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Old Tram Bridge reconstruction, Preston
River Ribble, Avenham Park, Preston, Lancashire, UK
Old Tram Bridge reconstruction, Preston
associated engineer
John Rennie snr
Matthews & Mumby Ltd
date  1964 - 1966 (original erected 1802)
UK era  Modern  |  category  Bridge  |  reference  SD540286
ICE reference number  HEW 1349
photo  ICE R&D Fund
The footbridge over the Ribble in Avenham Park souht of Preston is a replica of a timber trestle bridge designed for the horse-drawn Lancaster Canal Tramroad (Preston & Walton Plateway). The tramroad, now gone, once linked two sections of the Lancaster Canal.
The Lancaster Canal was intended to run all the way from Kendal in Cumbria to Westhoughton, near Wigan, to connect with the Bridgewater Canal. The route included two major river crossings for which aqueducts were proposed — the Lune Aqueduct and an even larger one over the Ribble at Preston. The Lune Aqueduct went ahead (completed 1796) but its construction cost was so high that plans to build the second aqueduct were abandoned owing to lack of funds.
A tramroad — Preston & Walton Plateway — was constructed instead, with double tracks of cast iron rails running 7.3km from Avenham Park to Walton Summit, crossing the river here on a timber trestle bridge.
The tramway was designed by John Rennie (senior, 1761-1821), engineer of the Lancaster Canal and Lune Aqueduct, though William Jessop (1745-1814) may have been involved in approving the plans. It was built under the supervision of William Cartwright (c.1765-1804), Rennie’s assistant engineer, and opened on 1st June 1803. The trestle bridge (now Old Tram Bridge) was erected in 1802.
The tramway approached the bridge's northern end via a large incline (steps and a footpath through Avenham Park mark its former location) where wagons were rope-hauled by a steam engine. South of the bridge, the tramroad was powered by horses, and continued along a 1.1km tree-lined embankment to Penwortham Mill, before rising to Walton Summit on another rope-worked incline.
The timber bridge spanned between masonry abutments on the river banks, with deck and parapets supported on eight intermediate piers, six of which were founded in the river bed. A gantry with a rope pulley for the 1 in 6 incline at the north end of the bridge was constructed on the deck above the second pier from the north abutment. Its engine house (demolished 1868) stood on the site in the park now occupied by the Belvedere (SD541287), a Grade II listed stone structure of 1866, originally located in Miller Park and moved here in around 1873-5.
Increasing railway usage led to a decline in canal traffic, and fewer wagons on the tramway. The tramroad operated until 1859, closed in 1862, and was dismantled by 1868. On 17th July 1872, a deed of arrangement conveyed ownership of the bridge and the Penwortham Mill embankment from the London & North Western Railway to Preston Corporation. The corporation’s stretch of tramway route became a walkway.
In 1902, the bridge was apparently given a ‘structural overhaul’ (details unknown). On 14th December 1936, one of the timber piers was swept away in a storm and the bridge damaged by floodwater debris.
All six river piers and their inclined bracing members were reconstructed in reinforced concrete, designed to look like the timber trestles and struts they replaced. The two timber piers on land, at the south end of the bridge, were retained in situ with the original bracing. The full length of the timber deck was also retained, as were the square masonry abutment pillars at the four corners of the deck.
During World War II (1939-45), most of the timber decking was removed. Presumably it was relaid after the war. In 1960, Preston Borough Council expressed concern over the poor condition of the deck, which was much decayed, and examined options for repair. In 1964, a design and build contract was let to Matthews & Mumby Ltd for reconstructing the deck in the same style.
In 1964-6, the entire timber deck was replaced in precast pretensioned and prestressed concrete. Four ribs span longitudinally between piers with transverse deck beams above. The new deck was surfaced in asphalt and steel parapets were added. Both abutments were repaired. The remaining two original timber trestle piers and associated diagonal bracing were replaced in masonry and reinforced concrete. The concrete bracing struts have no structural function but echo the original timber configuration.
The concrete bridge, and by implication the original timber one, is 123.5m long in total, with nine equal spans of approximately 13.7m. The deck is 5.1m wide overall, or about 4.9m between handrails.
In 1974, under local government reorganisation, Lancashire County Council assumed responsibility for the bridge. It is used as a foot crossing as part of a pedestrian and cycle route (Sustrans National Cycle Route 55).
Assistant engineer (1802-3): William Cartwright
Research: PHEW, ECPK
"Preston Through Time" by Keith Johnson, Amberley Publishing Limited, e-Book 2013
"The Industrial Archaeology of Lancashire" by Owen Ashmore
David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1969
Thanks to David Hurford of Lancashire County Council for additional information.
reference sources   CEH NorthBDCE1ICE / INCH

Old Tram Bridge reconstruction, Preston