William Jessop was born in Devonport in 1745. He became a pupil of John Smeaton at the age of 16 and worked with him on canals in Yorkshire. In 1790 Jessop founded the Butterley Iron Works and began to manufacture fish-bellied cast-iron rails which marked an important advance in railway technology.
By the late 1790s Jessop was recognised as one of Britain's leading engineers. He was involved in a great number of projects including the Grand Junction Canal, the Surrey Iron Railway, the Bristol Docks and the West India Docks on the Thames in London.
William Jessop died in 1814.