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Skerton Bridge
River Lune, Lancaster, Lancashire, UK
Skerton Bridge
associated engineer
Thomas Harrison
date  1783 - 1788
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  SD478623
ICE reference number  HEW 754
photo  donation
A road bridge of classical design carrying the A6 southbound lanes from Carlisle over the River Lune. It was the first multi-arched bridge in England to have a level roadway along its length. Its five shallow elliptical masonry arches span between piers incorporating floodwater openings. In the mid-19th century, it was extended over a railway. Now Grade II* listed, the bridge remains in use.
Skerton Bridge, known originally as New Bridge, replaced a much-repaired medieval bridge situated downstream, near the modern Lancaster Millennium Bridge. In June 1782, the new bridge was sanctioned by an Act of Parliament.
A bridge design competition was launched. In about December 1782, it was won by architect and bridge engineer Thomas Harrison (1744-1829) for a prize of £20 (or possibly 20 guineas, £21). Harrison lived and worked in Italy between 1769 and 1776, and was much influenced by its architecture, particularly the use of large stone blocks in antique buildings. His five span bridge at Skerton is reminiscent of the Roman one over the River Narbecchia at Rimini (built AD 14).
Construction commenced in 1783, supervised closely by Harrison. The 167.3m bridge is of ashlar sandstone, with five semi-elliptical arches each spanning 19.5m or 20.7m, and a maximum rise of 5.8m. The deck is 10.8m wide overall and measures 10.1m between 1.2m high parapets of alternating plain panels and groups of six balusters.
The design is important for its use of a horizontal roadway and balustrades along the full length, innovations in Britain at the time. Other designers soon adopted this horizontality, including John Rennie (1761-1821), who visited Lancaster during the erection of Skerton Bridge. Harrison gained a reputation as an expert in bridge design. His last work would be Grosvenor Bridge in Chester (constructed 1827-32), which has a single arch span of 61m, the longest masonry arch in the world at the time.
The abutments and four river piers of Skerton Bridge are finished with semicircular cutwaters. Above these, tall stormwater passages are cut through the bridge spandrels. These are 1.5m wide and 2.9m high, flat-bottomed with semicircular arches. The shrine-like openings (aedicules) are framed with Doric pilasters and pediments. Stormwater passages were an 18th century innovation in bridge building.
Inside one of the passages is graffiti reading “Mark Froggitt 1778”. He was probably one of the masons working on the bridge, as there is a record of a Mark Froggitt (mason) from Skerton marrying a Mary Muschamp (widow) in St Mary's church, Lancaster, in April 1786.
Benjamin Muschamp worked on the foundations. He was unable to drive sheet piles (probably timber) for the cofferdams through the cobbled river bed, and spent £1,400 on pumping out the excavations. He later claimed £600 for this work. Others of the Muschamp family, along with Thomas Hawkesworth, were responsible for masonry, while Edward Exley and Robert Thompson undertook the carpentry.
The two lane bridge opened in 1788. Its contract price has been quoted as £10,400 though the final cost is thought to have been £14,000.
Sometime after 1791 (date unknown), cast iron lamp standards were installed on either side of the bridge above each pier. In 1839, architect Edmund Sharpe (1809-77) supervised bridge repairs and repointing.
By 1849, the ramped approach at the south east end of the bridge was altered to incorporate a narrow round-headed arch over a footpath and a somewhat unsympathetic rectangular opening to allow passage for the 'Little’ North Western Railway (opened 17th November 1849, now dismantled). The railway span is not in harmony with the rest of the structure.
In February 1970, Skerton Bridge was Grade II* listed. It remained the only road bridge across the River Lune at Lancaster until the conversion of nearby Greyhound Bridge (1911) from rail to road was completed in 1972. Since that time, Skerton Bridge has carried the southbound A6 and Greyhound Bridge the northbound A6.
In 1995, Skerton Bridge was assessed as strong enough to take vehicles weighing up to 40 tonnes. Traffic congestion is an increasing problem. During 2018, it was returned to two way traffic — one lane in each direction — while repairs were undertaken on Greyhound Bridge.
Masonry: John, Thomas, Joseph and William Muschamp
Masonry: Thomas Hawksworth
Foundations: Benjamin Muschamp
Joinery: Edward Exley and Robert Thompson
Research: ECPK
St Mary's parish records, courtesy Andrew Alston
reference sources   CEH NorthBDCE1DNB

Skerton Bridge