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Monsal Dale Viaduct
River Wye, Monsal Head, Little Longstone, Derbeyshire, UK
Monsal Dale Viaduct
associated engineer
William Henry Barlow
date  1862 - 1863
era  Victorian  |  category  Railway Viaduct  |  reference  SK181715
ICE reference number  HEW 225
photo  © derek dye and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
A five arch masonry viaduct constructed to carry the Midland Railway across the Wye Valley at a bend in the river near Monsal Head in the Peak District National Park. The rail tracks have been dismantled and the viaduct now forms part of the Monsal Trail. It lies within a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The viaduct lies on the Rowsley to Buxton stretch of the Midland Railway’s Derby to Buxton and Manchester line, near the west end of the 487m long Headstone Tunnel (SK183715 to SK188713). It was designed by railway’s chief engineer William Henry Barlow (1812-1902) and opened in 1863.
Also known as the Headstone Viaduct, Monsal Dale Viaduct is constructed in rubble limestone with Staffordshire blue brick voussoirs and string course. It is 91.4m long, 8.6m wide and consists of five semicircular arches, each of 15.5m span. The voussoirs have a 229mm inner ring of alternate headers and stretchers, surmounted by five rings of 114mm. The River Wye flows under the central arch.
The viaduct’s four rectangular piers are 13.7m high, vertical in elevation but tapering inside the arches, 2.7m wide at the base and 1.8m at the top, where capstones mark the springing level. The top of the parapets is 2.9m above the arch soffits, making a total height of 24.4m above ground level.
The parapet walls are 457mm wide and the trackbed between them 7.7m wide. The viaduct carried double standard gauge tracks with the rails mounted some 600mm below the top of the parapets, which are capped by metal railings (probably added later).
The viaduct is more than 30m below the level of the surrounding hills, and the views down to it are spectacular. Although now accepted as an impressive architectural addition the landscape, its construction — and that of the whole railway — was denounced by art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) for its impact on the natural beauty of the Wye Valley between Buxton and Bakewell.
In 1907-8, remedial work was undertaken to counteract the effects of slippage. Timber centring was erected under one or more of the arches east of the river to carry this out. The south elevation has an extensive area of blue brick in the spandrel wall above the eastern arches, probably indicating the repairs. Other patch repairs over the years have been made in gritstone and red brick, marring the overall effect close up.
As a result of the 1921 Railways Act, on 1st January 1923, the Midland Railway merged with a number of other major and minor companies to form the London, Midland & Scottish Railway. On 1st January 1948, it became part of the nationalised British Railways. The Rowsley to Buxton line was closed in 1968 by Barbara Anne Castle (1910-2002), the Labour Minister for Transport.
In July 1970, the Monsal Dale Viaduct was Grade II listed. The rail tracks have been removed and a footpath laid over the viaduct’s deck. In 1981, a 13.7km length of the former Midland Railway route between Buxton and Bakewell re-opened as the Monsal Trail, a vehicle-free route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Access through the tunnels on the route, including Headstone Tunnel, was re-established in May 2011.
In May and June 2016, rope-access inspections were undertaken on the structures along the Monsal Trail including this viaduct.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
www.forgottenrelics.co.uk
www.gracesguide.co.uk
www.historicengland.org.uk
www.ice.org
www.midlandrailwaystudycentre.org.uk
www.monsalhead.co.uk
www.peakrail.co.uk
reference sources   CEH E&C
Location

Monsal Dale Viaduct