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Rolling Bridge over Ulverston Canal and Associated Accumulator Tower

A Grade II Listed Building in Ulverston, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.1937 / 54°11'37"N

Longitude: -3.0679 / 3°4'4"W

OS Eastings: 330419

OS Northings: 478070

OS Grid: SD304780

Mapcode National: GBR 7M0Y.LG

Mapcode Global: WH725.VV8G

Entry Name: Rolling Bridge over Ulverston Canal and Associated Accumulator Tower

Listing Date: 27 January 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1404328

Location: Ulverston, South Lakeland, Cumbria, LA12

County: Cumbria

District: South Lakeland

Civil Parish: Ulverston

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Ulverston St Mary with Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle

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Rare and unusual rolling railway bridge and associated accumulator tower built in 1883 to a design by Frank Stileman.


The bridge is built of iron and steel, the accumulator tower of brick with sandstone dressing beneath a slate roof.

The bridge consists of three sections each of which carry the railway track. Two of the sections are static and project into the water a short distance from the canal's north and south banks, while the central section comprises what was formerly a moveable subsidiary framework. Metal piles sunk into the canal bed support the bridge and framework where required. Railings and fencing run along the edges of the bridge and a metal-floored pedestrian walkway runs along the west side of the bridge. A series of wooden marker piles and rubbing strakes remain in the canal and formerly acted as a navigation guide for boats negotiating a passage between the retracted bridge. The infilled dock lies immediately to the South.

Exterior: The accumulator tower stands close to the south bank of the canal a short distance to the east of the bridge. It is square in plan and is of two storeys with a tall upper storey. There are doorways in the north and south walls and two narrow segmental arched blocked windows above an elongated sandstone lintel in the east wall at ground floor level. The upper floor has pairs of tall, narrow ventilation slots above single stone lintels on all elevations except the west, and at gable height on the tower's north elevation there are three narrow ventilation slots above a single stone lintel. The top of the north elevation is finished with stone copings. There is also a stone lintel at gable height on the south elevation with evidence of former ventilation slots above, but most of the outer of two layers of brickwork here has fallen from the wall above the lintel.

Interior: All machinery and equipment has been removed from the interior. Timber beams support a stone floor at first floor level. A timber ladder affixed to the wall gives access from the ground floor to the first floor via a square hole in the floor. The upper floor is open to roof height. Just below the apex of the roof there is a broad timber beam set into the walls and running the full length of the building.


The Furness Railway Company's main line west of Ulverston opened in 1854 but was built with tight curves and steep gradients that proved problematic for heavy freight trains. In 1876 and 1881 the company obtained Acts for the construction of a new double-track railway line following the north coast of Morecambe Bay from Ulverston to Barrow to provide an alternative route. Only two miles of this proposed line was ever built before the scheme was abandoned. This section, from Plumpton Junction, east of Ulverston, to Bardsea (Priory Station), opened in 1883. To carry this new railway track across the Ulverston Canal a rolling bridge, designed by the engineer Frank Stileman (1851-1912), was installed. A bridge with a moveable subsidiary framework was built at 90 degrees to the canal and onto this the railway tracks were attached, at 45 degrees to the framework. The bridge crossed the canal at towpath level. To allow boats to pass, the framework's central part was designed to roll back on wheels into a small dock built into the canal's south bank, thus leaving a central navigable channel for boats. The bridge was hydraulically operated, however the cylinders and rams were removed in 1952-3 and an associated engine house was demolished. A tall brick accumulator tower stands nearby on the canal's south bank. It housed a hydraulic accumulator: a supplementary power source which was effectively a large pipe into which a good head of water could be pumped and stored until it was needed to operate the hydraulic rams which moved the bridge. The bridge is thought to be the only C19 surviving example of its kind in England and illustrates an ingenious early solution to the problem of crossing navigable water in flat country without resorting to the use of massive earthworks and excessive gradients.

The line, which was singled in about 1920, carried passengers and freight, the latter to the former North Londsale Ironworks on the south side of the canal. The ironworks closed in 1938 and the site became a chemicals factory which opened in 1949. This kept the line in use until 1994 after which the track was lifted, although the rail track still remains on the bridge. The bridge has been modified in recent years with timber decking removed, railings and fencing attached and a metal pedestrian walkway added. The canalside dock into which the bridge retracted has been infilled. The bridge is thus now fixed in position and no longer functions as a rolling bridge as originally designed.

Reasons for Listing

This rolling railway bridge and associated accumulator tower is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Technological interest: The rolling bridge is an innovative structure designed to cross navigable water with minimum disturbance to shipping and without the need to construct massive earthworks and excessively steep gradients.
* Design: The bridge's rolling design illustrates the ongoing C19 and early C20 innovations utilised to cross water at a low level that began towards the mid C19 and continued up until the iconic transporter bridges of the early C20.
* Rarity: The Ulverston Canal rolling bridge is the only C19 surviving example of its kind in England.

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