Robertson Way is part of Shrewsbury’s inner ring road – between Crowmere Road and Telford Way. It commemorates Henry Robertson (1816-88), an important engineer and politician.
Robertson was born in Banff, northern Scotland, the youngest of eight children. From an early age it was clear that he was gifted, and he won a scholarship to Aberdeen University, after which he became a mining engineer. At this time the railways were developing rapidly, so he began to engineer railways as well. He was sent by a group of investors from Glasgow to investigate the possibility of reopening the Brymbo Ironworks near Wrexham, once one of the most important in the country, but then in a very rundown state. As a result of his positive report, he moved to Wales to run the business with other partners.
They began to revive the ironworks, but it soon became apparent that the industry would never flourish without adequate rail links to bring in raw materials and send out finished goods. So Robertson took part in the formation of the North Wales Railway Company, and he laid out the line between Wrexham and Chester. He also helped to get the necessary bill through Parliament, despite local opposition. This railway was opened in 1844, and the following year an extension was planned to Ruabon and Cefn Mawr, which would then be continued to Shrewsbury. Again there was much local opposition, and Robertson had to survey parts of the line at night for fear of being attacked! Construction of this railway took two years, and included two magnificent viaducts, over the Dee near Cefn Mawr, and the Ceiriog at Chirk. These are probably Henry Robertson’s finest engineering achievements.
Shortly after the opening of the Shrewsbury to Chester line in 1848 Robertson moved to Shrewsbury. In 1850 he become the engineer for the Shrewsbury to Birmingham Railway, whose previous chief engineer had been Robert Stephenson (1803-59), who is remembered by Stephenson Drive, Belle Vue. Robertson then laid out and engineered the Shrewsbury to Hereford line, the contractor for which was Thomas Brassey (1805-70), who is commemorated by Brassey Close, off Old Potts Way, Shrewsbury. The section from Shrewsbury to Ludlow was opened in 1852, and the full line the following year. Robertson also worked on part of the mid-Wales line and continued to develop the railways in north Wales until his death.
Robertson had interests in the largest locomotive works in the country, mining, lime works and a water company, but he still had time to be elected as a Liberal MP for Shrewsbury in 1862, when he topped the poll. Although he resigned in 1865, he was re-elected in 1874 and 1880, sitting till 1885, when Shrewsbury lost one of its two MPs. Having lived near Bala for a number of years, he was elected Liberal MP for Merioneth in 1885. The following year he seceded from the Liberal Party over the Irish Home Rule question, and resigned from his seat.
The most obvious memorial to Henry Robertson in Shrewsbury is the Kingsland Bridge, which he designed, and was formally opened in 1882. At the time it was one of the largest single span iron bridges in the country. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, it has stood up to the much increased traffic load.
Well over 500 people attended his funeral in a small country church, with many having to stand outside. They were glad to honour a man whose obituary stated that ‘His ability, his influence and his purse were ever at the command of any movement having for its object the well-being and prosperity of the community, and his devotedness to the county town was such as to cause his name to be honoured by all classes’.