Gauxholme Viaduct

Gauxholme viaduct is an impressive example of a skew arch bridge.

Early arch bridges were built at right-angles to the gap they were built to cross. The foundations (abutments) were built directly opposite each other, making the arch strong and relatively simple to build. However, if the connecting road approached the bridge at an angle, a double bend was required to link the two. To overcome this, William Chapman designed the first skew bridge.

The first skew arch bridge built in England was probably the one over the Rochdale Canal near Castleton. The stonework for this bridge is not square with the abutment, but follows a twisting line to create the arch, which requires mathematical precision to design and build.

When the railways were built, the skew arch became vital, as it was impossible for trains to approach a bridge on a bend. However, strength was also needed to withstand such heavy loads. The solution lay in fitting a series of simple cast iron arches to the staggered abutments to provide extra strength.

The maximum overall width for a simple cast iron arch was around 40 feet, but for larger bridges, castings were bolted together. These were difficult to make and to transport from foundry to site, and cast iron, though immensely strong in compression, can be brittle. Some additional form of strengthening was required, and George Leather of Leeds designed a fabricated cast iron arch bridge with wrought iron ties to hold the ends together. This new design of cast iron arch was used for four bridges crossing the Rochdale Canal on the Manchester & Leeds Railway; Gauxholme Viaduct, built 1839-1940; Scowcroft, near Castleton; Coppershouse, at the other end of the Gauxholme Viaduct; and at Whiteley, near Hebden Bridge.

The metal components for the Gauxholme viaduct were fabricated by J Butler & Sons of Stanningley, near Leeds, a well-known iron bridge company founded in the 1820s. Their name and date, 1840, is cast into the Gauxholme arches. Given the size of the castings, it is likely that they were transported from Leeds by canal.

The full length of the Manchester & Leeds Railway opened in March 1841. It became part of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1847, the same year that five people died when the Dee Bridge collapsed. This disaster cast doubt upon the safety of bridges using wrought iron strengthening methods, and as the size and weight of locomotives increased towards the end of the nineteenth century, other bridges strengthened with wrought iron were replaced. A new bridge was built at Scowcroft in 1904; the original still survives, though without track. Coppershouse and Whiteley were completely rebuilt using modern girders, while Gauxholme had two strengthening girders fitted below the arch in 1906. These girders are 10 feet deep and carry the weight of modern trains, with the original cast iron arch surviving almost as an ornament.