An accommodation underbridge in simple Tudor-Gothic style with a four-centred arch, set in a high embankment, erected c.1839-40.
Reason for Listing
Highnams Farm Bridge is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: the GWR was one of the earliest established railway companies in England and the bridge is an early example of a railway structure dating from the pioneering phase in national railway development;
* Historic Interest: the bridge is constructed to a design by the engineer and architect Isambard Kingdom Brunel, widely perceived as one of the most important transport engineers of the C19;
* Architectural interest: it is characteristically well designed, by the hand of Brunel, with a chamfered four-centred arch, stepped buttresses and wing walls in a Tudor-Gothic style;
* Group value: it forms a group of a group of architecturally similar and listed underbridges on the section between Bristol and Bath.
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 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.
Highnams Farm Bridge
Existing contract drawings for bridges and other structures on the Bristol to Bath 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.
Highnams Farm Bridge was one of the structures built c.1839-40 in time for the opening of this stretch of the line in August 1840. A sketch in one of Brunel's sketch books show him trying five different variations for Gothic underbridges and selecting the design which was executed within a number of locations. Highnams Farm Bridge is a simpler version. No significant alteration to the bridge since construction, though there are C20 railings on top of the embankment above the bridge.
MATERIALS: Pennant stone throughout, squared and coursed on the faces and soffit, ashlar for voussoirs and the copings. The square and coursed stone is uncommonly small, almost brick sized. Some replacement engineering brick and render scored as stone.
DESCRIPTION: depressed, four-centred arch with a span of 12ft (4m) and simple chamfered profile terminating at the footings in chamfer stops, although all are buried except for the east on the up side (north) face. Arch soffit and carriageway walls unaltered stone. Very low parapet, well below the level of the embankment. Plain raked wing walls project perpendicular to the bridge, sloping down to terminating dwarf piers. Stone coping on the south (Down) wing walls; on the north (Up) face and wing-walls the coping has been replaced by engineering brick.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.