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Holborn Viaduct
Farringdon Street, London EC1, UK
Holborn Viaduct
associated engineer
William Haywood
date  3rd June 1867 - 6th November 1869
era  Victorian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  TQ314815
ICE reference number  HEW 561
photo  Jane Joyce
Holborn Viaduct carries the A40 trunk road between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street (High Holborn) in the City of London. The complicated and heavily ornamented elevated structure crosses the valley of the River Fleet, with arches over Farringdon Street and Shoe Lane. It remains in constant use as one of the capital’s transport arteries.
The present viaduct replaced an earlier structure, Holborn Bridge, which spanned the River Fleet — now a subterranean waterway in what was known as Fleet Ditch. The river’s headwaters rise on Hampstead Heath and flow generally south-eastwards through Kentish Town, Camden, King’s Cross and Farringdon to join the River Thames at Blackfriars Bridge.
The Fleet had been gradually culverted in the 18th century, using a series of masonry arches. By 1732 this work had been completed as far as Holborn Bridge, by 1742 to Fleet Street/Ludgate Hill and by 1769 to the bank of the Thames. To this day the river runs under Farringdon Street.
From 1835 onwards, schemes were proposed to relieve traffic congestion where High Holborn crosses Farringdon Street, and around nearby Shoe Lane railway station. In the 1840s, City of London architect James Bunstone Bunning (1802-63) was concerned about access problems resulting from the road gradients of High Holborn and Snow Hill leading down to Fleet Ditch.
In 1863, the Holborn Valley Improvement Committee sought designs and estimates for the work required to raise the roadway between Hatton Garden and the west end of Newgate Street. More than 100 ideas were submitted.
Apparently the preferred scheme was chosen after Bunning’s death and before the appointment of his successor Horace Jones (1819-87). City engineer and surveyor William Haywood (1821-94) judged the entries, rejecting them all and choosing his own design instead, causing undertsandable controversy over the probity of the selection process.
On 23rd June 1864, the Holborn Valley Improvement Act received royal assent. The Bill authorised the construction of a viaduct to replace Holborn Bridge and carry the main road from Holborn Circus to Newgate Street. It was effectively one of the first flyovers in London, providing level access to the north west corner of the City and the relocated Smithfield Market, then under construction (completed November 1868).
On 7th May 1866, the construction contract was awarded to Hill & Keddell. The project required the demolition of more than 4,000 buildings and part of St Andrew’s churchyard, necessitating the relocation of between 11,000 and 12,000 graves. A second Act for additional works to the viaduct was passed on 31st May 1867. The foundation stone was laid on 3rd June 1867.
Holborn Viaduct is 427m long and 24.4m wide, and is a complex structure mainly of masonry. It incorporated subways for a sewer, a gas main, telegraph wires, the pneumatic despatch railway used by Royal Mail and an Edison electric power station. The flue-ventilated subways are 3.5m high and 2.1m wide, mostly of brickwork but carried through iron tubes over the line of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway.
The viaduct’s principal structure is the three span skew bridge over Farringdon Street. It is 32.6m long with spans of 5.6m, 18.6m (arch radius 27.4m) and 5.6m. The bridge consists of two rows of six hexagonal granite columns carrying a superstructure of cast iron rib girders and cross beams, all with arched soffits. The columns and abutments have concrete strip foundations over London clay. The approaches are brick retaining walls with rubble fill or brick arches.
The roadway rested originally on corrugated cast iron decking. It had a 15.2m wide carriageway paved with 229mm x 76mm granite cubes, flanked by 4.6m wide pavements of York flagstones incorporating glazed gratings to light the subways below.
The cast iron girders, beams and balustrades feature decorative piercing and ornamentation, the outer spandrels bear the City arms. Each parapet has three cast iron lamp standards. Pillars rise from the outer columns and abutments, extending above parapet level to support bronze statuary including four winged lions by Farmer & Brindley. On the south side, are allegorical figures representing Commerce and Agriculture by Henry Bursill (c.1833-71), and on the north side Science and Fine Art by Farmer & Brindley.
Four Renaissance-style pavilions of Portland stone originally adorned the bridge, one at each corner (two originals remain). Each was four storeys high, with round-headed windows and open arches, and a slate mansard roof with stone dormers. The two lower levels housed stone and brick staircases providing access to Farringdon Street below.
At bridge level, each pavilion included a niche facing the road and containing a carved stone statue. Henry Fitz Eylwin (Ailwin, d.1212), first Lord Mayor of London, is still in place on the south west pavilion along with Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79), founder of the Royal Exchange, on the south east one. Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631) was on the north east pavilion, and Sir William Walworth (d.1385), twice Lord Mayor of London and slayer of Peasant’s Revolt leader Wat Tyler (d.1381), on the north west. The figures are/were by Bursill.
In similar, though less lavish, style is the bridge over Shoe Lane. It has a 9.4m single span of straight main beams with cross girders, and plate decking.
The Holborn Valley Improvement Act also provided for the construction of a new Blackfriars Bridge (1864-9), designed by Joseph Cubitt (1811-72). On 6th November 1869, Queen Victoria opened both Holborn Viaduct and Blackfriars Bridge. The combined scheme had cost over £2m to complete.
In 1941, wartime air raids destroyed much of the Holborn area including the two northern pavilions of the Farringdon Street bridge. The two bomb-damaged buildings were demolished in the 1950s, and modern office blocks (Atlantic House and Bath House) constructed in their place. In June 1972, the bridge and its two surviving pavilions were Grade II listed.
In 1990-1, cracks in the girders of the Farringdon Street section of Holborn Viaduct were repaired using the Metalock system and the road deck replaced with a reinforced concrete slab.
In 2000-1, Atlantic House was demolished and a stone pavilion constructed on the north west corner of the bridge. It bears a replica statue of Walworth and its exterior appearance matches the existing south pavilions. Inside, its staircase hugs the walls, enabling the installation of a central lift.
In 2014, the final pavilion was rebuilt on the site of Bath House at the bridge's north east corner. It is not as exact a copy of the original as the one completed in 2001, though it does contain both stairs and lift. Its roadside elevation includes a replica of the figure of Myddelton.
Contractor: Hill & Keddell
Iron superstructure: Cochrane & Grove
Casting of Commerce and : Elkington & Co
Research: ECPK
bibliography
http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk
www.british-history.ac.uk
www.historicengland.org.uk
www.ice.org
www.ludgatecircus.com
www.speel.me.uk/sculptlondon
www.victorianweb.or
reference sources   CEH LondDNB
Location

Holborn Viaduct