I was walking along some disused railway lines yesterday when I came upon this bridge. I’ve always admired the confidence with which the Victorians went about their work, seemingly convinced that everything they did would last forever. This bridge is a great example.
It will have been built in the 1860’s to carry a road or farm track over the railway so as not to impede the flow of coal from the mines down to the nearby ironworks. The effort involved in putting it there would have been immense. First of all, an Act of Parliament had to be passed to allow the railway to be built. Then the whole area would have been surveyed to choose the optimum route for the line.
As you can see from the picture, the bridge stands in a pretty deep cutting which would need to be dug out, along with foundations for the bridge. Now, I’m no quantity surveyor but there must be tens of thousands of bricks there. Hundreds of man-hours would have gone into the brick-laying alone. At the load-bearing edge are huge concrete lintels. This being the Victorian era, attention to detail is everything, so these have been cast to look like pock-marked sandstone. I can only imagine the huge, clanking steam-powered crane they must have used to lift them and the shouts of the cloth-capped men as they To-me-to-you them into place.
Next come the iron road supports, which are themselves great feats of hot and dangerous engineering. Pouring and rolling and riveting iron with only a leather apron and gauntlets for protection is unimaginable to us today. Would they have used the same crane to lift them? Who knows. But once they have been nudged into the perfect position, back come the brick-layers to finish the job.
Hundreds, if not thousands of man hours went into that bridge. Months of back-breaking effort for dozens of people. All with the confidence that comes from knowing the bridge will last forever.
And it’s still there one hundred and forty years later. And it’s a credit to the men that built it.
But the road over the top has gone. And so has the track underneath. There’s no reason for the track to be there anymore because the coal mines have all closed. And the ironworks they fed are long-gone, too.
How should we feel about all that wasted effort? Sad? Angry? Disappointed?
I’ll leave that to you.
For me, the bridge stands as a reminder that whatever it is you are stressing over today will be unremarked and unremembered pretty soon. The effort and diligence with which you are going about your work is a credit to you, but life is a game and it can be fun if you want it to be. Those bridge-builders will have laughed a lot while they went about their work. You can, too.