Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Civil engineer, of Belfast. Alexander Mitchell was born in Dublin on 13 April 1780 but moved to Belfast with his family while he was still a child and was educated at the Belfast Academy in Donegall Street. His eyesight began to fail him at an early age, so that by the time he had reached adulthood he was totally blind. He nevertheless carried on a successful brickmaking business in Ballymacarrett, and at the same time, aided by his son, invented the screw pile, which he patented in 1833.(1) He was awarded the Telford Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers for another invention, 'A simple means of constructing durable lighthouses in deep water in shifting sands'. His method was used in the construction of lighthouses and breakwaters in Britain and India and in Ireland for the lighthouse in Belfast Lough and Courtown pier. He personally superintended the erection of all of these structures except those in India. In 1855 he won a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition for his improved screw propellor for steamers. He died on 25 June 1868 and was buried in the old Clifton graveyard in Belfast. He is described as a tall, broadly built and active man and a jovial companion. He was the great-grandfather of ALEXANDER MITCHELL BURDEN. ALEXANDER MITCHELL BURDEN. (1)

Inst.CE: elected associate, 1837; elected member, 1848; delivers paper, 'On submarine foundations; particularly the Screw Pile and Moorings', 22 February 1849.(2)

Address: 2 Alfred Street, Belfast, <=1841->=1852.(3)



All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from the biography of Mitchell in Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society Centenary Volume 1821-1921 (1924), 93, which is illustrated with a photograph of a bust by S.F. Lynn mounted to resemble a portrait medallion. Another biography is in DNB; surprisingly there is no obituary in Min.Proc.Inst.CE.

(1) Brendan O'Donoghue, The Irish County Surveyors 1834-1944 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), 117.
(2) The application of the system for boring wells was described to Inst.CE on 31 January 1837, see Min.Proc.Inst.CE 1 (1837), 18.
(3) Min.Proc.Inst.CE 7 (1848), 108-152.
(2) Martin's Belfast Directory for 1841-42 and The Belfast and Province of Ulster Directory for 1852.

5 work entries listed in chronological order for MITCHELL, ALEXANDER [2]

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Date: 1842
Nature: AM given contract to build same on his patent screw piles; piles failed in gale of Nov 1842 and project abandoned.
Refs: Bill Long, Bright Light, White Water (1993), 40-41

Date: 1844
Nature: Built using AM's screw pile construction.
Refs: Min.Proc.Inst.CE 7 (1848), 123,Pl.2 (also Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal 12 (Feb 1849), 38-39)

Date: 1847
Nature: Construction of extension of southern pier using screw piles.
Refs: Min.Proc.Inst.CE 7 (1848), 126-129, Pl.3 ( (also Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal 12 (Feb 1849), 39).

Date: 1851-53
Nature: Built on screw piles, patented by AM, who contracted for erection of same. Light first exhibited 1853.
Refs: b 9, 21 Jun 1851, 393; 11, 22 Jan 1853, 60; John S. Sloane, 'A History of the lighthouses of Ireland…IV', IB 22, 15 Jul 1880, 206; Bill Long, Bright Light, White Water (1993), 83

Date: 1854-1855
Nature: Built by AM on his patented screw piles.
Refs: John S. Sloane, 'A History of the lighthouses of Ireland…V', IB 22, 1 Sep 1880, 248

Author Title Date Details
Bigger, Francis Joseph Alexander Mitchell.   The Famous Blid Engineer of Belfast
1907 Belfast: privately printed, 1907 (copy in NLI)
Mitchell, Alexander 'On screw pile lighthouses'
1840 Letter to Civil Engineer & Architect's Journal 3 (Sep, 1940), 322.
Mitchell, Alexander 'On Submarine Foundations;  particularly the Screw-pile and Moorings'
1848 Paper read to Inst.CE, 22 Feb 1848, published in Min.Proc.Inst.CE 7 (1848), 126-129,Pl.3 (summarized in Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal 11 (Apr 1848), 122-3, and published in full in Vol. 12 (Feb 1849), 35-40).
Robb, Colin Johnston 'The blind lighthouse engineer' 1954 IB 96, 31 Jul 1954, 756.