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Amber River Bridge (Spc8 54), Amber Valley

Description: Amber River Bridge (Spc8 54)

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 February 2014
Building ID: 1417642

OS Grid Reference: SK3794653773
OS Grid Coordinates: 437946, 353773
Latitude/Longitude: 53.0798, -1.4350

Locality: Amber Valley
Local Authority: Amber Valley Borough Council
County: Derbyshire
Postcode: DE5 3RL

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Listing Text


A single-span underbridge crossing the River Amber, built 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick.

Reason for Listing

Amber River Bridge, constructed in 1836-40, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Date: as an early example of a railway structure dating from the pioneering phase in national railway development;
* Intactness: as a remarkably unaltered bridge that is well preserved;
* Historic interest: as a bridge that forms part of the North Midland Railway, which was designed by George and Robert Stephenson, among the greatest and most influential of all railway engineers, with their assistant Frederick Swanwick;
* Architectural interest: as an example of the consistently high quality design and careful detailing of railway structures completed for the North Midland Railway. The aesthetic quality of the bridge far exceeds the functional and structural requirements of bridge design.


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.

Amber River 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.

Amber River Bridge is one in an extended sequence of similar bridges built for the North Midland Railway and designed by George and Robert Stephenson, with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick. Contract drawings, signed Frederick Swanwick, survive. The drawings indicate that the width of the arch (at the springing point) is 36ft and the height of the arch (from springing point to the crown) is 12ft.


A single-span underbridge crossing the River Amber, built 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick.

MATERIALS: coursed and squared quarry-faced Derbyshire Gritstone walling, tooled ashlar dressings. The soffit of the arch is of red brick.

DESCRIPTION: the two faces are essentially identical. The single segmental arch has rusticated, tooled voussoirs that radiate out to fill the spandrels. At the centre the keystone projects slightly. The voussoirs finish as quoins on the soffit, which is of red bricks. The arch springs from ashlar impost bands whilst the underside walls beneath these are of coursed, squared and quarry-faced Gritstone. Framing the arch are projecting, raked piers. The impost bands curve round to meet these creating a pitched ledge to shed water from this corner. Beyond the piers the wing walls follow the alignment of the trackbed, but are gently curved and raked. According to the contract drawings, the wing walls terminate in semi-octagonal piers. A bold, roll moulding with horizontal tooling, runs along the top of the arch, piers and wing walls. This is topped by a low parapet consisting of a single course of ashlar. The only alterations are the addition of five ties with square tie plates through the voussoirs, and C20 metal railings along the parapet.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.