Friday, 10 July 2015

The Severn Railway Bridge

Our cruise along the River Severn from the start of the navigable part from Stourport upon Severn, southwards to Sharpness has proved to be very interesting. As you might imagine, the early transport systems have played a major part in what was a quite remote area. As you might expect, wherever, you get a transport system, you also get stories of various incidents, calamities and disasters.
The Severn Railway Bridge was built by the Severn and Wye Railway Company. For its time it was a triumph of engineering and construction. The bridge was a built across the River Severn, linking Sharpness and Lydney. Built in the 1870s. Its key material for transport by rail was primarily coal from the coalfield in the Forest of Dean.
The Severn Railway Bridge
The bridge was constructed as a narrow  single line railway crossing. The bridge as you might expect pre-dates the construction of the Severn Tunnel by almost 10 years. No matter how you look at it this was a breath taking piece of Victorian pioneering engineering. 
The construction first began in 1875 and was completed by 1879. The bridge, was 4,162 feet long and some 70 feet above high water mark. Consisting of 22 spans. The end span which crossed over the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal also had a steam powered swing bridge section.
The Seven railway bridge map 1946 Ordnance Survey.
Their are stories of daring do such as one during the second world war when a flight of three Spitfires which were being delivered by Air Transport Axillary pilots  from their Castle Bromwich factory to Whitchurch, Bristol.  The flight included pilot Ann Wood. As it was low tide, the lead pilot Johnnie Jordan flew his spitfire under the bridge. 
However, that was not the end of the story. Some time later, pilot Ann Wood repeated this feat of skill without realising that this time it was high tide and there was 30 ft less headroom. This was not the only instance of pilots flying under the bridge. Apparently it was so common at one time that a local policeman was tasked with recording aircraft serial numbers.
The rich history of the bridge came to a sudden end when it was badly damaged by river barges on the 25 October 1960, in thick fog during a strong tide. The two barges were the 'Arkendale H' and the 'Wastdale H'. The two craft had overshot the lock into Sharpness Dock and then collided with one of the columns of the bridge. Both boats being carried upstream by the strong incoming tide. Two spans of the bridge collapsed into the river. Parts of the structure hit the barges causing the fuel oil and petroleum cargo they were carrying to set on fire. Five people died in the incident. Three people survived by swimming to shore. There were plans to reconstruct the bridge but after another span collapsed, the bridge was deemed to be damaged beyond repair. The bridge was demolished in 1970.
I was told by a local on the towpath that as a child he was living in cottages near to the canal. His family could see the flames spreading on the water through the fog. They were calling out with their parents to the crews in the water. To give some idea which direction to swim in and encouraging any survivors to swim for the shore. 

There are two memories of the events of that night. Which can be read on the 'Friends of Purton' website.  Click Here

Addendum from
Friends of Purton Hulks.
New and ongoing research into the event by Maritime Historian, Paul Barnett, has unearthed what is considered vital evidence into this untimely event and the bridge's demise. Previously unseen information has now come to light which highlights that the runaway tankers, Arkendale H and the Wastdale H, may not have been solely responsible the demolition of Pier 17 that fogbound night.
Mr Barnett has recently found written evidence to show that concerns for the safety of the bridge were being voiced ever since its opening in 1879 and thereafter, in light of being repeatedly struck by rogue vessels throughout its 81 year lifespan. 

His latest research goes further by examining the post destruction findings of one Mr P. Berridge, the Assistant Engineer for Bridges for British Rail, who, in his 1963 paper, openly criticised the official collision report by highlighting its lack of consideration regarding an earlier event in which the structure was struck and substantially damaged in 1943. At this time it was reported that the ill fated Pier 17 was damaged by an unnamed barge carrying some 400 tons of grain, just short of the Arkendale H and Wastdale H combined cargoes. 

Mr Berridge went on to state “So serious had been the blow that six holding down bolts securing the fixed bearings of the girders to the top of the pier had been sheared off”. The report also detailed severe damage to the pier's cylinders and cast iron bracings, with cracks running from the waterline the entire length to the under side of the bridge, some 70ft.

This damage was, of course, eventually repaired, states Mr Barnett, however, there can be no doubt that the pier remained considerably weakened, thereafter, as a result. A fact which only manifested itself that fateful October night some 17 years later.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please put your name to your comment. Comments without a name may automatically be treated as spam and might not be included.

If you do not wish your comment to be published say so in your comment. If you have a tip or sensitive information you’d prefer to share anonymously, you may do so. I will delete the comment after reading.