Morgan, James (1776-1856)
James Morgan was not the most famous of canal engineers. Little is known about his long life in the shadow of more famous men. No painting or drawing of Morgan is thought to have survived. The major work of his life was the Regent’s Canal. Almost 200 years on the tunnel is still in use and has had few maintenance problems over the years – a testament to Morgan’s work.
Morgan was born in 1776 or thereabouts, most probably in Carmarthen, south Wales. Nothing is known of his parents or childhood but as a young man he was employed, in Carmarthen, as an assistant to the architect John Nash who was at that time in practice in the town. John Nash was an architect from London who had family connections in Wales. In 1783, Nash was made bankrupt and left London for Carmarthen where he somehow managed to re-establish himself in practice. He was noted for Carmarthen Jail and other prisons and gradually his practice prospered. It has not been recorded when Morgan entered Nash’s employment or how they met but it may have been through family connections or through a newspaper advertisement. Morgan probably joined Nash’s practice as a draughtsman, when he was around 20 years old. He was to remain a close associate of Nash for over forty years. John Summerson, biographer of Nash, says, introducing Morgan: “Never for an instant does Morgan emerge as a personality, but he is always there. He is the backroom partner, the alter ego, the deputy, the agent, the man of straw, whichever character the master needs at the moment. His usefulness is inexhaustible and we shall meet him constantly though never face to face”
Morgan does not seem to have made much of a name for himself in his day but his works have stood the test of time. Whilst Nash, great man as he was, probably made the Regent’s Canal happen, Morgan actually built it and his engineering works remain his monument.