River Waveney, Homersfield, Norfolk, UK
Henry Medgett Eyton
W & T Phillips
ICE reference number
Homersfield Bridge across the River Waveney on the Norfolk-Suffolk border is the oldest remaining concrete bridge in Britain. It was an early experiment in combining iron with concrete for bridges design and predates the emergence of true reinforced concrete at the end of the 19th century. Now closed to road traffic, it is Grade II* listed.
The bridge was constructed to replace an earlier one at the same location, crossing the river and the county boundary north of Homersfield, on the Flixton Estate (Flixton Hall demolished 1952) owned by Sir Robert Alexander Shafto Adair (1811-86). Adair commissioned his agent, the Ipswich architect Henry Medgett Eyton (1833-1900), to implement the project.
Documents of the time indicate that the contractors, W. & T. Phillips, designed the bridge for a distributed load of 203 tonnes to Eyton’s instructions. In a letter to Adair dated 17th December 1869, Eyton remarked that Phillips’ quotation of £344 for the work was "a low price compared with some of the County bridges". Construction took place in 1870.
The single shallow arch has a span of 15.2m and rise of 1.5m. It is segmental in profile, tapering from a depth of 1.9m at the haunches to 685mm at the crown. Its monolithic structure consists of a wrought iron framework encased in concrete. Apparently, embedding the iron frame in concrete was in accordance with the "Patent Fireproof Specification of T. and W. Phillips".
The frame is formed by two variable depth lattice trusses of 152mm x 102mm angles, exposed on the upper and (curved) lower edges of the span. The trusses are linked transversely at soffit level by shallow I-section joists at 610mm centres. Between the cross members, smaller I-sections are arranged in a herringbone pattern at 150mm centres.
In situ concrete encases the frame to the depth of the trusses. The spandrel walls and soffit have a cement mortar render finish with decorative precast mortar panels. The centre of each face bears cast iron shields fashioned into the Adair armorial crest.
The bridge is 3.7m wide, increasing in width at each end to 4.6m between rectangular brick pilasters with York stone caps. It has brick abutments with stone bearing slabs. The roadway over the bridge is edged with roll-nosed York stone kerbs.
The deck is bounded by ornate cast iron balustrades of open panels with monogrammed bosses initialled "S.A." (Shafto Adair) at the centre of crossed diagonal members, and posts capped by ball finials. The 150mm wide handrail bears the cast mark "H.M. EYTON ARCHITECT".
Bridge repairs were carried out in 1907, though details of the works are unknown.
The bridge carried the busy B1062 Flixton to Wortwell road. However, in 1970, this road was diverted northwards over a new bridge (TM283857) and the original crossing became a pedestrian and cycle path. Its tarmac-surfaced deck is flush with the stone kerbs at the sides. Two service pipes run along the east side of the bridge.
In June 1981, Homersfield Bridge was Grade II* listed.
By 1987, the bridge had fallen into disrepair and parts of the lattice framework had become exposed as a result of concrete spalling. Inspections had found the concrete to be of poor quality with voids, and the ironwork badly corroded in places.
In 1993, the Norfolk County Surveyor designed refurbishment works. Norfolk County Council acquired the bridge and passed it to the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust in 1994, who carried out full restoration in 1995.
The exposed ironwork was shot blasted and protected with three coats of zinc-rich paint. The cast iron balustrades were refurbished, with replacement as necessary. The decorative render panels were bonded with epoxy resin or repaired with polymer-modified cementitious mortar. The most significant cracks were injected with low-viscosity epoxy resin and repaired with mortar as for the panels, and a nominal 15mm thick render was applied to the soffit. The bridge was also waterproofed, and its deck reinstated with a lightweight aggregate no-fines concrete followed by resurfacing.
Funding for the project included grant aid from English Heritage, Norfolk County Council, Suffolk County Council, South Norfolk District Council, Waveney District Council, the Upper Waveney Project, Homersfield Parish Council and Blue Circle Cement.
Contractor: W & Thomas Phillips of the Iron Depot, Coal Exchange, London
"Repair of Concrete Bridges" by G.P. Mallet, Thomas Telford Ltd, London, 1994