Railway overbridge. Built c.1839-40 to the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Refaced in the later C19 or the C20, possibly in more than one phase.
Reason for Listing
Bourton Church Bridge is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: Bourton Church Bridge dates from c.1838-40 and therefore belongs to the first, ‘pioneering’ phase of the GWR, and of railway construction nationally;
* Design and engineering interest: while refaced, it is a particularly elegant example of a triple arched bridge which captures the essence of this design very well;
* Historic interest: it was designed by Brunel himself;
* Group value: Bourton Church Bridge and Bourton Bridge form a pair of close and inter-visible Brunel-period bridges. This is a rare instance on the line of a pair of bridges in this particularly striking triple-arch design, the only other known example being at Dauntsey in Wiltshire.
The Great Western Railway (GWR) 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.
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 JC Bourne, 'The History and Description of the Great Western Railway' (1846).
Surviving contract drawings for bridges and other structures on this section of the line carry the signature of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reflecting his involvement with every aspect of the project. The Resident Engineer was GE Frere (1807-87), assisted by GT Clark (1809-98) and Michael Lane (1802-68), but their individual contributions have not been identified.
This accommodation bridge on Steppingstone Lane, known as Bourton Church Bridge, was built c.1839-40 to the designs of Brunel on the Challow-Wootton Bassett section of the line, which opened on 17 December 1840. The original contract drawings survive. This stretch of the line was never quadrupled and so the bridge has not been extended.
MATERIALS: elevations and parapets appear to be entirely refaced in red engineering brick with purple engineering brick detailing. English bond. Stone for high mileage (west) parapet only.
DESCRIPTION: triple-arched bridge with sweeping hump-back profile. Central arch with standard 30ft (9m) span; side arches are lower and have 15ft (4.6m) spans. Piers with a single transverse arch each. Tie-rod with square plates to each spandrel. Plain purple engineering brick string course (originally moulded). Parapets terminate in piers projecting on the outer face only, at the ends of the curved wing walls. The inner face of the parapets have low chamfered plinths. Coping on the low mileage (east) parapet is bull-nosed purple engineering brick; on the high mileage (west) parapet it is stone. The end piers have quarry-faced stone coping stones.
The bridge is isolated in a rural landscape, but it is inter-visible with the near identical Bourton Bridge (MLN17215), ½ mile down the line towards Chippenham.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.