Civil Engineers

The North Yorkshire family produced several notable civil engineers.

Robert (I) (1702 – 1771) had twelve children, but for the purposes of this page we are only considering his sons James (1750 – ), John (1738 – 1781), Robert (II)(1734 – 1797), and grandson Mathew (1774 – 1817) the son of Robert(II). His son William (1748 – 1826) is described in detail on the page relating to York Minster

Robert Shout (I) and his sons built houses, bridges and worked on repairs at York Minster. North Yorkshire County Record Office (NYCRO) in Northallerton has a book of bridge designs by Robert Shout drawn in his capacity as County Surveyor of Bridges.

NYCRO also has a ‘Memmorandum[sic] of an agreement’ dated 16 January 1752 between the 9th Viscount (Fairfax)and Robert Shout, who came from a family of renowned and successful local masons  for the building of a ‘summer house’ in Gilling Park: ‘… the inside of the Room to be eighteen foot wide at the two extremes and the height according to the Plan of the East Front which Front is to be executed with Hewn work according to the said Plan the other three fronts or sides to be built with a good Hammer Scappeld Wall and to have the Main part with Plinth and strings the same as the East Front likewise to carry up two chimney Funnels one from each Room … N.B. The kitchen below to be seven foot high clear’. This sounds as though it must be the ‘pavilion’ described in Arthur Young’s tour; it is very similar to the Ionic Temple on Rievaulx Terrace which also served as a dining room and had a
kitchen beneath. Even though Robert Shout built it, John Carr may have designed it – the
agreement does after all refer to a pre-existing plan” Records show that Robert received £21 for this work, and returned a few years later to carry out additional work.

In 1774 Robert, together with his sons Robert(II) and John who were masons, and James who was a carpenter won a contract with the Bishop of Durham for the construction of the southern end of a new bridge over the river Tyne (to replace one washed away a few years earlier). The agreements are held by Durham University Library Special Collection  as below

CCB B/134/2  (220997) 15th March 1774

Tripartite Articles of Agreement between the Bioshop of Durham, the Tyne Bridge Trustees, and Robert Shout Sr. and Jr. and John Shout for doing construction work on Tyne Bridge. Includes plans, sections and elevations of the bridge.                                                                                                                                                                                                    Signed and sealed                                                                                                                                                                                 Parchment 8mm

CCB B/134/3  (22098) 15th March 1774

Bond of Robert Shout Sr. and Jr.  John Shout and James Shout for the performance of the covenant in (220997)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Signed and sealed                                                                                                                                                                               Paper 2ff.

In 1779, work on the bridge was sufficiently advanced that James was able to become the temporary harbour engineer at Sunderland, until 1780. He produced a plan which was reviewed by John Smeaton (the “father of civil engineering” and builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse among many other illustrious projects) who recommended it with only minor amendments. Smeaton stayed with James in his home at Gateshead during the period of his review.

John (1738 – 1781)   In 1780, James was replaced by his brother John who was also responsible for the design and erection of the Doric column (below) in Stockton Market Square.

Unfortunately John died shortly after his appointment as harbour engineer. His obituary in the Newcastle Courant of 23rd June 1781 reads “Died last week at Stockton upon Tees Mr John Shout, Architect and Principal Engineer at Sunderland, under the Commissioners, for improving the harbour there; he was much respected for his integrity and great skill.” It appears that he had not even got round to taking up the accommodation in the Engineers house that went with the post.

Robert (1734 – 1797)   Robert (2) was appointed less than a fortnight after the death of his brother John. He continued with the construction of the South Pier that had been initiated by his brothers, but in 1782 the Commissioners stopped the work due to shortage of funds. In 1784 preparation started for another petition to Parliament. Robert gave evidence to parliament in 1795 he said he was confident that the work  being carried out would make the harbour easier to access but added that the expense of more than £60000 would be hard to recover from the harbour dues. (Depending on the conversion application used this equates to between £6Million  to £700Million!).

In the winter of 1785 the entrance of Sunderland Harbour was warped up by a large sand-bed, which extended  across the Haven mouth, leaving scarcely depth of water for the entrance of a light vessel. constructed the north pier which improved the water flow and scoured silt etc which otherwise formed a bar to entry for ships. Robert proposed that a temporary wooden Pier should be erected, in order to contract the channel, and enable the ebb tide to scour it self a deeper bed. The plan was immediately adopted, and in a few months there was a deep and spacious channel.

This beneficial result induced the Commissioners to commence the building of a permanent Pier of stone; but, owing to the nature of the ground, loose shifting sand and gravel, the work proved extremely tedious and expensive. A length, however, of near seven hundred feet of solid pier, built upon piles, was completed by Robert

Port & Harbour Engineering Volume 6 edited by Adrian Jarvis (ISBN 978-0-86078-755-6) and The Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers Vol1, edited by Skempton give quite a lot of detail about the work of the Shouts in Sunderland.  Tyne and Wear Archives in Newcastle have the minute books of the River Wear Commissioners which is very interesting to read.

In December 1794 Robert’s health gave cause for concern and by May 1795 adverts were placed for the appointment of his successor. He retired in August 1795 and died 25th March 1797.

While employed at Sunderland Robert also undertook several consultancies for projects at

East Pier at Scarborough 1784; Single span bridge over the River Wear 1788; Bridlington Pier 1790; Improvements to the navigation of the River Tees at Stockton 1791; removal of a sandbank in the River Tyne 1792

Robert was replaced in Sunderland by Jonathon Pickernell the younger who was the son of the Whitby harbour engineer. He was dismissed on 4th may 1804 for misconduct in the use of materials for his own purpose.

Mathew (1774 – 1814)   Mathew, the son of RobertII was appointed in June 1804. He had originally been employed at Blyth in Northumberland before moving to Scarborough in 1801. He was appointed 10 days after the advert for Pickernell’s replacement. In 1807 he sought improvements to extend the North Pier, a dock for 200 – 300 ships and the dredging and deepening of the harbour. The commissioners sought the opinion of Mr Jessop on the work carried out and planned. He was very complementary about what Mathew had achieved and recommended his plans with minor variation.

Mathew died on 14th March 1814 and it seems that much of the impetus for harbour development was lost.

Robert Howard Shout (1823 – 1882) the son of Charles Lutwyche Shout (1794 – 1855)  and Jane Gibson (1797 – 1864) followed  in the tradition becoming an architect in London, Dorset and Somerset. Plans of some of his designs for modifications to churches and the construction of vicarages are held by Somerset archives. He also designed the stable block at Minterne Magna in Dorset – the seat of Lord Digby.  He was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a sketch book from his childhood is held by the Victoria & Albert Museum. I understand this was purchased by the museum in Australia, so was probably taken there by one of his siblings who emigrated.

His architectural partnership was dissolved and he moved (back) to London living in the family home -Treherne House, Hampstead, and was in business as a merchant in East Indian goods.

He died at home when  his clothes caught fire from an upset oil lamp caused by his having an epileptic fit. His inquest was widely reported in newspapers such as this article quoted  from The Dundee Courier of 20th March 1882



On Saturday afternoon Dr Diplock, the coroner for West Middlesex opened an inquiry in the dining room of No.16 Philbeach Gardens, Earls Court, London into the circumstances attending the death of Mr Robert Howard Shout, aged 58, an architect who was burned to death.  Miss Edith Mary Shout identified the body as that of her father, and stated that on Sunday evening she went to church and on returning at 8.35 walked into the drawing room , where she discovered her father lying crouched against the wall. His clothes were burning and the room was full of smoke and flames. She called for help, and the servants ran to her assistance and extinguished the flames. A doctor was sent for immediately. By the Coroner – the deceased was subject to epileptic fits, and had one on Saturday last. As these fits recurred at intervals of a month it was not thought that he would have another for some weeks after Saturday, but she believed that on Sunday evening he was seized , clutched the tablecloth, and overturned both table and lamp, thus setting himself on fire. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.”