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Chappel Viaduct
River Colne, Wakes Colne, Essex, UK
Chappel Viaduct
associated engineer
Peter Schuyler Bruff
date  July 1847 - 1849, opened 2nd July 1849
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  TL894282
ICE reference number  HEW 593
photo  © Brenda Howard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The longest bridge in East Anglia, Chappel Viaduct takes the railway line across the Colne Valley — crossing the A1124 and the River Colne. Some seven million bricks were used to construct its 32 spans. The 1849 viaduct is still in use and is Grade II listed.
The viaduct crosses the wide flat valley of the River Colne near the hamlet of Chappel, formerly known as Chapple, now part of Wakes Colne. It was constructed for the Colchester, Stour Valley, Sudbury & Halstead Railway Company (incorporated 26th June 1846), on a branch line between Marks Tey in Essex and Sudbury in Suffolk.
The viaduct was designed by the railway’s engineer, Peter Schuyler Bruff (1812-1900), and constructed by its contractor, George Wythes (1811-83). Originally, the company envisaged using laminated timber but Bruff chose brick, partly because it requires less maintenance (timber needs to be renewed periodically) and good brick earth was available at Mount Bures. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) refuted the view that there were cost advantages. However, Bruff's design went ahead.
The viaduct is straight, 346.3m long with a 1 in 120 gradient rising northwards. The Sudbury (north) end is 2.9m higher than the Marks Tey (south) end. It is 7.7m wide inside the parapets, providing enough space for two tracks, although only one was laid, on the east side of the deck. At the highest point, the parapets are 22.6m above the river (24.4m from foundations to rail level), with an average of about 17.1m.
The structure consists of 32 semicircular arches, each of 9.1m span, between solid abutments 10.1m high. The abutments taper from 2.8m thick at the foundations to 2.5m thick at the springing. Each is strengthened by three counterforts, battered at 1 in 5. Both abutments and 13 of the piers are constructed directly on the loamy gravel soil. The other 18 piers have mass concrete pad foundations from 914mm to 3.7m deep.
The piers are rectangular in section, and 23 of them sit on plinths. All the shafts taper upwards at 1 in 36 in both planes. Each pier measures 9m by 2.2m at the base and 8.3m by 1.5m at the impost (arch springing).
To save weight, every pier has a 1.8m wide central slot opening with semicircular relieving arches top and bottom. The pier shafts are hollow, the voids inside are also arched top and bottom and taper from 1.2m by 914mm at the base. The voids are partly filled with concrete to the springing of the bottom arch of the opening. Above the openings' top arches, the piers are solid brick.
Two bands of cemented brickwork were constructed to distribute pressure equally over the piers and abutments, one 2.7m above plinth level and one below the slot top arch springing. To prevent the piers spreading laterally, hoop iron bonding ties were installed below the top arches of the slots. The brickwork over the springing level of the main arches is bonded with cement throughout for a height of 1.4m, and above that the arches are of concentric half-brick rings pointed with mortar.
The spandrels of the arches are solid over the full width of the deck for 2.9m above the springing line. Higher up the superstructure is partitioned by spandrel walls, one under each rail, with voids between and cross arching to carry the deck. The ends of the spandrel walls are arched where they abut the haunches of the main arches.
The deck over the spandrel walls and cross arches is of concrete covered with asphalt, topped by a layer of ballast. Above the ballast, the permanent way for the track consists of longitudinal timbers, 356mm by 178mm, tied together with cross pieces and jointed over each pier with bolted timber connections. Cast iron chairs, fixed with oak trenails to the longitudinal timbers, carry a double-tabled rail weighing 37.2kg per m. At the joints, the rails are secured by two wrought iron cheeks with four bolts. Chairs are placed 229mm from either side of each joint, to preserve rail continuity if one of the chairs were to fracture.
Apart from the slotted piers, the rather austere expanse of brickwork in the viaduct is given interest by rib courses at the extrados of the arches and corbelled imposts below the main arch springing level.
Work on the foundations commenced in July 1847 at the south end, after some two million bricks had been manufactured nearby at a yard less than 1.6km from the site. The workforce of more than 600 men — many accompanied by their families — were housed in temporary dwellings erected on Wakes Colne Green (now known as Chappel Millennium Green).
On 14th September 1847, a commemorative stone tablet was incorporated in one of the piers (variously reported as part of the fourth arch from the north end and Pier 21 from the south end). It was laid by T. L’Estrange Ewen and W.W. Hawkins, chairman and deputy chairman respectively of the railway company, in the presence of the board of directors, and remains visible.
The foundations were finished in February 1848, and the structure completed &mash; except for the parapets — by February 1849. Chappel Viaduct contains around seven million bricks and its total cost was approximately £21,000. It opened on 2nd July 1849, when the line from Marks Tey to Sudbury opened. The expected increase in rail traffic did not materialise and a second track was never installed over the viaduct.
In his paper describing construction (read to the Institution of Civil Engineers on 26th March 1850), Bruff stated the viaduct’s total cost as £60.15 per m (£55 per yard). In the subsequent discussion, Brunel declared that a timber viaduct of similar dimensions would cost £29.53 per m (£9 per foot) to construct — without mentioning maintenance expenses. The paper also noted that no settlement had occurred over the whole structure, either during or since construction.
Bruff was so pleased with his creation that he commissioned Frederick Brett Russell RA (1813-69) to paint a landscape of the viaduct crossing the valley. The painting is now in Ipswich Museum.
On 7th August 1862, the railway line was taken over by the Eastern Counties Railway (complany incorporated 4th July 1836). In the same year, the Eastern Counties Railway and the Eastern Union Railway amalgamated to form the Great Eastern Railway. From 1st July 1898, the Colchester, Stour Valley, Sudbury & Halstead Railway was vested in the Great Eastern Railway.
In November 1967, the viaduct was Grade II listed. It remains in use by a branch line service.
Contractor: George Wythes
Cast iron chairs: Ransome & May
Research: ECPK
"Description of the Chapple Viaduct, upon the Colchester and Stour Valley extension, of the Eastern Counties Railway" by Peter Bruff, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol.9, pp.287-292, London, 1850
reference sources   CEH E&C

Chappel Viaduct