We can answer the front-page headline in the Advertiser from earlier this month, ‘What future for viaduct?’. The plain answer is that, as it stands, it has no future.
That would be nothing short of criminal. This magnificent structure has strode across the valley for over 130 years now, but cannot continue to do so without some urgent maintenance. The fact that it is a Grade-II listed structure hasn’t stopped it from being placed in the ‘at risk’ category.
Whatever its long term use, as a walkway or cycleway, it needs work done to it now, because its condition is getting worse every year.
In the course of doing rearch for our local railway book, Railway Tales, we have walked miles of old railway lines, and they make excellent footpath and cycleways. Surviving viaducts are often utilised in these as viewpoints and information centres. The views are nearly always spectacular from a viaduct because of the fact they are usually high above the scenery. The landscape from Bennerley is truly inspiring.
At just over 60 feet above the surviving railway lines, Bennerley isn’t unusually high but it had to be built in the form it was because the ground beneath it was unstable. Its construction is what makes it unique. Constructed of wrought iron, on site, the structure is jointed with large pins, which are held in place by wedges to act as cotter pins. The Midland Railway drivers that rode below it on Midland Mainline used to inaccurately call it the “nuts and bolts viaduct”. Perhaps if they had known that the viaduct had very few of those in its construction they may have gone under it a little bit faster.
Only one other viaduct of a similar construction remains in this country, at Meldon in Devon.
Bennerley is deteriorating at an alarming rate. In not many years this will give someone an excuse to brand it “dangerous”. Let’s get some remedial work done to make it safe. Open it up to let people walk on it. They can then see it at close quarters for themselves to realise just what a magnificent structure it is.
Recent tragic events have led some to question whether such a structure should remain, but this is a problem with all bridges and high buildings. You cannot make all motorway bridges totally safe, nor even the ones on Chalons Way, and you cannot shut all multi-storey car parks because of the risks.
This inspiring and historic structure is an important part of our local heritage, one of the few reminders of the industrial ambition of the Victorian engineers which survive locally.
It only survived in the late 1960s because it was very expensive to dismantle by cutting torch. We doubt it would survive today’s demolition techniques.
Paul Mason and Grant Shaw,