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British Industrial History

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Fairfield Street Bridge (Manchester)

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Built in 1840, this was a cast iron bridge of considerable skew, crossing Fairfield Street to take the railway into London Road Station. Its angle of skew was 24.5 degrees, and its span was 128 ft 9 inches, despite the fact that the square span of the street was only 48 ft. 1909 photograph of this impressive bridge here[1]. In fact the cast iron bridge may still be there - with the arches encased in concrete. See last photo here[2]. The bridge had six iron ribs, with a total weight of 540 tons.

1840 'So very correctly has the masonry and iron work been executed to the plan and specification, that on fixing the last segment of the first rib, it was found to fit so correctly that it was found impossible to introduce a sixpence between the joints, i.e. before the screws that connect the two adjoining segments were tightened. In attempting, however, to fix the last segment in the first rib, before referred to, at noon on the previous day, it was found to be fully 3-8 ths of an inch too long, caused, as it was afterwards proved, by expansion arising from the the heat of the sun — for on the following morning early, and before the sun's rays could have any decided effect on the iron, it was found to fit its destined place with the utmost possible precision. — Liverpool Mercury.'[3]. The Master mason was a Mr. Pattison.

1840: 'Extraordinary Work of Art—Fairfield-street Iron Skew Bridge, on the Manchester and Birmingham Railway.
—There can be no doubt but that this extraordinary viaduct will by posterity be pronounced one of the most interesting achievements of the present day; and which presents a splendid example what has been accomplished by the judicious combination of scientific principles, with great and varied mechanical attainments.

'This bridge has been erected from an original design, by G. Watson Buck, Esq., engineer in chief to the company, and affords decisive proof of his title to place in the very first rank of his profession.

'The erection crosses the line of the railway at Fairfield-street, Manchester, at the very acute angle of 24½°, which is a greater obliquity than that of any arch hitherto erected in Great Britain. The abutments are constructed of the most massive pieces of the Summit stone; and each abutment is divided into six compartments perpendicular to the ribs composing the bridge. The joints of the masonry are parallel to each other, an adaptation to the circumstances of the case, which in the most perfect manner secures its complete bonding together. This part of the work has been executed by the Messrs. Pattison, of Manchester, and is pronounced by competent judges inferior to none in the kingdom.

'This bridge is composed entirely of iron ; and consists of six arches, or ribs, beautifully tied together by diagonal braces. The span of each rib is 130 feet; the height of the arch from the springing line 12 feet ; the height of the roadway is about 24 feet; the height from the pavement to the top of the rails 30 feet; and to the top of the parapet 36½ feet. It is perhaps not the least remarkable feature in the mechanism of this bridge, that it is so constructed as to allow the tremendous power produced by expansion, to have its full play, without in the least degree straining any part of the structure, or as likely to affect its permanent stability. The ribs were all closed or fixed early in March, when the weather was comparatively cold: the centres were struck on 9th May, when the temperature was considerably increased: by this the expansion of the ribs was such, as to have completely liberated the centreing that many of the wooden wedges were actually loose in their places. The angle of obliquity has been preserved with an accuracy quite astonishing.

'To have accomplished this with such precision, it is clear that all the dimensions must have been executed to pIan, with more than ordinary fidelity ; for when the centres were struck, and every precaution taken, to ascertain the sinking of the arch, it was found that it did not perceptibly alter its position.

'The centre panel of each parapet is decorated with the Manchester and Birmingham arms, bearing also the names of the engineer in chief, G. W. Buck, and of Bramah, Fox, and Co.

'The ironwork has been executed by Messrs. Bramah, Fox, and Co., London Works, near Birmingham; and the erection has been completed in the very short space of thirteen weeks. We feel great pleasure in being able to state, that work of such magnitude has been accomplished without the slightest accident or interruption. The entire weight of iron is about 580 tons.
We cannot conclude our remarks, without earnestly urging our readers to pay a visit to this most remarkable specimen of art, it being unquestionably one of the most extraordinary of its kind ever erected, and which cannot fail to be an object of admiration to all who have the least taste for mechanics ; for whether it is viewed with reference to the beautiful adaptation of the design, or the execution of its various parts, it reflects the greatest credit on all parties who have been engaged in its construction.’[4]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Manchester Local Image Collection, Railway Bridges, L and N W Railway Co, Bridge over Fairfield Street, Manchester - south west elevation, Manchester, 1909, image m66768
  2. [2] 108 arches to Ardwick: the view from below - blog by Paul Dobraszczyk
  3. The Scotsman - Saturday 14 March 1840
  4. Bolton Chronicle - Saturday 30 May 1840