In Man of Iron, his affectionate life of the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, Julian Glover seeks a guiding hand and spiritual companion to his own endeavours as a promoter of more efficient transport and cutter of red tape. Glover, a former speechwriter for David Cameron, was a political adviser on the High Speed Two (HS2) project and reckons Telford ‘would have understood the dilemmas, insisted on innovation and elegant design and known how to work the parliamentary system’. Whereas HS2 is Glover’s great project, Telford’s was the new road to Holyhead and the bridge over the Menai Strait. Never the twain shall meet.
For those readers who have not heard of Telford, or confuse him with an overspill 1960s town in Shropshire, it should be pointed out that he died in 1834 after a lifetime of almost unrelenting and uncomplaining toil. Born in abject poverty in 1757 in Eskdale on the