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Ribblehead Viaduct
near Ribblehead station, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire, UK
Ribblehead Viaduct
associated engineer
John Sydney Crossley
date  1869 - 1875, opened 1st May 1876
era  Victorian  |  category  Railway Viaduct  |  reference  SD758794
ICE reference number  HEW 6
photo  © Steve Partridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The most spectacular of the major works on the Settle & Carlisle Railway, an extension of the Midland Railway. Ribblehead Viaduct is made of limestone, apparently quarried nearby, and marches across the valley at Batty Moss near Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales. It requires continuing maintenance but is still in use.
The Midland Railway Company proposed constructing a line from Settle to Carlisle to capitalise on rail traffic between England and Scotland. On 16th July 1866, the Midland Railway (Settle to Carlisle) Act was passed, enabling the company "to construct Railways from Settle to Hawes, Appleby, and Carlisle; and for other Purposes".
The new line was intended to connect the Midland Railwayís existing Skipton to Carnforth route with Carlisle. Subsequently the company negotiated an agreement with the London & North Western Railway to use their line via Shap, and applied for a Bill of Abandonment on the original plan, which was rejected on 16th April 1869. The Midland Railway Company was compelled to construct the track from Settle to Carlisle, through difficult terrain that necessitated many substantial engineering structures.
The route was surveyed by the companyís chief engineer, John Sydney Crossley (1812-79), and its general manager, James Joseph Allport (1811-92). Crossley was responsible for the design and construction of all the major works along the route, which was the last main railway line in Britain to be constructed using manual labour.
Work commenced at the southern end of the 116km line with a contract for the Settle Junction (SD813606) to Dent Head Viaduct section, which includes the Ribblehead Viaduct and Blea Moor Tunnel (SD761818 to SD775838). The contract was let to John Ashwell (1822-1911) and was signed on 6th November 1869, for the sum of £343,318, with completion expected by 1st May 1873.
By July 1870, foundation excavation was underway for Ribblehead Viaduct, which is sited 300m above sea level on exposed moorland subject to the prevailing westerly wind. On 12th October 1870, the contractorís agent William Henry Ashwell (1844-1913) laid the first stone.
The 404.8m long viaduct was erected by a workforce of up to 2,300 men. It follows a lateral curve, convex on the west, to a radius of 1.37km. The structure consists of a series of segmental arches, and was designed to carry two tracks at a rising gradient of 1 in 100 to the north. Its foundations extend into the limestone bedrock 7.6m below ground level, giving a total height, from foundation to rails, of 50.3m.
Unfortunately, John Ashwell soon fell into financial difficulties and on 26th October 1871, his contract was cancelled by mutual agreement. The work was completed by the Midland Railway Companyís direct labour force on a semi-contractual basis, overseen by William Ashwell.
In December 1872, the original plan of 18 arches was changed to 24 arches, each spanning 13.7m. Though the viaduct is faced with substantial dressed limestone masonry blockwork set in hydraulic lime mortar, the near-semicircular arches are red brick, cosntructed in five separate rings, with stone voussoirs.
The piers are tapered, and generally 4m thick at the base and 1.8m thick at the arch springing, with loosely packed rubble-filled cores. However, to minimise the chance of progressive structural collapse should a pier fall, every sixth pier is a larger king pier. The king piers divide the viaduct into four sections and are 5.5m thick at the springing, though of hollow construction.
Sleeper walls rise from the arches to support the stone slabs that form the viaductís deck. The twin rail tracks are aligned over the sleeper walls. The spandrels are hollow and support plain solid parapet walls.
By August 1874, the arches had been keyed. A temporary line was laid over the viaduct and on 6th September 1874, the first contractorís train (with passengers) was hauled across by the locomotive Diamond.
In April 1875, Crossley resigned his position as chief engineer to the Midland Railway Company. The directors showed their appreciation of his work by appointing him joint consulting engineer to the company.
On 3rd August 1875, the permanent way over the viaduct opened for freight traffic. On 1st of May 1876, the Settle & Carlisle Railway opened for passenger services.
Sadly, itís thought more than a hundred workers lost their lives during the project, through construction accidents, fighting or from outbreaks of smallpox.
By 1980, the viaduct was in disrepair and many of the piers had been weakened by water ingress. British Rail, the viaductís then owner, proposed closing the Settle to Carlisle line altogether owing to the likely cost of repairs to the major structures. Vigorous campaigning by organisations such as the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (formed 1981) led to public support and eventually, in 1989, the line was saved from closure.
In 1981-4, viaduct repair works costing some £100,000 were undertaken, including strengthening a number of the piers with steel rails and concrete cladding. For safety reasons, the line was reduced to a single track.
In November 1988, Ribblehead Viaduct was Grade II* listed. The surrounding land where the remains of its construction camps ó Batty Green, Batty Wife Hole, Inkerman, Sebastopol, Belgravia and Winterscales ó are located, is a scheduled ancient monument.
During 1988, minor repairs were carried out on the viaduct and trial bores were made into some of the piers. In 1989, a waterproof membrane was installed.
In 1990-2, major restoration work was undertaken. The viaduct remains single track to avoid the simultaneous loading from two trains crossing, and a 32kph (20mph) speed limit was imposed.
Between September 1999 and March 2001, a programme of improvement works was implemented on a 78km section of the Settle & Carlisle Railway. Rails were renewed, timber sleepers replaced with steel, and new ballast and drainage installed. The works have allowed increased freight traffic to use the line, assuring its viability.
Resident engineers: Mr Davidson, R.E. Wilson, Edgar O. Ferguson
Contractor's agents: James Hope, William Henry Ashwell
Contractor (November 1869 - October 1871): John Ashwell
Contractor (after October 1871): Midland Railway direct labour
Research: ECPK
"Conservation Area Appraisals in the Yorkshire Dales National Park: Settle-Carlisle Railway", Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Leyburn, North Yorkshire, 2010
reference sources   CEH North

Ribblehead Viaduct