Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Category:Bridges of Manchester and Salford

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Three cast iron skew bridges made for the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway by E. T. Bellhouse and Co in 1848-9, part of the Castlefield Viaducts

The cities of Manchester and Salford lack iconic bridges. Even residents would probably struggle to name more than a few. And yet there are several hundred in the city centres, if we include the individual arches of the extensive railway viaducts.

The early-mid 19th century residents would have witnessed a revolution in bridges, when railway builders needed to insinuate their tracks into the heart of the crowded cities, stepping over waterways, over factories, and through slums. The city centre viaducts were built with over 100 million bricks.

Later inhabitants would come to take these structures for granted, the great viaducts gradually withdrawing from their consciousness by familiarity and by the coating of grime which tended to give the area's buildings a drab uniformity.

While the city centres of Manchester and Salford lack the type of eye-catching high-level bridges which have become symbols of, say, Newcastle or Bristol, its railway viaducts are magnificent examples of bridge construction, undertaken in challenging circumstances. Their hemmed-in surroundings make them difficult to appreciate, and while history records the names of famous engineers and the aldermen and others who dined well at the opening ceremonies, the names of those individuals who applied their creative genius or risked life, limb, or sanity are invariably lost to history.

An additional challenge came with the fact that many of the bridges had to be skewed. Before the coming of inter-city railways, there was little call for skew bridges. When roads encountered rivers, bridges could normally cross the river at right angles, and the road curved to suit. This was rarely possible with railways, and these had to cross many pre-existing roads and canals. The problem had occasionally been faced by canal builders, and in fact Manchester has a very early example of a skew aqueduct, at Store Street.

There are some fine iron bridges, and a number of these have been returned to prominence by repainting, with colour schemes which emphasise the artistry of their designers and the skill of the ironfounders.

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