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Listed Building: Matlock Road Bridge (SPC8 35) (1417623)

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Grade II
Authority Historic England
Date assigned Monday, February 10, 2014
Date last amended


'SUMMARY OF BUILDING A single-span skew overbridge built in 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick. Reasons for Designation Matlock Road Bridge, built in 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: the bridge forms part of a series of railway structures built for the North Midland Railway between 1837 and 1840, designed by George and Robert Stephenson, two of the most important and influential engineers of the railway era, aided by Frederick Swanwick, the company's resident engineer. The line is considered to be amongst the best-preserved examples of the pioneering phase of railway development in England, and retains many of its original engineering structures, of which this is an example; * Architectural interest: the bridge is an example of the consistently high quality design and careful detailing of railway structures completed for the North Midland Railway between 1837 and 1840. Its aesthetic quality far exceeds the functional and structural requirements of bridge design; * Engineering interest: skew arches were designed specifically to meet the requirements of the railway, enabling them to be built in large numbers for the first time. Developments in skew bridges represent a truly innovative engineering solution of the pioneering phase of railway development, and are therefore the first of their kind anywhere in the world; * Group value: the bridge forms part of an integrated design for the Belper cutting, in which the overbridges and the cutting walls share a common architectural vocabulary, and are seen in combination as elements of a railway transport landscape of great interest and quality. The other ten bridges and the cutting wall are listed at Grade II. HISTORY The Midland Main Line is the outcome of a number of historic construction phases undertaken by different railway companies. The first two phases were carried out simultaneously between 1836 and 1840 by the North Midland Railway and the Midland Counties Railway. The North Midland Railway, which operated between Derby and Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds, was pre-eminently the work of George (1781-1848) and Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) who, along with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, are the most renowned engineers of this pioneering phase of railway development. They worked closely with the Assistant Engineer, Frederick Swanwick (1810-1885). The railway’s architect Francis Thompson (1808-1895) designed stations and other railway buildings along the line. The less demanding route for the Midland Counties Railway, which ran between Derby and Nottingham to Leicester and on to Rugby, was surveyed by Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875) who was engineer to a large number of railway projects. These two companies (along with the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway) did not yield the expected profits, partly because of the fierce competition between them. This led to the three companies merging into the Midland Railway in 1844 which constituted the first large scale railway amalgamation. The next part of the line from Leicester to Bedford and on to Hitchin was constructed between 1853 and 1857 by the engineer Charles Liddell (c.1813-1894) and specialist railway architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900). In 1862 the decision was made to extend the line from Bedford to London which was again the responsibility of Liddell, except for the final fourteen miles into London and the design of the terminus at St Pancras (listed at Grade I) which was undertaken by William Barlow (1812-1902). Additional routes were then added from Chesterfield to Sheffield in 1870, and from Kettering to Corby in 1879. The most important changes to the infrastructure of the Midland Railway were the rebuilding of its principal stations and the increasing of the line’s capacity, involving the quadrupling of some stretches of the route south of the Trent from the early 1870s to the 1890s. Matlock Road Bridge was built between 1836 and 1840 as part of the North Midland Railway. The route from Derby to Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds was surveyed by George Stephenson in 1835, and the Act of Parliament for the construction of the 72 mile line was obtained in 1836. Linked at Derby to the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway and the Midland Counties Railway, it was to form part of a route from London to Yorkshire and the North East. George Stephenson was joined by his son Robert as joint Chief Engineer on the project in 1837. In order to concentrate on his mineral and mining interests, George relinquished his railway projects in 1839 so it was his son who saw the North Midland through to its completion in 1840. Part of Robert Stephenson’s skill in handling railway projects was his ability to select and manage an able team, and he entrusted much of the engineering design of the North Midland to Frederick Swanwick whose name appears on the surviving contract drawings. The Stephensons, supported by Swanwick, designed the line north from Derby to have gradients no greater than 1 in 250 to suit the low power of contemporary steam locomotives, which meant relegating Sheffield to a link line. To achieve such gradients the line followed the River Derwent as far as Ambergate and then ran through more difficult territory up the valley of the River Amber via Wingfield and Clay Cross to Chesterfield, then over to Rotherham and via Wakefield to Leeds. The notable sequence of picturesque stations along the line was designed by Francis Thompson who was therefore also influential in setting his stamp on the character of the line. Matlock Road Bridge was constructed under the north Belper contract which was won by T. Jackson with a tender of £60,500. The original contract drawings do not survive. The bridge is the most northerly in a sequence of eleven similar bridges and associated stone cutting walls which run through Belper. These are the result of complex negotiations which took place between the Strutts, a powerful mill-owning family, and the North Midland Railway. The Strutts were opposed to the proposed route of the line, which was to be taken around Belper to the west, and would have been visible from their residence, Bridge Hill House. An agreement with the Company was finally signed on 20 November 1838 compelling the line to be taken through the centre of Belper in a costly stone-lined cutting. This required the construction of a series of eleven bridges that maintained the plan and gradient of existing streets. All eleven of these bridges are listed at Grade II, as is the associated cutting between Long Row and Field Lane, and King Street and New Road. The bridge has not been subject to any alterations. DETAILS A single-span skew overbridge built in 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick. MATERIALS: coursed quarry-faced Derbyshire Gritstone with tooled ashlar dressings. The soffit of the arch is skew-set red brick. EXTERIOR: the north face is almost identical to the south face. It has a single segmental arch that conforms to the standard dimensions of the Stephensons’ North Midland overbridges with a height of 16 feet from the rails and a span of 30 feet. The arch has v-channelled rusticated ashlar voussoirs that return on the soffit as quoins. The soffit is of skew-set red brick rising from an impost band with diagonally set stone springers supported by courses of quarry-faced stone on a chamfered plinth. The arch is flanked by broad projecting piers which have a concave rake and v-channelled rusticated quoins. The abutments are angled out to meet the piers, under an extension of the impost band, shaped as a pitched cap stone to shed water. On either side of the piers, the wing walls are faced with coursed quarry-faced stone. They have a concave rake and curve to follow the alignment of the approach roads before terminating in sizeable semi-octagonal piers. The west wing walls are more substantial because the approach road is built up on this side. The bridge has a bold ashlar roll moulding and a parapet of two tall courses, the lower of tooled ashlar with margins and a chamfered top edge, and the higher of stone with a punched finish and dressed margins. The square-moulded coping is tooled and has a slight fall to the outside edge. The inside faces of the parapets have one and a half courses of picked stone. SELECTED SOURCES Book Reference - Author: Biddle, G - Title: Britain’s Historic Railway Buildings - Date: 2003 Book Reference - Author: Bailey, M - Title: Robert Stephenson - the Eminent Engineer - Date: 2003 Book Reference - Author: Williams, F S - Title: The Midland Railway: its rise and progress - Date: 1886 Book Reference - Title: The North Midland Railway Guide - Date: 1842 Unpublished Title Reference - Author: Alan Baxter & Associates - Title: Midland Main Line Statement of History and Significance - Date: 2013 - Source: ABA Unpublished Title Reference - Author: Russell, S - Title: North Midland Railway Lithographs - Source: ABA Article Reference - Author: Carter, O F - Title: Francis Thompson 1908-95 - an architectural mystery solved - Date: April 1995 - Journal Title: Back Track vol 9 Unpublished Title Reference - Title: Strutt Family Fonds, Derbyshire Record Office - Date: 1838-9 National Grid Reference: SK3476248298.'

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Sources (1)

  • Listed Building File: Historic England. 2011. The National Heritage List for England.



Grid reference SK 34762 48298 (point)
Map sheet SK34NW

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Record last edited

Mar 9 2023 8:17PM

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