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British Industrial History

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Stockport Viaduct

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Stockport Viaduct.

The Stockport Viaduct is a large brick-built bridge which carries a main railway line across the valley of the River Mersey, in Stockport, Greater Manchester.

Designed by George Watson Buck and completed in 1841, the viaduct is 111 feet high. At the time of its construction it was the largest viaduct in the world, and it represents a major feat of Victorian engineering and a key pioneering structure of the railway age. It is currently a Grade II* listed structure, and remains one of western Europe's biggest brick structures.

The 27 arch viaduct took 21 months to build and cost £70,000; 11,000,000 bricks were used in its construction.

1841: 'COMPLETION OF THE STOCKPORT VIADUCT. The ceremony of laying the stone forming the completion of this stupendous viaduct, conveying the Manchester and Birmingham Railway over the valley of the Mersey, at Stockport, was performed on Monday week. Before detailing the proceedings connected with this interesting occasion, an account and description of the viaduct, which is, probably, the largest work of the kind ever constructed in the world, will no doubt, be interesting to many of our readers. The extreme length of the viaduct is 1,786 feet. It has 22 semi- circular arches, each of 63 feet span, four of 20 feet span, and two at each abutment. The height of the viaduct (to the surface of the rails) is 111 feet above the bed of the river, being six feet higher than the celebrated Menai Bridge. The foundations of all the piers, except the two in the river, are laid on sandstone rock ; and the foundations of the river piers are laid at a depth of six feet in the rock. The piers are 10 feet thick, and formed with perpendicular sides; most of them being thicker at the bottom than at the top. The thickness of the river piers is 11 feet. The viaduct is built of stone and brick, but principally of brick ; the foundation of the piers, and to the height of nine feet above the ground, and the parapets, being of stone, and all the rest brick-work. The width of the road between the parapets is 28 feet, affording ample room for two lines of railway. One line is already laid. It is laid on longitudinal and transverse wooden sleepers, which have undergone a process by which they have been completely saturated with creosote, every cubic foot of the wood having been made to absorb a gallon of that liquid. This process was first used, we believe, on this line ; Mr Buck, the engineer, considering that it renders the wood much less liable to decay than the Kianising process. The foundation stone of the viaduct was laid on the 10th of March, 1839, so that the time occupied in erecting and completing this immense structure (notwithstanding the hindrances caused by the floods in the Mersey , by washing the centres away two or three times at the commencement of the work), has been only a year and nine months. This is a matter of astonishment to all who have seen the work, and will not be less so to others. When we state that the quantity of stone used in the erection is 400,000 cubic feet, and that the number of bricks is no fewer than eleven millions. The viaduct has an appearance of great stability and firmness, and does great credit both to the designer, Mr. G. W. Buck, and the contractors, Messrs. Tomkinson and Holmes [John Tomkinson, Samuel Holme and James Holme], of Liverpool. The viaduct was originally intended to be built ten feet lower than it at present is, but finding that, by elevating it to its present height a considerable saving might be effected in other parts of the line, the Company obtained an Act to empower them to effect that object, whereby a saving of £50,000 in the construction of the whole line was effected. The cost of the viaduct, we understand, is about £70,000. ..... '[Speeches, etc][1]

In common with Stockport Railway Station, the viaduct was also historically referred to as Edgeley Viaduct. At the peak of the work, 600 workers were employed in shifts – working day and night – to complete the structure. It was entirely built of layer upon layer of common brick. It opened in 1842 with services running to Crewe, allowing passengers from Stockport to reach London.

In around 1890 it was decided the viaduct should be expanded. This was because London and North Western Railway, formed in 1846, wanted to have several tracks on one route so that slower trains could be overtaken. To add more tracks to the viaduct would mean the need for expansion. The viaduct was expanded to accommodate four tracks instead of two.

The overhead power cables were added during the 1960s when this part of the West Coast Main Line was electrified.

The viaduct underwent a programme of restoration in 1989, costing £3 million. The process included adding floodlights to the structure. The viaduct is now part of a main line service carrying passengers to destinations across the UK.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. York Herald - Saturday 2 January 1841