Ouse Valley Viaduct

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Ouse Valley Viaduct
Ouse Valley Viaduct.JPG
Northern end of Ouse Valley Viaduct
Coordinates 51°02′05″N 0°06′52″W / 51.03472°N 0.11444°W / 51.03472; -0.11444Coordinates: 51°02′05″N 0°06′52″W / 51.03472°N 0.11444°W / 51.03472; -0.11444
Carries London and Brighton Railway
Crosses River Ouse, Sussex
Locale Between Haywards Heath and Balcombe
Maintained by Network Rail
Heritage status Grade II* listed building
Pier construction brick
Total length 450 m (1,480 ft)
Width 13 m (43 ft)
No. of spans 37
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks 2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Designer John Urpeth Rastrick
Contracted lead designer David Mocatta
Construction end 1842
Construction cost £38,500 (1841)
Opened July 1841
Daily traffic Brighton Main Line
Ouse Valley Viaduct is located in West Sussex
Ouse Valley Viaduct
Ouse Valley Viaduct
Location in West Sussex

The Ouse Valley Viaduct (also called Balcombe Viaduct) carries the London-Brighton Railway Line over the River Ouse in Sussex. It is located to the north of Haywards Heath and to the south of Balcombe. Known for its ornate design, the structure has been described as "probably the most elegant viaduct in Britain."[1][2][3]

Construction of the Ouse Valley Viaduct commenced by the London & Brighton Railway company during 1839.[4] It was designed by the principal engineer for the line, John Urpeth Rastrick, in association with the architect of the London to Brighton railway, David Mocatta. The viaduct is 96 feet (29 m) high and is carried on 37 semi-circular arches, each of 30 feet (9.1 m), surmounted by balustrades, spanning a total length of 1,480 feet (450 m). Each pier contains a Jack arch with a semi-circular soffit, which had the benefit of reducing the number of bricks required.[5] The roughly 11 million bricks required for its construction were mostly shipped up the River Ouse (via Newhaven and Lewes) from the Netherlands. On 12 July 1841, the viaduct was officially opened to train services, although the structure was not fully completed until the following year.

Despite the structure's fine design, materials and architectural features, the viaduct has had an expensive and problematic history. The first major restoration work occurred during the 1890s, during which sections of the original brickwork were entirely replaced in the belief that this would increase the structure's strength. However, the viaduct suffered considerable decay during the majority of the twentieth century. By May 1983, the viaduct had been recognised as a Grade II* listed structure. Between March 1996 and September 1999, the viaduct was subject to an extensive restoration by national rail infrastructure owner Railtrack; this work was part-funded by the Railway Heritage Trust, English Heritage and West Sussex County Council. As of the present day, the Ouse Viaduct remains a vital component of the British rail network, carrying around 110 trains every day.[4]



During July 1837, an Act of Parliament was passed, which gave the London & Brighton Railway company assent to construct their proposed railway line between the capital and to the south coast.[4] The route selected, which was surveyed by a team headed by Sir John Rennie, was fairly direct but had the downside of crossing over some relatively hilly terrain. As a consequence of a decision to limit gradients along the line to 1 in 264, the construction of a total of four tunnels and a single viaduct, the latter of which to cross the Ouse Valley, between Balcombe and Haywards Heath in West Sussex, was therefore necessary.[4]

The arched vaulting supporting brick piers

Construction of the new line commenced during July 1838; work to build the ornate viaduct began during the following year.[4] It was designed by the principal engineer for the line, John Urpeth Rastrick, in association with the architect of the London to Brighton railway, David Mocatta.[6][7] The contractor appointed for its construction was one Benjamin Baylis.[4] The total cost of the viaduct's construction reportedly came to £38,500.[8] (equivalent to about £3.6 million in 2016[9])

The design of the viaduct was a relatively elegant structure, being around 500 meters in length and carrying a straight line over 37 identical arches. Each of these semi-circular arches had a span of 9.1 meters and were supported upon tapered red brick piers.[4] Each pier was almost divided into two separate halves by 3 meter-wide vertical voids, capped by semi-circular rings at the top and base, as a weight-saving measure. This approach is credited with giving the structure a relatively slender appearance.[4][6] The foundations of each piers is provided with two courses of inclined footings, which have a total depth of just over 1 meter.[6]

In terms of its composition, the viaduct is largely composed of traditional red bricks and smooth limestone.[6] The contrast between the two materials effectively highlights the deck and upper elements of the structure to the observer, although the latter has been subjected to considerable weathering and staining since its original installation. Elements of both the brickwork and the limestone have been replaced over time in order to maintain the structure's integrity, extend its operational life, and to restore its appearance to better resemble its earlier state.[6] At its highest point, the Ouse Valley Viaduct is 29.3 meters above the river crossing beneath it.[4]

In the process of constructing the viaduct, it has been estimated that around 11 million bricks, many of which having been shipped across the English Channel from the Netherlands to Newhaven and Lewes, in addition to some locally-produced bricks, had been used for the structure.[10][11] Furthermore, Caen stone was also brought from Normandy in France; this material was used for the classically balustraded parapets, string courses, pier caps and the four small rectangular Italianate pavilions.[4][6] Building materials were transported to the construction site on barges up the Ouse River Navigation. At each end of the abutment is an ornamental square open tower, the brickwork of which is faced with stone from Heddon Quarries near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.[10]


Southbound view from on top of the Ouse Valley Viaduct, 2009

The Brighton main line was opened in two sections because completion was delayed by the need to construct some major earthworks.[4] The viaduct was officially opened when the section between Norwood Junction - Haywards Heath was opened on 12 July 1841. Initially, there was only one track across the structure in operation; the second line, along with the viaduct's ornate stone parapets and pavilions, were not completed until the following year.[4][6]

By 1846, the viaduct had become part of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.[4] In 1923, as a result of the Railways Act 1921, it became part of the Southern Railway network. It remained under Southern's ownership until the nationalisation of the Big Four railway companies to form the publicly-owned railway operator British Railways during January 1948.[4]

Maintenance activities[edit]

The first major restoration work occurred during the 1890s. This had focused upon repairs to the brickwork because engineers of the late Victorian era were concerned that the original lime mortar used in the viaduct's construction was inadequate. It was decided that this should be replaced with cement mortar. However, replacement facing brickwork and substandard mortar eventually caused its own failures prompting more expensive repairs later on.[4] This was likely due to the repair work having borne a greater share of the structure's load than intended, resulting in an accelerated failure rate; poorly bonded header bricks is another probable culprit for its ineffectiveness. Secondly, as result of the parapets and pavilions having been made from Caen stone, while being a high-quality limestone, they have been subjected to heavy weathering.[4]

Center of the Ouse Valley Viaduct, 2007

By 1956, the damage to the viaduct was extensive but the cost of refurbishment work was deemed to be too much by British Rail.[4] This degradation is partially a consequence of the structure's long lifespan. When originally constructed, its designers had intended for the structure to have a design life of 120 years, which it has long since exceeded; as such, the necessitate of both structural modifications and improvements is an expected outcome of the retention of such an old bridge.[6] By May 1983, the viaduct had been officially recognised as a Grade II* listed structure.[12][13]

By the 1980s, the eight pavilions present on the viaduct were in such a poor condition that some of their roofs had fallen in and the installation of internal props was required to stop them collapsing further.[4] As a consequence of its heritage status, all envisioned alterations to the viaduct need to be reviewed, and can be prevented if justifiable grounds are presented, by English Heritage.[6] When British Rail proposed to dismantle the original pavilions and rebuild them using reconstituted stonework, upon completing their review, English Heritage, decided to refuse permission to do so; accordingly, there were no substantial restoration performed to the viaduct during this period, a decision to which British Rail publicly attributed to the sizable cost of undertaking such work. The fabric of the structure continued to deteriorate over the next decade; sections of the stonework begun to fall away from the balustrades and parapets during this time.[4][11]

Starting in March 1996, partially funded via grants from West Sussex County Council, Railway Heritage Trust and English Heritage - the viaduct underwent a £6.5 million renovation over seen by national rail infrastructure company Railtrack.[11][6] Harder wearing limestone was imported from Bordeaux to ensure the closest match with the existing Caen stone in the balustrades and pavilions.[14][15] Some of the piers had to be reconstructed because of failures in the Victorian brickwork. The new bricks were handmade in a variety of sizes to suit the existing brickwork and set in a sand, cement and lime mortar; stainless steel achoring was used to firmly fix the new stone to the old stonework.[4] Throughout the work, one of the lines always remained open while restoration activity was being carried out on the other side of the viaduct. The project, which was took more than three years, was completed during September 1999.[11]



  1. ^ Our Transport Heritage. transportheritage.com, Retrieved: 4 June 2018.
  2. ^ "Under the Arches." The Argus, 22 November 2014.
  3. ^ "Stunning drone photos show off Britain's most beautiful landmarks." The Telegraph, 20 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Ouse Viaduct, Balcombe." engineering-timelines.com, Retrieved: 4 June 2018.
  5. ^ Turner 1977, p. 124.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jefferson, Lloyd. "A critical analysis of the Ouse Valley Viaduct, West Sussex." University of Bath, April 2010.
  7. ^ Burman and Stratton 2014, p. 61.
  8. ^ Body, Geoffrey (1989). Railway of the Southern Region. Patrick Stephens. ISBN 1-85260-297-X.  p. 141.
  9. ^ "Inflation calculator." Bank of England, Retrieved: 4 June 2018.
  10. ^ a b Turner 1977, p. 124.
  11. ^ a b c d Husband, Mark. "Restoration of the Ouse Valley Viaduct." Institute of Civil Engineers, 2010.
  12. ^ "Name: OUSE VALLEY RAILWAY VIADUCT THE OUSE VALLEY RAILWAY VIADUCT List entry Number: 1366101". Historic England. Retrieved 16 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "Ouse Valley Viaduct." transporttrust.com, Retrieved: 4 June 2018.
  14. ^ "Trusting in Trusts: The Railway Heritage Trust: conservation and change". www.ihbc.org.uk. Archived from the original on 2003-09-03. Retrieved 4 June 2018. 
  15. ^ "Ouse Valley Viaduct (aka Balcombe Viaduct)." bestofengland.com, Retrieved: 4 June 2018.


  • Burman, Peter and Michael Stratton. Conserving the Railway Heritage. Taylor & Francis, 2014. ISBN 1-1367-4493-2.
  • Turner, John Howard (1977). The London Brighton and South Coast Railway 1 Origins and formation. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-0275-X.