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British Industrial History

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Langport Railway Hotel Swing Bridge

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View from A378 pavement
View from access road
JD Langport sw br4.jpg
Aerial view of gears interconnecting the moving halves of the bridge. Note the repair on the right hand gear

in Langport, Somerset

This curious little bridge was constructed to cross an access road separating the former Railway Hotel from the pavement alongside the A378 road.

The access road was originally the turnpike road, but in the 1850s the road had to be offset and elevated to cross the new Bristol and Exeter Railway line between Taunton and Yeovil.

The Railway Hotel was built in 1906 on the site of a thatched pub which burnt down. It was decided to have the hotel entrance on the first floor, which was slightly higher than the pavement of the elevated road.

A fixed bridge would not have allowed sufficient headroom for vehicles on the access road, so a moveable bridge was called for. The solution was most unusual. A lifting bridge would have required considerable manual effort to raise it, and there was insufficient width between the pavement and hotel for a balanced (bascule) bridge. A swing bridge was therefore the obvious choice, but again the room required for the pivot of a bridge of the required width would have been problematic, given the restricted width of the access road. This constraint presumably led to the ingenious idea of making the bridge in two halves, scissors-like, thereby reducing the 'folded' width and also halving the load on the pivots.

The bridge was swung by a hand crank driving through worm and wheel gearing on the left hand part of the bridge, and the right hand part followed in unison by means of spur gearing (see photos).

At some time the cast iron frame for the worm has been repaired by bolting on patches. Perhaps the outcome of enthusiastic winding and the considerable inertia of the moving bridge?

It is not clear what safety precautions were imposed to protect pedestrians - or customers leaving the hotel after having 'dined well' - when the bridge was swung for a vehicle to use the access road.

For more information, see 2007 AIA article by Brian Murless[1]

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