A bridge over a river with a round arch and Gothic detailing, erected c.1836-40.
Reason for Listing
River Chew Bridge, Keynsham, constructed c.1836-40, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: an early example of a railway structure dating from the pioneering phase in national railway development;
* Design: it is well detailed with a round arch, chamfered voussoirs, single stage buttresses, moulded string courses, and wing walls to either side of both elevations that terminate in square piers;
* Group value: it forms a group with other listed structures on the section between Bristol and Bath, and this is enhanced by their shared architectural style;
* Historic association: it is constructed to a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel who is widely perceived as one of the most important transport engineers and architects of the C19.
The Great Western Railway was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1835 to construct a line from London to Bristol. At 118 miles this was slightly longer than the other major trunk railway of its time, the London and Birmingham (112 miles) and considerably longer than other pioneering lines. Construction of the line began in 1836, using a variety of contractors and some direct labour. The first section to be completed, from London to Maidenhead Riverside (Taplow), opened in 1838, and thereafter openings followed in eight phases culminating in the completion of the whole route in 1841. Work at the Bristol end of the line had started in 1835, and the section from Bristol to Bath had opened in August 1840.
The engineering of the railway was entrusted in 1833 to Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), who was already known for his engineering projects in Bristol. More than any other railway engineer of his time he took sole responsibility for every aspect of the engineering design, from surveying the line to the detailing of buildings and structures. He sought to achieve as level a route as possible and, working from first principles, he persuaded the Directors of the GWR to adopt a broad gauge of 7ft 0¼ in rather then the standard (4ft 8½in) gauge in use on other lines. A two track broad gauge line was 30ft wide, and this determined the span of the overbridges and other structures. Except for larger bridges such as Maidenhead Bridge, the majority of Brunel’s masonry bridges did not need to be as innovative as his works in timber and iron, and his structures followed the typical architectural idioms of his time, but they were all beautifully detailed and built and together they formed integral parts of a consistently-designed pioneering railway.
Although he left no written statement concerning his design concept for the line, it can be inferred from its design and from the way it was described when opened that part of his vision was a line engineered according to picturesque principles. This influenced his selection of the route and the design of structures along it. For reasons of cost, but also because it helped blend the railway to the landscape, he used local materials for bridges and other structures, ranging from stock brick at the London end of the line, to red brick, Bath stone east of Bath and Pennant stone west of Bath. This intentional variety was remarked on by contemporaries, for instance in J.C. Bourne, 'The History and Description of the Great Western Railway' (1846). On the line from Bristol to Bath, where the track runs along the Avon valley, Brunel chose to use Tudor four-centred arches for both the over- and underbridges, and castellation for tunnel portals and viaducts. This makes it the most distinctive part of the whole route from London to Bristol, and it is also the section on which the structures have generally survived in their original form because this part of the route was not quadrupled and the Pennant stone used for most structures has lasted well.
Existing contract drawings for bridges and other structures on the Bath – Bristol section of the line carry the signature of I.K. Brunel, reflecting his involvement with every aspect of the project. The Resident Engineer was G.E. Frere (1807-87), assisted by G.T. Clark (1809-98) and Michael Lane (1802-68), but their individual contributions have not been identified.
Chew River Bridge was built under contract 2B in c.1836-40, in time for the opening of this stretch of the line in August 1840. Contract drawings survive, signed by the contractor William Ranger and dated May 1836. A sketch in one of Brunel's sketch books shows him trying five different variations for Gothic underbridges and selecting the design which was executed in a number of other locations. This is a variation with a round arch rather than the otherwise standard four-centred span. The bridge has not been altered since construction apart from the C20 addition of metal railings, which are not of special interest.
MATERIALS: pennant stone throughout, squared and coursed on the faces and soffit, and ashlar for voussoirs, quoins, stringcourse and copings finished with raised tooling and a plain margin
DESCRIPTION: both elevations identical. 30ft (9m) semi-circular arch with chamfered voussoirs continuing down the abutments to ground (31ft from water level to crown of soffit). Flanked by broad single stage buttresses finished with offsets. Beyond the buttresses the elevations continue unbroken and parallel to the trackbed as straight wing walls, and running the full width of each is a string course moulded with arris, which merges with the top of the buttress offsets. Above this a parapet. Wing walls and parapets terminate with square piers. The piers and parapet are unified by coping cut on the external face to a bold arris. Post-war, galvanised steel, round section railings mounted above the coping to both faces which are not of interest.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.