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Belah Viaduct

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The dismantled Belah Viaduct finished in 1861 consisted of 16 spans with a total length of 1,040 feet, 196 feet above the valley floor, built for the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway.

This was the tallest viaduct in England.

It was closed in 1962, and subsequently demolished.

1859 'AN HOUR AT THE BEELAH VIADUCT. (From the Darlington Times.)
A remark made by Mr H. Pease, at Brough, on Tuesday, to the effect that this great structure is making progress the extraordinary rate of a pier every week, carries with it such an air of romance, that we are induced to give a few details in vindication of the hon. gentleman's character for accuracy. Has the reader seen the Crumlin viaduct in South Wales ? If so, he has seen something very much like the Beelah, —an erection spanning a wide mountain gorge, at great height, and looking like a gigantic development of spider architecture applied to mechanics. But, course, the resemblance to the Crumlin, in height, length, and general appearance, is of itself nothing remarkable. The marvel consists in the rapidity with which the one is being erected as compared with the other, and any one who has the opportunity (as we had this week) of witnessing the course of the operations, if only for an hour, will not fail to be wonder-stricken at the degree of perfection to which mechanical art has now attained.
The valley of Beelah runs east and west, and lies about five miles from Brough and seven from Kirkby Stephen. It is deep and wide gorge, slightly wooded at the bottom, with extensive bare moors on either side. Across this gorge, at an elevation of 200 feet, the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway was to be engineered, and we can well believe that when the committee of directors accompanied Mr Bouch (their engineer) on one of his early surveys, they stood aghast at the hard necessity by which they are confronted. The thing, however, was to be done, and tenders having been invited, Messrs. Gilkes, Wilson, and Co., of Middlesborough, undertook to carry the line across on viaduct of cast and wrought iron. The general construction is a wrought iron superstructure, supported on compound metal piers, at distances of 60 feet from centre to centre. Of these piers, as the viaduct is 1,000 feet long, there are to be 15 altogether, the height of which from base to summit will vary according to the inclination of the ground, the highest (that in the channel of the gorge) being 200 feet, and the lowest 45 feet. These piers, each of which rests on a sub-structure of stone-work, cramped and keyed to the iron bed with " bolts and bars" of immense strength, are in appearance remarkably light and elegant. They are formed of hollow cast-iron tubes, about a foot diameter, placed one on the other and joined together by flanges. Six of these lengths of tubes, thus joined, and arranged in the form of a parallelogram tapering upwards, make a pier. That in the centre of the gorge for example, has six columns, each column consisting of 11 separate pieces flanged together. These six columns spring from the angles and sides of a base of 50 feet by 18, end, inclining toward each other, rise at the full height of 200 feet to an apex narrowed by about one-half. The columns are fixed in their places by metal-distance-pieces at intervals of 15 feet, these distance pieces are, in their turn, bound horizontally and vertically by wrought iron tubes which so brace the whole structure together as practically to make it one piece. The superstructure is covered with platform of timber, and surmounted by an elegant handrail.
The foregoing is a general sketch of this original and beautiful viaduct—original in everything but bare outline, and beautiful in a sense which cannot be appreciated without seeing the structure itself in connection with the miles of panoramic scenery which its site commands. But perhaps the most curious feature in the erection—certainly the most interesting in an engineering sense—is the mode which the contractors are enabled to put the iron-work together with what we have referred to as such marvellous rapidity. There is no lifting. The iron is all deposited on the side of the gorge, carried along rails by a moveable crane, each piece dropped down to the very place where it is wanted, and there at once rivetted for “good an' all." The crane is long enough to reach from pier to pier, and thus each, as it is finished, becomes a fulcrum for the next. The columns are dropped down in pieces 15 feet long,—fixed upon their several bases, —tied together by the cross pieces, and thus the pier is sprung a height of 15 feet almost before you can say “Jack Robinson." It certainly cannot be said that Messrs. Gilkes, Wilson, and Co., do not make the utmost use of gravitation, or that the fearfully toilsome work of leading their stuff over Stainmore from Barnard Castle, —(about 30 teams going hour by hour, and 40 tons landed at the site every day)— is not as far as possible counter-balanced by this judicious economy of power.
We admit that that, in taking Mr Jack Robinson's name in vain, we were somewhat hyperbolical. But not outrageously so, as the reader may judge from what follows. When at the works last Tuesday we saw a pier in progress. Three had been completed, (though not commenced more than five weeks ago), and this was the fourth,—a pier which, when finished, would be 90 feet high. We believe it was commenced at a late hour (seven o'clock) on the previous evening, Mr Gilkes setting the first pier, and we were assured it would be finished that night after taking in its erection 15 hours. And without doubt this result was achieved, for whilst watching it (perhaps three quarters of an hour) the pier grew 15 feet, and the whole affair so contrasted with everything we had ever before seen, that it struck us as more like the building of houses of cards, or some wild dream of bridge building, than as a common illustration of the power of mechanics, and of the influence of mind over matter. The rapidity of construction it is obvious, would not be possible if all the materials were not brought to the ground in a complete finished state. Every pillar, arm, and band, is fitted to a model before leaving the works at Middlesborough, and thus a screw wrench is the almost the only tool used at Beelah.
There will be about 1,200 tons of iron nu the viaduct, and it will probably be the lightest of the size ever built. As to strength, no train that can possibly pass over, even at maximum speed, will be heavy enough to tax its stabilitv. The greatest strain to which a structure placed can be subjected will be that of winds. These, at times, sweep down the valley with immense force, but a calculation exposed superficies (including that of a long train) shows that the resisting power is far more than equal any possible strain, and that the viaduct will be as firm as the rock on which it is built. Messrs. Gilkes, Wilson, and Co., hope to complete their contract this year, and by maintaining their present speed, they will doubtless be able to accomplish this feat, —in other words, to do at the Beelah in six months what occupied two years and half at the Crumlin. Their employes at present number about 70, a few of whom are lodged in the neighbourhood, and the remainder (owing to the want of accommodation) conveyed to and from Brough.
It is satisfactory to add that not a finger has been crushed in dealing with those heavy masses of iron, and only one of the pieces of metal fractured,—a fact which sufficiently attests the constant care and vigilance of the persons in charge. We wish the spirited contractors, and Mr Bouch, all the success which the skill and enterprise they have brought to bear on this really wonderful undertaking merits. It does not surprise us that, as shown by handbills placarded all over the country, Beelah is the favourite place for picnics from Brough, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, and the country round; and if any one of our readers should be looking forward to their summer tours when this line shall have been opened, we can commend them in all confidence to the rare beauties of Beelah vale. On the day of our visit, the works were also inspected by the chairman, vice-chairman, and other directors of the company, well as by Mr Crackanthorpe and Mr Hopes of the Eden Valley,—all of whom were unanimous in praise both or the work and the manner of it.’[1]


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Sources of Information

  1. Kendal Mercury - Saturday 20 August 1859