Eugenius Birch

Civil Engineer
Place of Birth

  • Birth date            June 1818
  • Marriage              10 February 1842
  • Death date          8 January 1884 at Laurieston Lodge, West End Hampstead NW

On 10 February 1842 Eugenius Birch married Margaret, the daughter of Charles Gent, of Moss Side, Manchester, a manufacturer, at Manchester Cathedral.

Eugenius Birch were born in June 1818 at Gloucester Terrace, Shoreditch, to John Birch and wife Susanne (Bennis) and was educated at Brighton and at Euston Square. Fascinated by engineering from a young age, he submitted a design for a passenger railway carriage, adopted by the London and Greenwich Railway Company, while still a youth.  Innovatively, he had against the then convention placed the wheels beneath the carriage as opposed to the side, freeing more room for the passengers.

As a result, aged 16 he joined Bligh’s engineering works in Limehouse as an apprentice, and then studied at the Mechanics' Institute. Showing a gift for draughtsmanship, in 1837, added 19, he received a silver Isis Medal from the Society of Arts for his drawing of a marine steam engine, and a silver Telford medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers the following year for his drawings and description of Huddert’s rope machinery. On the 19th of February, 1839, he was elected a Graduate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in which class he remained till he was transferred Member on the 5th of May, 1863.

By 1839 Eugenius Birch and his brother John Brannis Birch were both working for the engineer Rowland Macdonald Stephenson (1808–1895). In 1843 Stephenson left for Calcutta in connection with the East India Railway, of which he became managing director, following which the brothers entered into partnership.  Initially they were engaged in various unsuccessful railway schemes in the years of the ‘railway mania’ including the Leek and Mansfield and Salisbury and Swindon railways. and bridges, Other early projects included the Kelham and Stockwith bridges in Nottinghamshire. In the late 1840s the brothers moved to India to work on the route of the proposed Calcutta to Delhi Railway where they designed the numerous bridges and viaducts required to cross the numerous tributaries and inlets at the river estuary. They appear to have left India before construction commenced and were certainly back in England by 1853.

Eugenius Birch’s claims to recognition are chiefly based upon the system of iron promenade-piers which he and his brother initiated, and which became a feature of nearly every resort on the English coast during the Victorian period.  The first, and for many years, single example of screw-pile pier, was the Margate jetty, which was completed in 1853, and formed a new departure in marine construction. It was from the first a most successful work, and was later considerably improved and extended. Similar piers were subsequently erected from Eugenius Birch's designs at Aberystwyth, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton (West), Deal, Eastbourne, Hastings, Hornsea, Lytham, New Brighton, Plymouth, Scarborough, and other places. Many of these structures forming only part of extensive works of improvement and gradually their structure became more elegant, their facilities ever increasing. At Hastings an integral entertainment pavilion capable of seating 2000 was provided from the outset while a similar pavilion at Blackpool was opened in 1877. Eugenius Birch was also the first to construct a large sea-water aquarium with recreational adjuncts. Of such buildings, those by Birch at Brighton and Scarborough are types which have been followed at many other watering-places. The tanks were of much larger dimensions than those previously used, and their construction involved some interesting problems on the pressure of water against large surfaces, and the thickness of glass required to withstand it.

Other works he carried out included the Devon and Somerset Railway, the Exmouth Docks, Ilfracombe Harbour, the West Surrey Waterworks, and was the first engineer of the Scarborough and Whitby railway, which he laid out, although the construction of the works was for long in abeyance, and was later completed by others. His last great design was for a marine kursaal to be erected at the end of the chain pier at Brighton, for which Parliamentary sanction had been obtained; but which he did not live to carry out. The design represented a huge ship arranged and fitted up as a first-class hotel. At the time of his death he was projecting a pier at West Worthing and a railway branch to Southend Pier.

The beauty of his drawings of Huddart's rope machinery, submitted when he was a Graduate, of the Institution of Civil Engineers attracted considerable attention, and the artistic ability remained with him through life. During a tour in Italy, Egypt, and Nubia in the winter of 1874- 75, he made a series of more than a hundred water-colour drawings and sketches of such merit that a special exhibition was made of them. After his death, these drawings realized high prices, being assisted, no doubt, by the interest felt at the time in all concerning Egypt.

In 1842, Eugenius Birch married Margaret Gent, the daughter of a silk manufacturer originally from Congleton in Cheshire, who was also his sister-in-law by marriage. The marriage was childless, but census returns show that their niece, Adela Pert or Gent, was living with them for over ten years, and that other relations were frequent visitors.  Recent research indicates that in later years Eugenius entered into a relationship with one of his wife’s nieces, Marion Morris. This liaison resulted in two illegitimate children, Eugene, born 1879, and Ethel, born 1881.

In the 1880s Eugenius also damaged his ankle to such a degree he was later forced to have his leg amputated to the thigh. Although the operation initially appeared successful, complications led to his eventual death. Eugenius Birch died on 8 January 1884 at Laurieston Lodge, West End Hampstead NW, after a long and painful illness.

Death notice Engineer  18 January 1884 page 55
Obituary      Institution of Civil Engineers, Obituaries 1884
Reference    Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Reference    Kathryn Ferry: The Genius of Eugenius, The Victorian July 2018 page 5-7
Reference    Kathryn Ferry: Palaces on the sea: The story of the father of promenade piers. Country Life July 14, 2018


Name Designation Formed Dissolved Location
Birch, John Bennis and Eugenius Civil Engineers 1843 1862 London