Gaunless Bridge (relocated)
National Railway Museum, York, UK
1823 - 27th October 1825
ICE reference number
Built as part of Stephenson's 1825 Stockton & Darlington Railway, the original ironwork of the Gaunless Bridge was re-erected at York’s new railway museum between 1923 and 1929. It is thought to be the world’s first iron railway bridge, and can now be seen at the National Railway Museum in York.
The Stockton & Darlington Railway was the first major work of George Stephenson (1781-1848). It was built to carry mined minerals from Witton Park Colliery to the River Tees at Stockton, via Darlington. Stationary engines or horses were used at the inclines.
Stephenson designed this bridge to cross the River Gaunless between the Etherley and Brusselton Inclines, on a section powered by horses, near West Auckland in County Durham. His original design was for a three span bridge, which was completed on 23rd October 1823. Six weeks of heavy snow followed by flooding in the thaw damaged the bridge and Stephenson rebuilt it in 1824 with four spans.
The four 3.78m spans consist of wrought iron lenticular trusses about 1.5m deep set on cast iron trestles. The truss members are fixed by interlocking into the vertical supports, which continue up to support the timber deck. Walkways are supported on brackets cantilevered from the trestles.
The five trestles each have two legs, 1.5m apart at the top and about 3m apart at the bottom. The cast iron cylinders of the legs are 200mm in diameter with a wall thickness of 35mm.
The bridge was bypassed in 1842 when the Shildon Tunnel opened. Its trusses were replaced with girders in 1901 — the trestle legs were cut off at river level and the superstructure moved to Brusselton Colliery. The original ironwork was preserved, however, and when a railway museum opened in 1926 at Queen Street, York, the bridge was one of the exhibits marking the centenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. It was moved to its current position at the National Railway Museum in 1975, which represents its fifth re-assembling.
The original masonry abutments can still be seen at West Auckland (NZ186266).
It's thought that Robert Stephenson (1803-59), George’s son, also had a hand in the bridge's design.
Fabricators: John and Isaac Burrell of Newcastle
"The Railways of Britain: A Journey Through History" by Jack Simmons,
Book Promotions Ltd, Bristol, 3rd edition, 1986