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Victoria Bridge, Upper Arley
River Severn, Upper Arley, Worcestershire, UK
Victoria Bridge, Upper Arley
associated engineer
Sir John Fowler
date  24th November 1859 - 10th May 1861
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  SO765793
ICE reference number  HEW 464
photo  courtesy PHEW, ICE
A cast iron railway bridge over the River Severn. At the time of construction, it had the longest cast iron span in Britain. Though not on the main line rail network, the bridge is still used by the trains of the preserved Severn Valley Railway.
Victoria Bridge was constructed to carry the standard gauge Severn Valley Railway over the river south of Upper Arley. The railway followed a 64km route from Hartlebury in Worcestershire to Shrewsbury in Shropshire via Stourport-on-Severn, Bewdley, Arley, Highley, Hampton Loade, Bridgnorth, Coalport, Ironbridge, Buildwas, Cressage and Berrington. The line was constructed 1858-62, and opened to through traffic on 31st January 1862 with public services commencing the following day (1st February).
The bridge was designed by the railway’s chief engineer John Fowler (1817-98, knighted 1885) and constructed by contractors Thomas Brassey (1805-70), Samuel Morton Peto (1809-89) and Edward Ladd Betts (1815-72). The ironwork was fabricated by the Coalbrookdale Company.
The bridge's foundation stone was laid on 24th November 1859, by the resident engineer Henry Orlando Bridgeman (1825-79). A silver trowel was used for the ceremony and a time capsule, a glass jar containing silver and copper coins and a signed paper describing the event, placed beneath the stone.
The bridge has a single cast iron segmental arch of 61m span and 6.1m rise, consisting of four ribs each of nine H-section pieces bolted together. The ribs are cross-braced by tie bars with tensioning nuts and the spandrels are pierced by a series of vertical slots. The total weight of ironwork was estimated at around 500 tonnes.
The abutments are of rusticated sandstone ashlar with plain parapets, and each has a single 12-ring blue brick arch for access alongside the river. On the west bank, the towpath is carried round the abutment on a walkway plinth built out into the river. On the east side, the abutment wall drops straight down to the river.
The foundations were finished by 2nd February 1861. Erecting the four cast iron ribs then commenced and the structure was completed on 10th May 1861. The bridge carries a single rail track on a ballasted timber deck, though its abutments are wide enough for double tracks.
Commemorative inscriptions are cast into the midspan of the arch ring on each face of the bridge. They read, "Victoria Bridge, 1861. John Fowler, Engineer" in the centre, "Messrs. Brassey & Co., Contractors" to the left and "Cast and erected by the Coalbrookdale Company" to the right.
The design of Victoria Bridge was replicated by Fowler in the near-identical Albert Edward Bridge over the Severn near Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, opened 1st November 1864.
The bridge deck was relaid in the early 1950s, by which time rail traffic on the line was dwindling. On 9th September 1963, the Severn Valley Railway was closed to through passenger and freight services, though the southern part of the route supported coal traffic until 1969 and some passenger trains until 1970.
On 6th July 1965, the Severn Valley Railway Society was formed to "preserve, retain and restore" as much as possible of the original route. A new Severn Valley Railway Company, incorporated in May 1967, purchased sections of the line as finances allowed. In May 1974, the company re-introduced passenger services between Alveley Colliery and Bewdley, which included crossing the Victoria Bridge.
Major refurbishment of the bridge took place between November 1979 and April 1980, to safeguard its capacity to support the specified 21 tonne axle loading. Works costing £94,346 included replacing the decayed transverse timber deck support beams with 54 steel beams, renewing more than half of the iron platework in steel, replacing 3,500 rivets with high tensile friction grip bolts and complete repainting — using 1,200 litres of paint.
In March 1987, the bridge was Grade II* listed. In early 1994, some £200,000 was spent on repairing cracks in the abutments and corrosion in the cast iron girders and cross bracing.
More restoration was carried out in the winter of 2003-4, for an estimated £320,000 including significant scaffolding costs. The timber bridge decking was replaced in steel mesh and the bridge was repainted.
To preserve its structure, a permanent speed limit of 24kph (15mph) has been imposed. Furthermore, large locomotive engines are not permitted to work double headed (in pairs back-to-back) over the bridge.
The Severn Valley Railway has become a popular heritage line. It runs 26km between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster, with trains hauled by steam locomotives and diesel locomotives.
Resident engineer: Henry Orlando Bridgeman
Contractor: Brassey, Peto & Betts of London
Cast iron: Coalbrookdale Company
Research: ECPK
"The Branch Lines of Worcestershire: The Steam Drifter Years 1900-1960" by Colin G. Maggs, Amberley Publishing Limited, July 2013
reference sources   CEH W&W

Victoria Bridge, Upper Arley