More than 40 railway structures given protected status after an English Heritage consultation
Protecting the historic railway
From the soaring brick Silly Bridge in Oxfordshire to the Tudor Gothic stone Pixash Lane Bridge in Bath and North East Somerset, English Heritage's project to safeguard historic railway buildings, bridges and tunnels along the Great Western main line, has resulted in 35 new listings and seven structures being upgraded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport. Stretching from London Paddington to Temple Meads in Bristol construction on the route began in 1836 to the designs of the father of railway engineering, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The Wiltshire Box Tunnel, one of the most extensive and famous of the pioneering Great Western Tunnels has been listed at grade II, while the Roman Road Bridge in Swindon - of an unusual rounded arch design thought to be a conscious reference to antiquity by Brunel - is also listed at grade II. Two other newly listed grade II structures are the River Avon Viaduct, a good example of the structures built during the pioneering phase in national railway development in the 1840s, and the entrance portals of the Chipping Sodbury tunnel and its six ventilator shafts. The battlemented tops of these structures, which allowed the release of smoke and fumes from the two-and-a-half mile long tunnel, were intended to make them look like follies, thereby reducing their visual impact on the nearby Badminton estate.
Structures being upgraded to Grade II*, the second highest grade for listed buildings, include the Sydney Gardens Footbridge in Bath. Built in 1841 to Brunel’s design, it is the last surviving example of the engineer’s cast-iron bridges on the Great Western Railway, and identified as such through research by English Heritage’s own Brunel expert, Steven Brindle. Moulsford Viaduct in South Oxfordshire, one of the most impressive and imposing structure on the route, has also been upgraded to Grade II*; Maidenhead Railway Bridge in Buckinghamshire, built in 1839 is one of Brunel's most celebrated and pioneering bridge designs. The bridge is believed to have the longest and flattest brick arches ever built and has been upgraded to Grade I listed status.
History and adventure
Heritage Minister John Penrose said: “Our railways and the historic buildings that go along with them are a wonderful and emotive part of our national heritage, symbolising for many of us a sense of romance, history and adventure. And nowhere more so, perhaps, than on the Great Western Railway. I am very pleased to be able to give these buildings, bridges and tunnels the extra protection that listing provides.”
Emily Gee, Head of Designation at English Heritage, said: “This scale of consultation on designation cases is unusual for English Heritage and we were delighted with the thoughtful responses we received from railway history experts, local authorities and other heritage bodies. I am also impressed by Network Rail’s commitment to respecting the special structures in their care. We certainly hope to do more of this kind of partnership working with protection outcomes under our National Heritage Protection Plan”.
Patrick Hallgate, Route Managing Director at Network Rail, said: “The Great Western railway is undergoing the biggest investment since it was built in order to deliver faster and more reliable journeys for passengers. The results of the consultation carried out by English Heritage, and supported by Network Rail, provide an important step forward in modernising this historic rail route. It enables us to make informed decisions and, critically, protect sensitive structures whilst delivering major improvement work.”
History of the route
Earlier this year, English Heritage - with the support from Network Rail - held a consultation on the histories and descriptions of 50 buildings and structures in and around Maidenhead, Reading, Oxford, Newbury, Bath and Bristol. The consultation process involved a range of organisations and English Heritage worked closely with Network Rail and their professional advisers, and consulted local authorities, the Victorian Society and amenity groups like the Railway Heritage Trust, Steam Museum and National Railway Museum.
The pioneering Great Western route was built 176 years ago by to open up new trade routes between London and Bristol. Network Rail’s 10-year improvement plan, which is due to be completed by 2017, includes electrifying part of the historic line. The Great Western route is one of the most historically significant lines in Britain and all the organisations involved in the upgrade are keen to safeguard these remarkable qualities whilst also improving the line.