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River Avon Viaduct (MLN19078)

A Grade II Listed Building in Sutton Benger, Wiltshire

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Latitude: 51.4929 / 51°29'34"N

Longitude: -2.0673 / 2°4'2"W

OS Eastings: 395425

OS Northings: 177108

OS Grid: ST954771

Mapcode National: GBR 2S6.66C

Mapcode Global: VHB3N.3QZX

Entry Name: River Avon Viaduct (MLN19078)

Listing Date: 17 July 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1409160

Location: Bremhill, Wiltshire, SN15

County: Wiltshire

Civil Parish: Bremhill

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Wiltshire

Church of England Parish: Foxham

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury

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Sutton Benger


A low brick viaduct of five spans, three semi-elliptical arches flanked by semi-circular flood arches, erected c. 1839-41.


MATERIALS: handmade red brick with extensive refacing and patching in a mixture of red, brown and GWR purple and red engineering brick. Overall, however, the appearance is still strongly of red brick. English bond. The parapet coping is stone.

DESCRIPTION: three semi-elliptical arches over the river springing from rounded cutwaters with impost mouldings. Flanking these arches slightly raked piers and then a single narrower semi-circular flood arch on each bank. Tightly radiused and slightly raked abutments turn without break into short wing walls perpendicular to line of route. Across the top two plain string courses reading like a pared down classical cornice and then a low parapet with plain, square cut coping. Post-war round-section steel handrails attached to coping are not of special interest.


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.

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).

Surviving contract drawings for bridges and other structures on this 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.

This viaduct over the River Avon east of Chippenham was built c. 1839-41 on the Wootton Bassett to Chippenham section of the route, which opened May 1841. It was known initially as Christian Malford bridge. This stretch of the line was never quadrupled and so the viaduct has not been widened. However, much of the viaduct has been refaced in a number of phases in the late C19 and C20.

Reasons for Listing

River Avon Viaduct, constructed c.1839-41, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: an early example of a viaduct dating from the pioneering phase in national railway development;
* Design: the viaduct is well detailed with its semi-elliptical arches and semi-circular flood arches and displays innovative engineering in accommodating the natural topography of the River Avon;
* Group value: taking into account this significant engineering interest, the viaduct is an impressive feature within the rural landscape;
* Historic interest: it is constructed to a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel who is widely perceived as one of the most important transport engineers and architects of the C19.

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