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Amber Mill Bridge (SPC8 61)

A Grade II Listed Building in Shirland and Higham, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 53.1079 / 53°6'28"N

Longitude: -1.4224 / 1°25'20"W

OS Eastings: 438764

OS Northings: 356904

OS Grid: SK387569

Mapcode National: GBR 6BT.17G

Mapcode Global: WHDG2.34YQ

Entry Name: Amber Mill Bridge (SPC8 61)

Listing Date: 11 February 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1417690

Location: Shirland and Higham, North East Derbyshire, Derbyshire, DE55

County: Derbyshire

District: North East Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Shirland and Higham

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Shirland St Leonard

Church of England Diocese: Derby

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A single-span skew-arched masonry bridge carrying the railway over Shirland Road, constructed c.1836-40 for the North Midland Railway, to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick .


A single-span skew underbridge, crossing Shirland Road, constructed c.1836-40 for the North Midland Railway, to the designs of George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick

MATERIALS: the bridge is constructed of coursed, squared, quarry-faced Derbyshire gritstone with ashlar dressings and red brick soffit laid in English bond.

DESCRIPTION: the bridge comprises a single, segmental arch formed of rusticated, V-jointed, tooled voussoirs, which serve as quoins to the soffit. The arch soffit is of skew-set red brick, springing from a serrated sandstone course laid along the top of each impost band. Below, the walling is of coursed, squared, quarry-faced stone. The impost bands are tooled with drip grooves along the lower edges and return onto the abutments, terminating at the wing walls. These are raked and splayed to meet the abutments at an angle above the impost band, and merge in a curve below. A bold roll moulding, with a tooled finish, runs above the arch and continues along the wing walls, terminating at either end at low octagonal stone piers. A shallow ashlar parapet is surmounted by C20 steel railings.


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.

The Amber Mill 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 Amber Mill Bridge is one of a series of railway bridges built c.1836-40 for the North Midland Railway between Derby and Chesterfield. The bridge was designed by George and Robert Stephenson with Frederick Swanwick. A number of contract drawings for bridges along this line show their common design and constructional characteristics. The bridge appears to have undergone little alteration since construction, apart from the C20 addition of metal railings and the renewal of the soffit brickwork.

Reasons for Listing

The Amber Mill 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 1836 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 amongst the best- preserved examples of the pioneering phase of railway development in England, and retains many of its original engineering structures, of which this is an example;
* Architectural interest: the bridge is an example of the consistently high quality design and careful detailing of railway structures completed for the North Midland Railway between 1836 and 1840. Its aesthetic quality far exceeds the functional and structural requirements of bridge design;
* Engineering interest: the bridge was designed to incorporate a skew arch. The development of skew arch construction is considered to represent a notable advance in bridge engineering , and the skew bridge arches built on this section of the line are amongst the earliest to be built in the world. The high point of skew arch development is held to be the 1830's.
* Group value: the bridge is one of a series of bridges developed between 1836 and 1840 which share a common architectural vocabulary, and which help define an early railway transport landscape of great interest and quality. Seven bridges in the Amber Valley section of the line between Ambergate Junction and Clay Cross are already listed at Grade II.

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