Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Surveyor. Wellington Arthur Purdon, who was born on 24 May 1815 in Killucan, Co. Westmeath, was the elder son and seventh child of Robert Edward Purdon, of Huntingdon, Co. Westmeath. When he was eight, his father fell into debt and had to take refuge in France, leaving his wife and children behind in Westmeath. Wellington was educated by tutors at home until he was eighteen, when he went to Dublin to attend the Dublin Society's School of Drawing in Architecture.(1) Having no success in finding work in Dublin, he returned home. where he 'spent his timeā€¦in following the hounds, and in practising surveying' until he was taken on as a railway surveyor under CHARLES VIGNOLES CHARLES VIGNOLES . In 1837 he was working in the Cork area. Vignoles was impressed by the young man and in 1838 offered him an engagement on the Manchester & Sheffield Railway.

Purdon spent the following eight years in England and Wales working on the Manchester & Sheffield Railway and also making parliamentary surveys for the Porthdinllaen line through North Wales for ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL . In 1846 Brunel appointed him resident engineer to the Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow & Dublin Railway. For the next eight years Purdon lived in Ireland, where he also made surveys for the extension of the Cork & Bandon Railway, acted on arbitration cases, and reported on the extension of the Belfast & Armagh Railway to Clones. From 1856 he was engaged under Brunel on the preparation and construction of the East Bengal Railway. After the completion of the line he returned to Britain, where, in about 1865, he set up in partnership with William Bourne Lewis, who had also been in Bengal. The partners worked on several Irish railway projects: the abortive Clonmel-Lismore-Dungarvan and Waterford-Dungarvan schemes, the Fermoy-Lismore line (funded by the Duke of Devonshire), the Waterford & Wexford Railway, 1872-1874,(2) and , following the death of CHARLES TARRANT  CHARLES TARRANT in 1877, the completion of the revived line from Waterford to Dungarvan. They also completed a railway link from Wexford and Rosslare and started to make improvements to Rosslare Harbour. They resigned before the harbour was complete because of disagreements with the directors. In 1871 Purdon reported to Dublin Corporation on the merits of introducing a tramway system in the city, and acted as engineer with George Hopkins until the requisite bill had been passed by Parliament.

Purdon retired in 1880. According to his obituarist, 'The mind which had been so powerful and energetic suddenly appeared to be over-fatigued; and while capable of enjoying society, travelling and his ordinary home occupations as heretofore, he refused all mental exertion, referring the simplest questions requiring thought to his sons or to other people'. According to the English census of 1881, he was living at 15 Essex Villas, Kensington, with his wife and twenty-nine-year-old unmarried daughter, Kate, in 1881. He probably spent his remaining years in England, but he had also inherited property at Joristown, Killucan, from an uncle.(3) In any event 'his surroundings were very happy, and he spent the remainder of his life in much comfort'. He died, after a brief illness, on 14 February 1889. He had married Elizabeth Catherine, daughter of Joseph Atwell, in 1847 and had more than one son as well as his daughter.

ICEI: member by 1849;(4) gives paper, 'An account of the constuction of the Woodhead Tunnel, on the line of railway between Manchester and Sheffield', 13 February 1849;(5) council member, 1852-1856;(6) no longer a member in 1870.(7)
Inst.CE: elected member, 7 December 1858.(8)
RIA: member by 1853.(9)


All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from the obituary in Min.Proc.Inst.CE 97 (1888-89, Pt. 3), 408-413, evidently written by someone who knew him well, and Burke's Irish Family Records, 976.

(1) MS. transcript from Royal Dublin Society minutes of School of Drawing in Architecture admissions and prizewinners (in IAA) gives the date of his admission as 1 May 1834 when he would have been 18, rather than 17; Burke's Irish Family Recordssays 'educ. Trin.Coll. Dublin (MA)' , but the MA was presumably acquired later.
(2) Jones transcripts from Thom's directories.
(3) See obituary for further details of the circumstances of inheritance. According to Burke, he was a JP for Co. Westmeath at some stage.
(4) TICEI 3, list of members.
(5) TICEI 3 (1847-49), 95-126.
(6) Jones transcripts from Thom's directories.
(7) IB 12, 15 Aug 1870, 197.
(8) In formation from Mrs Carol Morgan, archivist, Institution of Civil Engineers.Post Office Dublin Directory (1853), 76 (in list of council of ICEI).