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British Industrial History

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Leven Viaduct

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near Ulverston, Cumbria

It was originally built for the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway as a single track iron viaduct in 1856. Designer: James Brunlees. W. and J. Galloway and Sons of Manchester appear to have supplied the ironwork. The cast iron piles were sunk using using a novel piling system involving waterjets.

A drawbridge section was provided originally. This was of 36 ft span, compared with 30 ft for the other spans. It was first necessary to create a defined channel in the wide estuary, using tidal scouring, with the current directed by dumping rocks to guide the flow.

The viaduct was widened to take double tracks in 1863.

In two phases, 1885-7 and 1915, the viaduct was completely rebuilt with riveted plate girders, and the cast iron pier columns were encased in concrete and masonry.

For more information on the history and construction, see Civil Engineering Heritage: Northern England[1]

In 2006 the riveted plate girders were replaced by fabricated box girders.

The Arnside River Kent Viaduct, 8 miles to the east, is similar.

The close of our last sketch represented us as having passed through Ulverston and reached the shore of the Leven estuary, where the Messrs. Galloway, of this city, are engaged in the construction an iron viaduct for the completion of railway communication across the channel and sands. The length of this viaduct is to be 500 yards, and it will be in all respects similar to the one by which ihe Kent, as we formerly noticed, is to be spanned, except that this in the Leven viaduct will be a drawbridge, which will be opened as the passage of vessels up to Greenodd may require. The drawbridge, as was explained to us, is be constructed on a new principle, designed by Mr. Brunlees. It is to have a moveable platform, under which wheels are placed, working in connection with certain eccentrics, and when these eccentrics are withdrawn the wheels fall on a line of rails placed under the roadway the viaduct, and the platform is worked backward by rack and pinion, thus leaving open a space for passage through. By the same mechanical process, the platform is moved forward, and then "tilted up" to its former horizontal position by the eccentrics, and these being securely fixed by bolts, the aperture is closed, and all is ready as before for the passage of trains. The viaduct, of course, has its stone buttress, with which it is connected on the Ulverston side of the shore, but it is evident that the massive structure of the length we have mentioned must have support at various points between its respective ends. As the rock and shingle extend but partially into the bed of the channel of the Leven, as its bed is principally of sand, the plan has been adopted of sinking "piles," as they are called, for the purpose of bearing the weight of the iron structure and its heavy railway transit. These piles are immense hollow columns of cast iron, which are sunk at intervals in the channel, and about 200 of them, we are told, will have to be "driven home," to secure the necessary support. The operation of "piling" seems to be somewhat tedious and difficult, as the flow of the tide causes an interruption of work at the end of every six hours. Pontoons have therefore been employed to diminish this suspension of labour, on one of which is fixed ordinary piling machine, which drives the iron columns into the sand or down into the shingle strata below, while on the other the work is performed by means of a steam engine and force pump. As the latter process is new to us, we stay to witness the mode in which it is conducted. The pile being set on end, a long tube proceeding from the force pump is carried down within it, and the steam being turned on, a mingled blowing and hissing sound is immediately heard, caused by the displacement of the sand all around the lower end of the pile, which sinks its own weight as far as depth is thus made for it in the bed of the estuary. We understand that to meet the diversities of strata, some portions of which are more yielding than others, some of these piles are to be "blown down" with a large bottom plate attached to them as a bearing surface, while others are to have similar plates of iron connected with different parts of their length. Besides, to prevent any washing or "scour" around the piles, the engineer, we are informed, intends to throw into the channel a considerable quantity of stones and clay, and thus to convert the present bed of loose and shifting sand into one that is hard, safe, and permanent. Supposing ourselves at the further end of this viaduct, we would now be within few hundred yards of the embankment which is advancing to meet it, and from the shore end which we looked across to Ulverston before starting on our long detour. Having seen with much interest the operations going forward on this part of the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway, we turned and looked into the shops where the wrought-iron work for the viaduct is being put together, but the hissing of steam, and the clank and din of riveting hammers, being nothing new to us through our connection with Manchester life, we speedily withdrew, and after giving a glance or two to a substantial viaduct crossing the canal, and to the completed part of the line which communicates with the Furness station, we hastened to enjoy the quiet pleasantness of ramble along the shore. ...'. [2]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Civil Engineering Heritage: Northern England, edited by R. W. William Rennison, I.C.E./Thomas Telford Publishing, 1981/1996
  2. Westmorland Gazette - Saturday 26 January 1856