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Blog : Posts tagged with 'bouch'


Cemetary Gates

In which we find Bouch’s grave

From the recent search hits: “sir thomas bouch blog”. Somehow, I doubt Sir Thomas Bouch is likely to have a blog. For one thing, he’s dead.* Secondly, he was always more interested in building railways than writing about them, or about anything.

If you’ve never heard of him: Thomas Bouch was an English railway engineer, and some of the time he was a rather good engineer. Some of the time. He built the highest railway in England, the South Durham & Lancashire Union,** and with it the highest railway viaducts in England. He also invented the first modern train ferry, on the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee railway, which would otherwise have been in two separate parts.*** Unfortunately, he was also rather fond of cost-cutting, building routes on the cheap, and that led to his downfall and infamy. Because he’s now best known for building the Tay Bridge – the one that fell down. There’s even an urban myth that the word “botch” is derived from his name. It isn’t, of course, but the rumour is hardly good for his reputation.

One day, a few years ago, I was ambling around the west end of Edinburgh. Away from all the expensive tenements,**** there’s a picturesque gorge, with a river running through the bottom, wooded sides, and grand buildings poking out from behind the trees: the back of Donaldson’s College, and the National Gallery of Modern Art. If you go up through the art gallery grounds, as I did, and through past the Dean Gallery, you can wander through the Dean Cemetary. Doing so, I randomly found: Bouch’s grave.

It’s a very bare, imposing grave. A bust of the man; the name “BOUCH”, nothing more, and the dates. It’s a very nice spot to be buried in.

* although this isn’t necessarily a bar – both Sam Pepys and Geoffrey Chaucer manage it.

** It closed in the early 1960s. The A66 road roughly follows its route, and runs closely parallel to it at Stainmore.

*** It was originally two separate railways, one in Edinburgh, one in Fife, which merged.

**** think Shallow Grave

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In which we prove the previous post correct

Further to Thursday’s post: Hurrah! If you read the comments, you’ll see that both Wikipedia and the BBC are both talking nonsense. The OED’s first reference to the word “botched” goes back to 1568; and Thomas Carlyle used it in its modern spelling in the 1830s. As a verb, “botch” goes back to John Wyclif, in the 14th century. Sir Thomas Bouch had nothing to do with it. Thanks to Mr Treefell – who, I believe, works at my old university library – for looking the entry up for me.

Poking around, though, I discovered that my local library subscribes to the Oxford English Dictionary. Most do, in fact – and they let you use it from home! So I can look up anything I like in the OED, so long as I can remember my library card number to sign in with. Hurrah!

I knew about the OED online service, but I had no idea that virtually any public library user in Britain could use it for free from home. It’s a wonderful idea, and a wonderful resource. I’m going to resist turning this into an etymology blog completely – but it’s going to be hard.

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