunity which he enjoyed in his fathers office of seeing building operations in progress, he seems to have had no professional training. Coming to London in 1847, he entered the office of Mr. R. E. Brounger, who employed him in making surveys for a railway in Denmark. He was afterwards engaged by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Charles Fox the Thames near Windsor. When Messrs. Fox & Henderson took the contract for the ironwork of the 1851 exhibition building, Ordish made the greater part of the working drawings; and he subsequently went to the London works, Smethwick, near Birmingham, to take part in the designing of the roof over the Birmingham railway station, then in course of construction by Fox & Henderson. He was afterwards engaged on the re-erection of the Great Exhibition building at Sydenham. According to the specification of one of his patents, he was at Copenhagen in April 1855, probably upon business connected with the Danish railway. From January 1856 to March 1858 he was chief draughtsman in the works department of the admiralty at Somerset House. He resigned this appointment to start in business on his own account, and for many years his office was at No. 18 Great George Street, Westminster, where for a considerable time he was in partnership with Mr. W. H. Le Feuvre. In April 1858 he took out a patent (No. 771) for an improvement in suspension bridges, in which the roadway consisted of a rigid girder suspended at several points by inclined straight cliains, which carried the whole of the load and the weight of the bridge. This mode of construction is now well known as Ordish's 'straight chain suspension' system. He designed a bridge upon this principle in 1862, with an opening of 821 feet, for crossing the Thames below London Bridge, but it was not until 1868 that the idea was carried out in actual practice by the construction of the Franz-Josef Bridge over the Moldau at Prague. This structure is described in the 'Mechanics' Magazine,' April 1866, p. 264; in the 'Engineer,' November 1868, pp. 343, 80; in W. Humberts 'Bridges,' 3rd edit. p. 258; and in Matheson's 'Works in Iron,' p. 81. The Albert Bridge over the Thames at Chelsea, opened in September 1873, was also constructed on the same principle. It has a central opening of 453 feet. A description appeared in 'Engineering,' May 1871, p. 373; in the 'Engineer,' October and November 1873. pp. 281, 288, 301, 304, 316. 322; and in Matheson's 'Works in Iron,' p. 171. Among the numerous railway bills which Ordish and Le Feuvre brought into parliament, was one for constructing a line from Hampstead to Charing Cross, which, however, was lost in the notable year 1866, when railway enterprise was arrested throughout England.
He was entrusted by Mr. W. H. Barlow with the details of the roof of the London terminus of the Midland railway at St. Pancras. It cousists of an arch of 240 feet span, springing from a. level slightly below the platform, and is the largest work of the land in existence. In the course of a description of the station, read before the Institution of Civil Engineers on 29 March 1870, Mr. Barlow said : 'For the details of the roof the author is indebted to Mr. Ordish, whose practical knowledge and excellent suggestions enabled him, while adhering to the form, depth, and general design, to effect many improvements in its construction' (Proceeding, xxx. 82). Views and details of the roof are also given in the 'Engineer,' May and June 1867, pp. 484, 494, 505, 517, 514; and in 'Engineering,' August 1867, p. 148, In conjunction with J. W. Grover, he designed the roof of the Albert Hall at South Kensington, the space covered being an oval about 200 by 160 feet, much larger than anything previously attempted. The structure is a flat dome, of very original construction, containing about four hundred tons of iron. The execution of the work was so perfect that when the scaffolding was removed the roof only sank five-sixteenths of an inch (cf. Engineer, 31 March 1871, p. 221; Engineering, 20 Aug. 1869, p, 117).
Ordish's name was but little known outside the engineering profession, but his resistance was constantly sought in difficult cases; and when the domes of the building for the exhibition of 1662 showed signs of weakness, he was called in to advise. He suggested the addition of a form of bracing which was entirely successful. Among the numerous works in which he was concerned, the following may be mentioned: the roof of the Dutch-Rhenish railway station at Amsterdam, 1863 (Humber, Record, 1863. p. 23; Matheson, Works in Iron, p. 269); roof of the Dublin Winter Palace, 1860 (Humber, Record, 1863, f. 39); winter garden for Leeds infirmary, 1868, Sir Gilbert Scott architect (Matheson, p. 240); roof of St. Enoch's railway station, Glasgow; and the railway station at Cape Town. In conjunction with Max am Ende with whom he had already been associate in other works, he prepared a design a bridge over the Neva at St. Petersburg (Engineer, January 1874, pp. 4, 6, 36, 67), for which he received a prize of 300l. In 1885 he published, with Ewing Matheson, a design for a bridge on the site of the present Tower Bridge (ib. 16 Dec. 1893, p. 547).
In addition to that already mentioned, Ordish took out the following patents: No. 832 (1855), an improved form of bridge rail No, 663 (1857), suspension bridge; No. 2511 (1858), iron permanent way; No. 2459 (1859), elastic key for holding rails in place. This was tried on the Stratford-on-Avon line and on other railways, but, though it answered well, it never came into practied use. No. 1513 (1883), pavements, partly applicable to railways; No. 4490 (1884), lifts.
Ordish became a member of the Society of Engineers in 1857, and in 1860 he filled the office of president. In 1858 be read a Saper 'On the Figure and Strength of Beams, Girders, and Trusses,' a brief abstract of which appears in the 'Transactions' of the society. Ordish had a remarkable feeling for strength and proportion in the material he handled; he was fertile in design, hardly ever repeating himself, and possessed a singular faculty of making rapid mental estimates of the cost of a buildiing. He died at Stratford Place, Camden Town, on 12 Sep. 1886, and was buried in Highgate cemetery.
[Obituary notices in Engineer, 17 Sept. 1886, p. 232; Engineering, 17 Sept. 1886, p. 233; private information.]