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Castlefield Viaducts (Manchester)

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The MSJ&AR viaduct approaching Castlefield from the west. Cast iron arch bridge in the distance. Note the sinuous granite insets in the road, aimed at easing the passage of heavy iron-wheeled carts
Three cast iron skew bridges near Deansgate, made for the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway by E. T. Bellhouse and Co in 1848-9
Two of the above bridges in 2006, before repainting. Note the differences in detailing of decorative iron castings
One of the group of three bridges near Deansgate, heavily skewed to cross the Rochdale Canal. 105 ft span
Note the arrangement of the masonry to accommodate the thrust of the skewed arches
Fleur-de-lys theme on cast iron railings
Some of the Castlefield Viaducts. MSJ&AR on left, CLC centre, CLC/MR on right
The same bridges viewed through an arch of the Ordsall branch
Castlefield Basin: cast iron MSJ&AR bridge of 105 ft span, made by W. J. and J. Garforth
Intermediate pier of 1870s bridge. Note the elliptical cast iron column
Intermediate pier of 1870s bridge, showing X-bracing. The designer set an immense challenge for those who had to make and install the bracing. The 18 castings comprising the double X bracing had to fit perfectly together, and fit perfectly between the columns. Note that these are big castings - the gap between the columns is about 18 feet
1870s bridge - more details of bracing
1870s bridge. Note how the curved flange had to be made to fit the elliptical profile of the column
1893 bridge
1893 bridge
1870s and 1893 bridges. Even the drain pipe is complicated!
1893 bridge
1870s bridge on left, 1893 on right
Fish-bellied cross girders under 1870s bridge
Slightly to the east of the area known as Castlefield, we see the 1991 Metrolink bridge over Great Bridgewater Street, and beyond that a tunnel-like series of bridges, the first of which took the MSJ&R on to Oxford Road and thence to London Road Station. Beyond are the bridges once carried trains into Central Station. At the far end is Deansgate, while in the foreground on the left is the Briton's Protection Inn.


'Castlefield Viaducts' is an unofficial term used here to denote an impressive series of structures, built over a period of several decades, to bring railways into a crowded area of west central Manchester, south of the River Irwell. This entry actually covers an area somewhat beyond the Castlefield area.

The viaducts were built in four phases over a period of 50 years. There was a fifth phase in the early 1990s, with the coming of Metrolink.

The first viaduct, opened in 1849, was built by the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway (MSJ&AR). The second phase served the Cheshire Line Committee's (CLC) new Manchester Central Railway Station, which opened in 1877. The third phase involved the CLC and Midland Railway constructing an elevated railway alongside the 1877 viaduct. The final phase was constructed in the late 1890s for the large goods warehouse of the Great Northern Railway built alongside Central Station.

Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway Viaducts

In the city centre, the MSJ&AR had two miles of brick-built viaducts with no less than 224 arches, and some handsome iron bridges. The masonry viaducts are fine pieces of work, but it is the cast iron arch bridges which are really worthy of attention, especially when their intricate details have been highlighted by fresh paint. The appeal of a group of three bridges near Deansgate is enhanced by the fact that they all differ in detail, despite coming from the same local foundry (E. T. Bellhouse and Co).

Builders of railways were faced with a problem which had rarely troubled road builders. Railways could not be bent to tight curves to meet rivers square-on, so bridges often had to be skewed. Skewed construction posed major challenges for the builders, and provides added interest for those who like to study bridges.

Three other cast iron bridges and one 'tubular' wrought iron bridge to the west of the 'Deansgate group' were made by W. J. and J. Garforth[1]. One of these, 250 yds west of the skew bridge over the Rochdale Canal, has the same 105 ft span, is not skewed, and its castings are architecturally almost identical to the skew bridge, despite the fact that the the two come from different foundries.

Lattice Girder Bridges

The most imposing structures are the lattice girder bridges crossing the Bridgewater Canal/Castlefield Wharfs junction, with their distinctive castellated turrets. The castle theme derives from the area's name, which in turn reflects the former presence of the Roman fort of Mancunium.

The 'Phase 2' girder bridge was built for the Cheshire Lines Committee in the 1870s. Much of the following information is drawn from an 1876 newspaper report (fully transcribed later on this page):-

There are two spans, one of 205 feet and the other of 140 feet, with an intermediate pier comprised of two cast iron cylinders. Surprisingly, these are elliptical rather than circular. Typically, cast iron bridge support cylinders would be made from complete rings bolted together at the horizontal joints by internal flanges, but in this case each ring is assembled from four cast-iron segments, bolted together by internal vertical and horizontal flanges. This probably reflected their large size. The columns are braced together with diagonal bracings and struts of cast-iron. The pier cylinders are firmly bedded in the rock at a depth of about 18 feet below ground level. They were no doubt filled with concrete. The extreme ends of the girders are supported on brick abutments.

The ends of the riveted wrought iron lattice girders are concealed from the public gaze by castellated turrets. The main girders are over 20ft. deep. The substantial cross girders which support the rails are supported on top of the lower beams. These lower beams are relatively shallow, but the load is shared by the top beams via the diagonal bracing. In the abutment at the western end of the bridge, the main girders are about 32ft. apart from centre to centre, on account of the line just at that point being slightly on the curve; in the smaller span on the eastern side of the centre pier they are twenty-seven feet apart.

One source names the maker of these girders (and presumably the piers, too) as Eastwood, Swingler and Co of Derby.[2]

The 'Phase 3' lattice girder bridges were completed in 1893, and the girders appear to be of very similar construction. However, the girder material is steel, which is generally more susceptible to corrosion. The girders are supported by fifteen cast iron support columns, and these are of circular, not elliptical section. Each ring is assembled from four segments, as for the 1870s columns. The columns are topped by ornate castellated iron castings. Pairs of columns are tied together by lattice girders, clamped to the columns by riveted cylindrical collars. Below the clamps are cast iron ornamental collars. The contractor for the iron and steel work was Heenan and Froude of Manchester.

For more information see '1893 Viaduct' below.

1876 Newpaper Report of 'Phase 2' Work

'The past twelve months have seen great progress made with the new viaduct of the Cheshire Lines Committee, between Cornbrook and Manchester, which, when complete, will be one of the largest constructions of the kind in this neighbourhood.

'As is well known, the object of its construction is to give the Cheshire Lines Committee direct communication to their new station, now in course of erection in Windmill-street, from their line to Warrington, Liverpool, and other portions of their system — in other words, it is the completion of what is known as the Manchester end of the Liverpool Extension Railway.

'At the present time there can be no question that the Cheshire Lines Committee are placed at a great disadvantage competing for Liverpool traffic, in consequence of a lack of station accommodation. The trains themselves are excellent, and have already become favourably known for their unusual punctuality, but the accommodation, both at the London-road terminus and at the Oxford-road station, is far from satisfactory. When the new Central Station is completed all complaint on that score will be removed, for it will, like the terminus at the Liverpool end of the line, be of the most commodious character.

'It is needless to say that the new line between this city and Liverpool has been in use for some time, but the Cheshire Lines Committee's system extends only to Cornbrook from Liverpool, and in order to obtain access to London-road Station it has been and is now necessary to run over a portion of the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway. The new viaduct will give the committee a line entirely of their own. The engineering difficulties in connection with the construction of the viaduct have been neither few nor small. To carry a railway for a mile and a half through a thickly-populated district must always be fraught with some, generally with many, difficulties ; but in no case have they been surmounted with more satisfaction than in this.

'The work has now been brought, so far, towards completion that a short description of its general features will not fail to be of interest to our readers, many whom have seen the gradual growth of the work, and many more of whom will no doubt in the future experience benefit from the conveniences of transit which, in connection with the other important works the Cheshire Lines Committee have carried out, the viaduct will afford.

'From end to end — that is to say, from its junction with the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway to Windmill-street, the new portion of line to be laid is about a mile and half in length. Commencing a description of the new works at the junction at Cornbrook we have to state that from the junction to a distance of about half a mile in the direction of Manchester the line is carried on an embankment, which for the last hundred yards is supported by a heavy retaining wall, the culvert over the brook which it crosses, and which is called the " Black Brook," having been sufficiently widened to allow of the embankment being carried over it.

'Coming to Cornbrook-road, we have the first bridge, which has been constructed on what is known as the “trough" principle, in order to give increased headway to accommodate road traffic to Pomona Gardens. The bridge is of thirty-two feet span.

'From this spot to a short distance beyond the Hulme Locks the line diverges from the route followed by the Manchester South Junction Railway. It was originally intended to follow the same course as is taken by that line, but, in order to avoid coming into contact with property which it is not thought desirable to interfere with, this divergence was decided upon, and while the chief object in view has by that means been served, there has been no disadvantage incurred in adopting the course which the line now follows.

'From the Cornbrook Bridge to Trentham-street the line is carried over twelve fine arches, while Trentham-street itself is crossed by a wrought-iron girder bridge, of thirty four feet span, so that the freedom of the thoroughfare is not at all interfered with by the new works.

'By three more arches, each of forty feet span, we are brought to another bridge, also of wrought-iron, and of seventy-two feet opening, by which the line is carried over the Bridgewater Canal. This bridge consists of four girders, on the lattice principle, 7ft 6in. deep, one of the girders being placed under each of the four rails, and with a light handrail on either side.

'From the canal to the Hulme Locks the line is carried over nineteen arches, one of which, near Hulme Hall-road, has been made wider than the rest, in order to provide, if it should any future tune be thought desirable, a means of communication between Hulme and Salford by a bridge crossing the Irwell near Woden-street.

'The line is taken over the locks by an arch of 42 feet opening on the "skew," just beyond which the proposed Bolton Junctions line was to have joined this system if the necessary powers for its construction had been obtained.

'From this point, by twelve arches, each having a span of 40 feet, we are brought to Egerton-street, over which the line is carried by an arch built slightly on the skew and of 50 feet opening, the appearance which is much marred by the juxtaposition of the comparatively diminutive bridge of the Manchester, South Junction, and Altrincham Railway, which crosses the road close by it. In order to improve the appearance of the bridge, the abutments and the arch itself have been faced with stock bricks, the arch being also provided with stone quoins.

'It is at this point of the line that the diversion of the course of the river Medlock has been made. For a distance of about one hundred and sixty yards the course of the river has been entirely changed, the Manchester corporation having erected a bridge for the purpose of carrying out the task. The advantages which will be derived from the diversion are obvious. As an awkward bend in the course of the river has been done away with the water will have a freer flow, and not inconsiderable benefit case of heavy rain, while the new bridge which has taken the place of the old structure by which the river was crossed, and which often impeded the free flow when the stream when swollen beyond its ordinary dimensions will, it is hoped, be found of ample dimensions to accommodate the flow of water even in times of heaviest floods.

'Having proceeded over four more arches, three having forty feet and one thirty feet span, we came to the coal wharves, which are crossed by a bridge having six openings and a total length of nearly three hundred feet, and with a height of fifty feet from the ground. The girders of the bridge are constructed of plated iron ; they are four in number; and in the case of the bridge crossing the Bridgewater Canal one is placed under each rail. The bridge is divided into two bays by a brick pier, eight feet thickness, erected at the centre, and from this support to the abutments at each end the girders in each bay are continuous, but have two intermediate supports, each of which consists of two wrought iron columns with intermediate transverse bracing. The columns are of cruciform section, and consist of two plates and twelve angle-irons running the entire vertical length of the column. At the base the columns are tied with wrought-iron rods of diameter three inches, and are further secured firmly into the foundations by holding-down bolts about fourteen feet below the surface of the ground. Two arms of the Bridgewater Canal are crossed by this bridge. One of the main objects in view in designing this particular portion of the work was to carry the line over the coal wharves, and place as little impediment in the way of free working of the wharves as possible. That object has been well accomplished.

'Having passed over three more arches, we come to the most important piece of engineering work upon the line — the iron bridge which crosses the line over the Bridgewater Canal and Messrs. Kenworthy's warehouse at Castlefield. This bridge is of larger dimensions than any other in connection with the work. Like the others, it is of iron, and consists of two openings, one of which has a span of 205 feet and the other a span of 140 feet, which, with the bearings, give the bridge an extreme length of 356 feet. Only one intermediate pier is used in the support of this bridge, and that is in the form of two cylinders, of oval shape, the longest having a diameter of ten feet and the shorter a diameter of seven feet. Each of the cylinders is formed of cast-iron segments, four in number, in plates six feet in depth, and which are secured together by wrought-iron bolts. The columns are also braced together with diagonal bracings and struts of cast-iron. The ends of the girders, where they abut upon the central cylinders, will be hid by a cast-iron screw rising to a height of about twenty-four feet above the level of the rails which, like the walls on the abutments, will be turreted. The cylinders are carried down to, and firmly bedded in, the rock at a depth of about 18 feet below the ground level. The material used in the construction of the girders which are on the lattice principle, and over 20ft. deep, is wrought iron. The cross girders on which the rails are carried are placed on the top of the bottom booms, while the girders are further secured by overhead bracings. In the abutment at that end of the bridge nearest Liverpool, the main girders are about 32ft. apart from centre to centre on account the line just at that point being slightly on the curve; in the smaller span on the Manchester side of the centre pier they are twenty-seven feet.

'Three more arches — one of 40 feet span and two of 34 feet — bring us to the Ordsal-lane branch of the South Junction line. The new line crosses over the South Junction Railway at this point, at a considerable elevation, by a wrought-iron lattice bridge, with an opening of about 150 feet, the two main girders of which are on the "skew," and overlap each other considerably, and with a depth of about fourteen feet. [Note: this bridge was replaced in 1906[3]]. With this bridge, as with the last described, the cross girders are placed on the upper portion of the booms, which, in their turn carry the rails. It may be thought that a span of a hundred and fifty feet is far too much for the purpose of merely crossing a line of railway, but one cause is that the lower line is not crossed at right angles, and at the same time sufficient space has being reserved on either side of the South Junction Railway to allow for an additional line of rails if hereafter found necessary.

'Collier-street is crossed by a brick arch, considerably on the curve, having a clear span of thirty feet on the square, and from this point to the viaduct is carried by six arches, two of which— the two end ones—have a span of forty feet, and the four centre arches a span of seventy feet each. Deansgate will be crossed by a cast-iron arched girder bridge with a clear span of nearly 86ft., the abutments of which will be in line with the houses either side of the street. Between Deansgate and Great Bridgewater-street, which is the last thoroughfare the line crosses before entering the Windmill-street Station, the viaduct begins to widen very considerably, and will, when complete, consist of arches with a span of about 30ft. Crown-street and Trafford-street are crossed by wrought-iron girder bridges, while Great Bridgewater-street will be spanned by cast-iron arched girders of 48 feet in the clear.

'We have come now to the site of the station, which covers about ten acres of land. .....'[4]

For the remainder of the article, see Manchester Central Railway Station.

1893 Viaduct

1893 Newspaper report:[5]


'No more certain or reliable evidence of the increase of business and general progress of any centre of industry can be obtained than that which is afforded by the extensions which take place from time to time of our railway systems.

'In 1875, it will be remembered that the Central Station in this city, which is jointly used by the Cheshire Lines Committee and the Midland Railway Company, was opened. Previously the Midland Company's terminus was London-road Station. The establishment of the new Cheshire Lines route to Liverpool led to an arrangement between that Committee and the Midland Railway Company, which resulted in the construction of the new Midland line from Stockport to Manchester and the erection of the spacious Central Station, which has since been used by the two companies as just stated. Two lines of rails were originally made, and to carry them from Cornbrook to the Central Station a huge viaduct was constructed. The two lines were sufficient for the requirements for a considerable time, but the traffic has during the past six or seven years been so great that it was found absolutely necessary to widen the viaduct. In 1888 plans and designs were furnished by Mr. W. G. Scott, chief engineer of the Cheshire Lines. In due course the designs were approved by the Cheshire Lines Committee and the Midland Railway Company, and parliamentary powers to raise the necessary capital and proceed with the work were obtained. In 1890 the contracts were let, and the big undertaking was commenced.

'The progress of the work has been watched by those with the habit of travelling over the line to and from the Central Station with great interest, and it is matter for general congratulation that the contracts have been successfully carried out. The result will be to facilitate the traffic, and prevent the delays which have unavoidably taken place in running trains into the station, owing, as already indicated, to the great increase which has taken place the traffic. As a matter of fact no fewer than 300 trains have passed over the two lines of rails every 18 hours for some time past as compared with 120 at the opening of the line. Three new lines have now been added, and it expected that ere long 400 or 500 trains will run every 24 hours from and to the Central Station without the least delay, even in the busiest seasons.

'The viaduct may fairly be described as a triumph of engineering skill. It has been constructed on a principle which makes it almost, if not quite, unique. Some notion may be formed of the nature and importance of the extension from the fact that the total cost has amounted to £250,000. Extensive blocks of buildings had to be demolished to make room for the viaduct, and foundations of great depth and solidity had necessarily to be put in to bear the great mass of iron and steel employed in the building, not to mention the weight of the trains that will pass over it.

'The new viaduct carries three new sets of rails from a point near the engine shed at Cornbrook to the Central Station, the distance covered being three-quarters of a mile. There are 56 arches, several girder bridges, and a steel latticed viaduct 370 yards long. The main girders are supported on 15 cast iron cylinders, each 10ft. 6in. in diameter in the shaft and 13ft. 6in. at the base. The cylinders are embedded in Portland cement, and rest upon the solid rock some 20ft. below the surface of the ground. The longest column is 60ft. high from the ground level to the railway level, and the 20ft. below the surface makes the total length 80ft. The steel latticed girder work extends from Egerton-street to Deansgate, the width being 38ft. There are eight spans in this portion of the work, the widest being 175 ft., undoubtedly one of the largest and finest in England. The lattice girders are 20ft. deep, the cross girders having span of 38ft. with bearers under each rail. In its course the viaduct runs over the Ship Canal wharves, formerly the property of the Bridgewater Canal Navigation Company —and crosses the Manchester South Junction main line near Deansgate. The lattice girder work—which constitutes, perhaps, the leading feature, extends from Duke-street to Dawson-street. At the latter place, the outside plate girder is 178 ft.long. The bridge over the canal has a square span of 61ft., and a skew span of 80ft. Ten lattice girders are employed here, being 8ft. 6in. deep, and 7ft. 7in. wide. All the bridges are fitted with ½ in. steel floor plates.

'At Cornbrook there is a bridge with a skew span of 64ft. This is a trough-bridge, having four large girders, the troughs being 7in. deep, and filled with cement. Four of the arches, it may be stated, have each span of 70ft., 22 a span each of 40ft., and 14 a span each of 34ft. ; and one of the bridges has a skew span of 50ft. To illustrate the magnitude of the work it may mentioned that the cast-iron columns which support the latticed viaduct weigh altogether 2,000 tons ; some 12,500 cubic yards of concrete were used in connection with the foundations, and 1,500 cubic yards of concrete were employed in the arches. About 42,000 cubic feet of stone were used in forming the beds for the cylinders supporting the lattice viaduct. Then it will be interesting know that 24,000,000 of common bricks were used in the arches and foundations, and 6,000,000 Staffordshire blue bricks were employed for facing and buttress purposes. The total weight of iron and steel in the viaduct is about 7,000 tons. Upwards of 6,000,000 rivets were used the construction of the viaduct, and some 600,000 of them were clinched by hydraulic power.

'Not the least interesting and important fact is that the cost of the work amounted to about £250,000. Great credit is due to the engineering staff of the company, and the contractors for the eminently satisfactory way in which the work has been carried out. Various difficulties of no light character were encountered, and were successfully overcome. In two places the old viaduct had very sharp curves, one being near Dawson-street, and the other near the Bridgewater Canal. They were really what are known as S curves. These have been got rid of very skilfully, and the lines are now much straighter than formerly. The improvement has been effected without any interference with the traffic.

'Another difficulty lay in the fact that in making the excavations the men came upon an old culvert or tunnel constructed in years long gone by, probably for the purpose of diverting the River Medlock when the Bridgewater Canal was made. A thick brick arch was built over the tunnel, and upon this one of the cylinders supporting the viaduct was placed, being firmly embedded in concrete.

'The contractors for the masonry and brickwork were Messrs. M. W. Walmsley and Co., of Manchester and Southport, and for the steel and ironwork Messrs, Heenan and Froude, of Newton Heath.

'The contracts may be said to have been finally completed on Wednesday, and in the afternoon of that day a pleasing little ceremony took place on the viaduct at the point where it crosses the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway. This was the fixing and clinching of the last rivet by Mr. W. G. Scott, C.E., and Mr. Heenan. In addition to those gentlemen, amongst those present were Mr. Podmore, Mr. J. Johnson, Mr. A. J. Caufield, Mr. W. Lavarack, Mr. G. Walker, and Mr. J. Ward (of the engineering staff of the Cheshire Lines Committee), Mr. W. Walmsley, Mr. J. Roberts, Mr. H. Lockwood, Mr. W. Kirk (stationmaster, Central Station, Manchester), Mr. Langridge (goods agent), Mr. Collier and Mr. Fowden (permanent way inspectors); Mr. J. Oubridge, Mr. J. Hilton, Mr.J.Bell, Mr.Gilbert, and Mr. Reed. Mr. Onbridge, on behalf of Messrs. Heenan and Froude, presented Mr. Scott with a handsome mahogany case lined with satin, and containing two silver-plated hammers, and two rivets, one gold and the other silver, as a memento of the occasion. A copper rivet was placed in the only remaining slot, and this was duly clinched by Mr. Scott and Mr. Heenan, amid loud cheers. The work of putting down the rails and fixing the signals will be finished in the course of a few days. The viaduct will then be surveyed by Government inspector, and it is expected that it will be opened for traffic about the close of the present month. Above we give views representing a portion of the latticed viaduct at Cornbrook, and the bridge which crosses Dawson-street.'

1906 Replacement

In 1906 the Cheshire Lines Committee placed a contract with Heenan and Froude to replace the viaduct carrying their 'A' route over the MSJ&AR and over the timber yard of Southern and Nephew (on the site of the Roman fort). The contractor had to effect the complete removal and replacement within one month of contract placement.[6]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 19 May 1849
  2. 'Scenes from the Past: 3 - Manchester Railway Termini' by E. M. Johnson, Foxline Publishing Co, 1993
  3. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 13 October 1906
  4. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 18 December 1876
  5. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 6 May 1893
  6. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 3 October 1906