Bridging the Mersey - a pictorial history

Bridging the Mersey - a pictorial history

Auteur
:   Dave Thompson
Gemeente
:  
Provincie
:   Cheshire
Land
:   United Kingdom
ISBN13
:   978-90-288-2640-3
Pagina's
:   80
Prijs
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Bridging the Mersey - a pictorial history'

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Introduetion

For thousands of years the River Mersey has been a formidable obstacle to passage. lts name is derived from 'Maeresea' meaning 'boundary river' , and it came to form the northern boundary to the ancient Kingdom of Mercia. From Anglo-Saxon times settlements were emerging along the river based on their proximity to narrow crossing points. Ancient fords and ferry services have flourished at various times at Liverpool, Ince, Hale, Runcorn, Fiddlers Ferry, Latchford, Statham near Lymm, Didsbury; Stockport and at other locations up river.

We know that a ford at Latchford offered a lucrative trade to the Boydell family, who had been granted rights to operate a ford or ferry soon after the Norman Conquest. Similar rights were also conferred on the sixth Baron of Halton, Iohn Fitz Richard, who in 11 78 had granted a regular charter initiating a ferry at Runcorn. The first fixed bridges were built in the 13th century. In 1285 the Boteler family of Warrington were granted 'pontage' on goods passing over this bridge and its subsequent replacement in 1369. No bridge is thought to have existed in 1453 when the Archbishop of York, together with the Bishops ofDurham and Carlisle, called upon Christians to graciously contribute to a new bridge 'over the great and

rapid water which was commonly called The Merce, which flows in a swift course to and from the sea, and which, both for inhabitants and strangers who have occasion to travel that way, was troublesome and dangerous to cross' .

The Mersey is formed in Stockport by the confluenee of the Goyt and Tame and a bridge here was probably in existence from the same time as that at Warrington. lt was sited where the river narrowed to flow through a sandstone ravine. By the 16th century it was ealled Lancashire Bridge. At one end of the medieval bridge was a chapel known as the 'Hermitage: where prayers were said for the safety of passengers, who in return offered payment to the priest. A third medieval crossing called the 'Crossford Bridge' is known to have been built near Stretford by the 1530's, all of which must have contributed to the commercial suecess and growth of all three settlements.

Many important historie events have featured the Mersey bridges. During the English Civil War, when Cromwell defeated a SeottishArmy atWinwiek, he pursued the retreating forees to the Warrington Bridge and rounded-up survivors. The medieval bridges were rebuilt on occasions, most notably in the 18th century after having been bro-

ken to delay the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie from crossing the river at Cheadle Ford and Stockport on their march south.

Over the coming centuries new bridges were added and the railway age brought fresh impetus for new river crossings. Despite some early setbacks the first rail crossing came at Arpley in 1 837 and was followed soon after by other schemes. By far the most ambitious of these was a proposal in 1846 by the Grand]unction Railway to construct a line between Runcorn and Ditton in Widnes to shorten the Liverpool-London journey. This scheme was later revived by the London & North Western Railway and provided us with the first of the three great superstructures to span the 11 Oû-ft-wide gap between Runcorn and Widnes. The Ethelfleda Bridge, or Britannia Bridge as it is sometimes known, was one of the first great wrought iron bridges to be borne out ofthe success of Robert Stephensoa's spectacular rail bridge at Menai. It opened in 1868 and still provides a river crossing for west-coast main line trains.

The population of Runcorn and Widnes boomed during the late 19th century, fuelled by the dominanee of the chemical industry and the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal along the river shoreline at Runcorn. Many proposals had been prepared for large vehicular crossings of Runcorn Gap but had floundered mainlyon cost,

brought about by the technical difficulties of bridging two busy navigable waterways. However, in 1899 the eminent engineer Iohn Webster of Westminster conceived the idea of building the world's largest transporter bridge across the Mersey. The bridge was built at a site that Thomas Telford had himself proposed for a suspension bridge in 1817. For 56 years (between 1905 and 1961) the transporter clattered and banged, to and fro across the Mersey, leaving an indelible mark in the memories of many local people.

From the early 1960's many new bridges have spanned the ever-growing network of towns and cities through which the Mersey passes. The Thelwall Bridge, a viaduct of 4,417 ft in length, was built to carry the M6 motorway over the river and ship canal and at Runcorn Gap, the high-level Road Bridge provided a new vitallink across the River Mersey. This huge steel arch crossing gave rise to the growth of Runcorn as a 'New Town' and was the third largest steel-arch structure in the world after Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge at NewYork. It is arguably the most famous structure to cross the Mersey and together with the two previous bridges at Runcorn Gap feature most prominently in this book.

Dave Thornpson

1 Long before a bridge crossed the Mersey the only passage to be made was by ferry or ford at low tide. Ancient ferry services operated at various localities along the river. One of the oldest dates from 11 78 when Richard Fitz Richard, the sixth Baron of Halton and Constable of Cheshire, granted a charter to the Knight Hospitallers of St. Iohn of Jerusalern. The order was devoted in particular to travelIers and pilgrims, some of whom we can assurne journeyed to the nearby priory of Augustine canons at Norton. From about 1803 the ferry operated from a landing slip close to the salt-water

bathhouse built on the river at Runcorn. Use of the ferry later declined with the opening of the nearby Railway Bridge in 1868 and latterly from the disruption caused by the

construction of the Manchester Ship Canal.

2 The earliest railway crossing of the River Mersey was opened at Arpley in 1837. It was intended to carry the Grand Iunction Railway over bath the Mersey and the Runcorn & Latchford Canal and is comprised of a stone viaduct of twelve arches, each differing in proportions. The Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company fought the railway tooth and nail in 1835 over the construction of the viaduct but, when arnply compensated for the new restriction on headroom, happily carried all the materials to build the bridge. The magnificent viaduct is still used, although now super-

seded in use by other railway crossings at Warrington.

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3 The magnificent viaduct at Stockport opened in

1 839, two years after the Arpley Bridge. It comprised a structure of 26 semi-eireular arches, exten ding over a third of a mile through the town. Eleven million bricks were used in the viaduct, making it the largest brickbuilt bridge in Britain. Bagshaw's jourrial in 1842 described it as 'One of the most daring and stupendous works of art to which the railway has given birth. From the top is expertenced one ofthe most favourable views in England of a manufacturing town'. For more than 120 years it was the highest bridge

over the Mersey until the opening in 1961 of the Runcorn- Widnes Bridge. During the golden age of steam it was estimated that five hundred steam engines passed over the Mersey at this point every day.

4 The River Mersey does not entirely follow the line it has always taken, but has been subject to several cuts, damming and diversions, particularly as a means of making the river navigable. One place where the river was diverted was at Warburton, where a graceful cast iron toll bridge has stood since 1843. The bend in the river at this point had been bypassed by the Manchester Ship Canal, leaving the toll bridge as a backwater, soon overgrown with vegetation. Today, motorists still pay to cross from Lymm to Cadishead, although it is not obvious that this is actually an old river crossing

point except for the stone abutments and iron railings which are still visible close to the toll house.

SOne of Britairi's best known waterways crosses the Mersey at Sale. The Barford viaduct carries the Bridgewater Canal and its towpath across the river, and although it is Ie ss weil known than Iames Brindley's remarkable Barton viaduct over the Irweil, it is still deserving of a mention. On the Duke's death in 1803 ownership ofthe viaduct, like everything else, passed to a trust.

As this photograph shows the Bridgewater Canal is still a busy waterway for pleasure craft.

6 A recent picture of Cheadle Bridge, one of the main routes into Manchester on the B5ü95.The ornate sandstone bridge is the boundary between Manchester and Cheadle and dates from 1 861 . This is the fourth bridge to stand at this site, the first having been destroyed in

1 745 in order to repel the advancing rebels during the ]acobite rebellion. It would appear that this was to na avail as the rebels used the nearby ford and are also thought to have made a temporary crossing by filling the river with felled trees. The present bridge is one of the most attractive dressed stone

bridges across the Mersey. It has perhaps avoided the modern concrete widening schemes, which have blighted so many bridges, by the construction of the A34 Kingsway extension at

East Didsbury. The depth of the water under Cheadle Bridge is, at present, about 3 ft in fair weather. Although in the 18th century the water would have been a little deeper. It is also

likely that wheeled traffic used this place as a ford.

7 The Howley Suspension Bridge at Warrington connects Howley with Latchford. It is one of the most attractive and historie small bridges crossing the Mersey. It was originally intended to construct a larger bridge over the river, but with funds lacking, Warrington Council resolved

to cross instead with an ornate pedestrian footway as a temporary measure. Luckily the bridge still survives, after nearly ninety years.

8 The first large span crossing of the Mersey came in 1868 when William Baker, chief engineer to the London & N orth Western Railway, built a lattice girder iron bridge, crossing the narrows of Runcorn Gap. It required three girders, each of 300 ft, which were fabricated on site using 48,115 rivets and placed piecemeal into position. In this early photograph we see the maze of scaffolding erected across the river to support the construction works. During this time the Railway Company provided steamers to tow vessels on the river through the massive scaffold structure.

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