Skip to main content

Papers of John Rennie (1761-1821), engineer.

Identifier: MSS.19771-19965

Scope and Contents

John Rennie was one of the distinguished group of Scottish engineers whose work contributed so much to the industrial and commercial development of the United Kingdom in the early 19th century. With the exception of roads, in which he appears not to have been interested, and steam engines, which he promised Watt not to build - though he frequently constructed the accompanying machinery - there was very little in the field of engineering that lay outside the range of his activities. This exceptional diversity is reflected in this collection of his papers, which covers his entire working life from his first visit to England in 1784 to his death. The papers are from his own office, and consist principally of incoming letters from clients, site engineers, contractors, suppliers, and tradesmen, draft reports and estimates, letterbooks, and notebooks. The collection is especially rich for the last fifteen years of his life, and for his major works, though the notebooks give a clear and consistent view of his activities throughout the 1790s. Apart from the projects with which Rennie alone was involved, he frequently collaborated with, or was consulted by colleagues, and his papers are thus an important source of information about Robert Stevenson, Thomas Telford, the Watts, the Boultons, the Jessops, and many other engineering contemporaries.


  • Creation: 1768-1821, undated.


Conditions Governing Access

Normal access conditions apply.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal reproduction conditions apply, subject to any copyright restrictions.


195 Volumes ; The papers are large folio and under unless otherwise stated.

Language of Materials



The papers are arranged by undertaking rather than chronologically, thus preserving to some extent John Rennie's office arrangement. MSS.19771-19777. Papers concerining bridges MSS.19778-19785. Papers concerning canals MSS.19786-19787. Papers concerning Fen drainage MSS.19788-19805. Papers concerning harbours MS.19806. Papers concerning lighthouses MSS.19807-19816. Papers concerning mills MSS.19817-19823. Papers concerning overseas operations MS.19824. Boulton and Watt correspondence MSS.19825-19826. Papers concerning steam engines and smaller works MSS.19827-19830. General correspondence MSS.19831-19929. Notebooks MSS.19930-19935. Miscellaneous papers MSS.19936-19937. Letter-books MSS.19938-19965. Rennie family papers

Separated Materials

The papers complement those in the library of the Institute of Civil Engineers which has many of his reports, and the majority of his letter books, and in the archives of the British Transport Commission which contains many of the papers relating to his canal projects.


This collection was used to some extent by Samuel Smiles in his article on John Rennie in ‘Lives of the engineers’ (London, 1861), volume 2, pages 94-284, and extensively by C T G Boucher in ‘John Rennie, 1761-1821’ (Manchester, 1963), and by Wallace Reyburn in ‘Bridge across the Atlantic’, (London, 1972).
National Library of Scotland Catalogue of Manuscripts
National Library of Scotland Archives and Manuscripts Division
Description rules
International Standard for Archival Description - General
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the National Library of Scotland Archives and Manuscripts Division Repository

Archives and Manuscript Division
National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EJ
0131 623 3700