William Fairbank (1730 – 1801) was a teacher, surveyor, engineer and architect who famously surveyed large areas of Sheffield and beyond, making the city one of the best mapped 18th Century towns in the country. He followed in the footsteps of his father also called William and also a teacher and surveyor who then passed the tradition down to his son Josiah and grandson William Fairbank.
The Fairbanks family, originally from Westmorland, had a long association with Sheffield with the first reference in the city being a Robert in a will dated 1585. The family were also involved in the Society of Friends founded in London in 1688 and they may well have helped form the Sheffield branch at some later date.
William had a long association with Broomhall having constructed a dwelling house on Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge) street sometime after 1760, then in about 1774 he moved to another newly constructed dwelling house called West Hill, on land leased from the Duke of Norfolk running from Broomhall Street to Lee Croft and fronting onto West Street. At about this time he also gave up school teaching for full-time surveying and based his business at West Hill. Work that he undertook in and around Sheffield includes:
1757- Sheffield to Buxton Turnpike
1760- Lady’s Bridge to Bridgehouses and repaved Sheffield High Street
1764- Tinsley to Doncaster
1766- Orgreave to Attercliffe.
1765- Increase the water power on the river Don.
1767- Built an aqueduct from Crookesmoor to Leavey Greave and Broomhall Lane
1770’s- Architect for the Tontine Inn, the Shambles in Market Place, the Friends Meeting House, and private houses including Meersbrook House and Page Hall.
This however represents only a small proportion of his total work output.
Upon his death his business was passed to his two sons William and Josiah in whose name the business continued and where also William lived until his death in 1848. William however took little part in the family business leaving this to Josiah who constructed the Sheffield Glossop turnpike in 1819. Both he and his son William Fairbank fell victim to the ‘railway mania’ of the mid 1840’s and they both died within a few years of each other in 1843 & 1848 respectively due to the stress of each thus bringing to an end the Fairbanks dynasty.
At the time of his death in 1801 William left nearly two hundred field books, which went to the Sheffield Trustees, and which are now housed at the Sheffield archives.