Bennerley Viaduct

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Bennerley Viaduct
Bennerley Viaduct Ilkeston.jpg
The Bennerley Viaduct in 2010
Coordinates52°59′20″N 1°17′59″W / 52.988776°N 1.299691°W / 52.988776; -1.299691 (Bennerley Viaduct)Coordinates: 52°59′20″N 1°17′59″W / 52.988776°N 1.299691°W / 52.988776; -1.299691 (Bennerley Viaduct)
CarriesEx-Great Northern Railway
CrossesErewash Valley
LocaleNottinghamshire and Derbyshire Border
Maintained byFriends of Bennerley Viaduct in co-operation with Railway Paths Ltd
Heritage statusGrade II* listed
Designwrought iron lattice work
Total length1,452 feet (443 m)
WidthTwin Standard Gauge Rail
Height60.83 feet (18.54 m)
Construction startMay 1876
Construction endNovember 1877
OpenedJanuary 1878

Bennerley Viaduct is a disused railway viaduct spanning the Erewash Valley between Awsworth (Nottinghamshire) and Ilkeston (Derbyshire) in central England. It was built in 1877 but closed to rail traffic in 1968, as part of the Beeching cuts. It was sold to conservation group Railway Paths Ltd in 2001.

The viaduct is a Grade II* listed structure,[1] and is on the Heritage at risk[2] register published by Historic England. It was also included into the 2020 World Monuments Watch.[3][4] Small stages of restoration started in mid 2014. Planned improvements include new decking to join into a network of existing public paths, subject to planning consents for the required works and access construction.[5] Restoration work to create a public walkway started in 2020 and is underway.[6]

Bennerley Viaduct photographed from Nottingham Canal Towpath in 2006


The Structure of the Viaduct as seen from under the Deck

This wrought iron lattice work viaduct is 1452 feet long with the rails 60 feet 10 inches above the Erewash River. Most railway viaducts at the time were brick-built but the foundations of the Bennerley Viaduct were subject to a great deal of coal mining subsidence therefore, the lighter wrought iron design was chosen.

The viaduct was built between May 1876 and November 1877 and formed part of the Great Northern Railway Derbyshire Extension which was built in part to exploit the coalfields in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The contract was given by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) to Benton & Woodiwiss with the line laid out by, and the viaduct designed by Richard Johnson (Chief Civil Engineer of the GNR); Samuel Abbott was the resident engineer. The viaduct consists of 16 lattice work deck spans, each 76 feet 7 inches long supported on wrought-iron columns with stone capped blue brick foundations. There were three additional iron skew spans at the Ilkeston end of the viaduct which carried the railway line over the Erewash Canal and the Midland Railway's Erewash Valley Line.[7][page needed] A skew span crosses its abutments and or piers at an angle other than a right angle.

At the Awsworth end of the viaduct there was a section of embankment (including bridges of more conventional brick construction) which has been demolished. The Nottingham Canal passed under this section. The viaduct was built for the railway line between Awsworth Junction and Derby on the Derbyshire and Staffordshire Line and opened in January 1878.[8] Bennerley Ironworks was originally due north of the viaduct served by sidings connected to both the Great Northern line and the Midland Railway Erewash Valley line. After the demolition of the ironworks a British Coal distribution depot served by sidings from the former Midland Railway occupied the same site. This has now also been demolished.[9][page needed]

Airship bombing raid[edit]

Zeppelin Airship LZ59 - L.20

On 31 January 1916, nine Zeppelin airships of the German Airship Naval Division conducted a bombing raid over the British Midlands known as the Great Midlands Raid. One of these airships, the L.20 (LZ 59) based at Tondern in Schleswig (now part of Denmark) and commanded by Kapitänleutnant Stabbert, conducted a bombing raid in the area around the Bennerley viaduct. Seven high-explosive bombs were dropped in the vicinity, one of which fell just to the north of the viaduct on the Midland Railway line at Bennerley Junction, which served Bennerley Ironworks.

Damage was caused to the Midland line, but the viaduct emerged unscathed.[10] Later during the same raid the L.20 dropped fifteen bombs onto the nearby Stanton Ironworks, one of which damaged a railway bridge crossing the Nutbrook Canal.[7] On 4 May 1916 after a second air raid over England, the L.20 ran out of fuel and crash-landed near Stavanger in Norway.[11]

Giltbrook Viaduct[edit]

At Awsworth Junction the railway branched, one line passed over the Bennerley Viaduct as described, the other turned North towards Pinxton crossing the Giltbrook Viaduct (or Kimberley Viaduct but known locally as Forty Bridges). This viaduct was also designed by Richard Johnson and built of red bricks used to create 43 arched spans with a total length of 1716 feet and a height of 60 feet.[7]

Other wrought iron viaducts[edit]

  • The only similar viaduct in the United Kingdom was the Halesowen Joint Railway's Dowery Dell (Hunnington or Frankley) Viaduct demolished in 1964.[12] Other apparently similar structures were usually Warren Trusses, or (as in the case of Kew Railway Bridge), supported on cast iron cylindrical columns rather than wrought iron piers.
  • The first Tay Rail Bridge used a similar latticework design. It collapsed during a storm in 1879 with the loss of 75 lives.
  • One other wrought iron railway viaduct still stands in Britain. This is the Meldon Viaduct consisting of six, 90 feet (27 m) long Warren truss spans with a total length of 540 feet (160 m), 120 feet (37 m) above the valley floor built for the London and South Western Railway in 1874.[13]
  • The dismantled Crumlin Viaduct finished in 1857 consisted of ten, 150 feet (46 m) long Warren Truss Spans 200 feet (61 m) above the valley floor built for the Taff Vale Railway extension. This was the tallest viaduct in Great Britain until its demolition in 1965.[14] This viaduct was used as a film location during its demolition whilst filming Arabesque.[15]
  • The dismantled Belah Viaduct finished in 1861 consisted of 16 spans with a total length of 1,040 feet (320 m), 196 feet (60 m) above the valley floor, built for the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway. This was the tallest viaduct in England. It was closed in 1962.[16]
  • A wrought iron viaduct was built at West Meon on the Meon Valley Railway, opened in 1903. This 4-span viaduct stood 62 feet (19 m) high. Built to carry double track, the viaduct only ever carried a single line. The viaduct was demolished in 1955, and only the concrete pedestals and foundations remain.
  • The Staithes Viaduct built for the Whitby Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway in 1875 and opened in 1883 was of wrought iron construction. It was dismantled in 1960.[17]

After closure[edit]

Looking up through the centre of a pier

Bennerley viaduct's wrought iron construction saved it from demolition. The demolition contractors who tendered for the contract to demolish the viaduct put forward amounts which were considered too high. The reason given for the high cost was that wrought iron structures could not be cut up with an oxy-acetylene torch and would have to be taken apart rivet by rivet.[18]

The viaduct survived to become a grade II* listed structure. It is on the Buildings at Risk Register. The similar Meldon Viaduct was refurbished in 1996 and is now part of The Granite Way, a cycling and walking path in Devon.[13]


Following privatisation of British Rail between 1994 and 1997, there was a desire to release redundant railway assets from Government ownership. On 23 March 2001, Bennerley Viaduct was purchased from BRB (Residuary) by the charity Railway Paths.[19]

Initially, the viaduct was managed by Sustrans who hoped to use it as part of the National Cycle Network for the benefit of walkers and cyclists in a similar way to the Meldon Viaduct.[20] In 2015, Sustrans received a grant of £40,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to engage with the local community and plan the next phase of restoration work.[21] In 2017, Sustrans applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a second larger grant to finance restoration and associated works, but this was rejected. Sustrans planned to submit a revised application but match funding was not available so Sustrans management decided not to pursue the project, and management of the viaduct reverted to Railway Paths.[22]

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct[23] is a local group of volunteers formed with the aim of preserving the viaduct and adding it to the National Cycle Network for public benefit. Work on the viaduct by the Friends group has included:

  • Surveying the condition of viaduct components
  • Removing vegetation around pier bases to reduce damage associated with roots and dampness.
  • Clearing an access path along the base and developing a variety of ecological habitats.
  • Clearing drainage channels on the deck.
  • Installing Samaritans signage.
  • Promoting the project at local events.

Planning applications for change of use and access works have been submitted to Broxtowe and Erewash councils.[5]

It was announced in April 2019 that funds had been secured for the restoration, with the aim of completing it by the end of 2020.[24] It was revealed via a BBC News report in February 2020 that additional funding from Historic England would enable work to commence. The viaduct has been described as 'a stunning example of the genius of British engineering'.[25] It was named as the only UK location on the 'World Monuments Watch'.[26]

In March 2020, the restorative work schedule was adversely affected by widespread industry lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic within the UK.[27] Restoration restarted, aided by the Cultural Recovery Fund,[28] and continues during 2021.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BENNERLEY VIADUCT, Non Civil Parish - 1140437 | Historic England". Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  2. ^ "Bennerley Viaduct, Awsworth Road (part located in Erewash Borough), Awsworth - Broxtowe / Erewash | Historic England". Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Bennerley Viaduct makes global 'at risk' heritage list". BBC News Derby. 29 October 2019. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  4. ^ "Bennerley Viaduct". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b Ram, Phoebe (13 May 2019). "This is how you can help with the plans to revamp Bennerley Viaduct". Nottingham Post. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Bennerley Viaduct works update | Railway Paths | public routes, roads and paths suitable for cycling, walking, horseriding and wheel-chair use". Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Henshaw, A. The Great Northern Railway in the East Midlands. RCTS.
  8. ^ Nicholson, A. (28 December 2005). "Bennerley Viaduct, Awsworth". Images of Nottinghamshire.
  9. ^ Lee, John. M. (2006). A Brief History of Awsworth (first ed.).
  10. ^ "Air Raids" (PDF). The Voice of Trent Valley Aviation Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
  11. ^ "Zeppelin L.20 Lost" (PDF). New York Times. 4 May 1916.
  12. ^ Norton, D.J. "Dowery Dell Viaduct". Photo By D. J. Norton, Birmingham.
  13. ^ a b "Meldon Viaduct". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2006.
  14. ^ Croeso, J. "Crumlin Viaduct".
  15. ^ "Arabesque film location". IMDB.[dead link]
  16. ^ Bickerdike, G. "Belah Viaduct". Forgotten Relics of an Enterprising Age.
  17. ^ Mell, K. "Staithes Viaduct". Subterranea Britannica.
  18. ^ Gillespie, G. "Bennerley Viaduct". D.H. Lawrence's Eastwood. Archived from the original on 21 June 2006. Retrieved 21 October 2006.
  19. ^ "Bennerley Viaduct | Railway Paths | public routes, roads and paths suitable for cycling, walking, horseriding and wheel-chair use". Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  20. ^ Prigg, B. "Railway Ramblers". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2006.
  21. ^ Heritage Lottery Fund. "Rediscovering Bennerley Viaduct". Archived from the original on 30 March 2018. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  22. ^ Taylor, Alun (21 March 2018). "Fancy a viaduct? We have a wrought Victorian iron marvel to sell you". The Register. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  23. ^ "(home)". The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct.
  24. ^ Mitchell, Hannah (8 April 2019). "Iconic viaduct on edge of Ilkeston set to reopen for first time in 50 years". DerbyshireLive. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  25. ^ "'At risk' Bennerley Viaduct repairs to begin". BBC News Derby. 2 February 2020. Retrieved 12 March 2020.
  26. ^ "2020 World Monuments Watch". World Monuments Fund.
  27. ^ "Covid 19 halts work on "Iron Giant"". The Friends of the Bennerley Viaduct. 29 March 2020. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Cultural Recovery fund gives £165,000 for Bennerley Viaduct | Railway Paths | public routes, roads and paths suitable for cycling, walking, horseriding and wheel-chair use". Retrieved 9 March 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kingscott, Geoffrey (2004). Lost Railways of Nottinghamshire. Countryside Books. ISBN 1-85306-884-5.
  • Henshaw, Alfred (2000). The Great Northern Railway in the East Midlands. RCTS. ISBN 0-901115-88-6.
  • Rayner Thrower, W. (1984). The Great Northern Main Line. Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-297-8.
  • Labrum, E.A. (1984). Civil Engineering Heritage, Eastern and Central England. Institute of Civil Engineers. p. 27. ISBN 0-7277-1970-X.
  • Corns, Danny (1999). Bygone Stanton. Andrew Knighton. ISBN 0-9533759-3-5.

External links[edit]