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Derwent Bridge (Spc8 1(D7)), Derby

Description: Derwent Bridge (Spc8 1(D7))

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 February 2014
Building ID: 1417807

OS Grid Reference: SK3615335928
OS Grid Coordinates: 436153, 335928
Latitude/Longitude: 52.9196, -1.4637

Locality: Derby
County: Derby
Postcode: DE1 2QE

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Listing Text


A low, five-span skew viaduct built 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick, and widened on the west side by the Midland Railway in 1892.

Reason for Listing

Derwent 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. The line was 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 one of the best preserved examples of the pioneering phase of railway development in England, and retains many of its original engineering structures, of which Derwent Bridge is amongst the most impressive;
* Engineering interest: it is one of the few surviving stone viaducts on the line and exemplifies the architectural flair with which the Stephensons applied themselves to engineering challenges. 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;
* Architectural interest: the impressive aesthetic quality of Derwent Bridge far exceeds its functional and structural requirements. It is a finely composed viaduct constructed of masonry that has been worked to the highest standard, and it demonstrates the consistently high quality design and careful detailing of the railway structures completed for the North Midland Railway. The durable Derbyshire gritstone has been skilfully dressed and it is thought to be the only example of a bridge on this line to have grandly rusticated treatment, an indication of the importance attached to it as an architectural ambassador for the new railway company;
* Evolution: the later widening was done with great care and sympathetic regard for the original structure, demonstrating the Midland Railway’s reverence towards its former engineers and pride in its history and architectural antecedents. The modification of the viaduct is an important reflection of the evolution of the line which has played an important part in forming its character.


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.

Derwent 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.

The character of the Midland Railway, as it became, owes almost as much to the alterations that were made in the last three decades of the C19. The modernisations carried out by the General Manager James Allport and his successors were crucial to securing the reputation of the Midland Railway. Extra capacity was needed because of the huge expansion of the company’s coal traffic to London. The procession of slow-moving coal trains from the East Midland and Yorkshire coalfields created havoc in the punctuality of passenger services and the only solution was to segregate them on several tracks. This was achieved by means of a complex series of projects, requiring in some places the quadrupling of the tracks and in others the construction of entirely separate relief lines.

Derwent Bridge carries the railway over the River Derwent, just north of Derby Station, and is sometimes known as the ‘Five Arches’ bridge. It was designed by George and Robert Stephenson with their Assistant Engineer Frederick Swanwick, and was constructed under the contract for the Derby section, which was won by Messrs Nowell with a tender of £19,000. Whilst the viaduct shares many characteristics with other bridges designed by the Stephensons for the North Midland Railway, it was given grandly rusticated treatment. The line north from Derby Station to Derby North Junction was improved by the Midland Railway in 1892 and the viaduct was widened sympathetically on the west side for an additional three tracks. There have been no major alterations since.


A low, five-span skew viaduct built 1836-40 for the North Midland Railway to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick, and widened on the west side by the Midland Railway in 1892.

MATERIALS: coursed quarry-faced Derbyshire gritstone. The arch soffits are of skew-set red brick on the east side and blue engineering brick on the west side.

EXTERIOR: the two phases are very similar with only slight variations. The west side extension is wider than the original east side as it had to accommodate three tracks. From the south to the north end the viaduct has five segmental arches: one spans a footpath and the southern bank of the River Derwent, the three middle arches span the river, and the fifth arch spans the northern bank. Wing walls extend from both ends. The east side dating to 1836-40 is faced in v-jointed, banded rusticated stone with a picked dressing. The arches have stepped voussoirs springing from ashlar impost bands. The ashlar cornice has a concave moulding which simplifies into a string course on the wing walls. Above is a parapet of three courses of v-jointed, banded rusticated stone with moulded ashlar coping, surmounted by C20 steel railings. The piers have a plinth and an impost band which wraps around the pointed cutwaters beneath an ashlar capped prow. The soffit is constructed of skew-set red brick laid in stretcher bond, with the voussoirs of both the east face and the original west face returning as quoins. The five spans are flanked by a wide pier and wing walls that follow the alignment of the railway. They are faced in narrow coursed quarry-faced stone and terminate in smaller piers. There is a blocked round-arched opening in the north wing wall.

The west side dating to 1892 has a few minor variations: the cutwaters are rounded; the ashlar cornice has three courses, the two lower ones of even depth and a narrow, projecting upper course; and the parapet has a single recessed course of ashlar. Unrelated brick walls of a later date abut both ends at right angles (these walls are not part of the listed building). The junction between the two phases is visible in the straight joint in the piers, abutments and soffits. Abutting the west quoins is the blue engineering brick of the 1892 soffit, laid in skew-set English bond. In both phases the soffits are supported by ashlar courses with an impost band, which has diagonally set springers.

Adjoining the south end of the viaduct is a bridge (SPC8/1A) of the same date that formerly spanned Derby Canal (now a subway). This had a cast-iron deck that was rebuilt in steel, and the wing walls have also been significantly altered. This bridge is excluded from the listing.

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