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Fall Of Thirteen Arches of the Ribble Viaduct on the Preston Extension of the East Lancashire Railway.

Fall Of Thirteen Arches, 

of the Ribble Viaduct on the Preston Extension
of the East Lancashire Railway.

Following on from my post about the Hidden Viaduct near Preston, once know as "The Blue Bridge", I put the old picture looking from Miller Park and my photograph of the top of a buried arch on a local social media group.  That solicited a comment from a group member that pointed towards an old news article.

Hidden Viaduct near Preston, once know as "The Blue Bridge"
Hidden Viaduct near Preston, once know as "The Blue Bridge"

This news article revealed that there had been problems with the arches during the construction, and this actually led to thirteen of them collapsing.  It was entitled "Fall of Thirteen Arches of the Ribble Viaduct on the Preston Extension of the East Lancashire Railway".  It came from the Preston Guardian published on Saturday 27th October 1849.  I ran the scanned image of the newspaper extract through an online OCR (optical character recognition) software process and converted the image into readable text.  The output was as follows:




On Thursday last, an accident occurred upon the works ‘now in progress for the erection of the viaduct arches of the Preston extension of the East Lancashire Company’s railway, which extend for a considerable distance along the valley of the river Ribble, near this town, by which most serious damage has been done to the works, and, in all probability, the completion of the line delayed for some months. Most providentially, the accident was unattended with loss of life, or injury to any of the workmen employed upon the line; though, had the accident occurred on the preceding day, the loss of life would have been fearful.

The Preston extension of the East Lancashire Railway is merely a short branch line, leaving the main line near to Bamber Bridge, and running onwards to Preston, a distance of rather more than four miles, past the reservoir at Penwortham, through the valley of the Ribble, between the Tram-road and the North Union Company’s line, across the river itself, by a bridge near to the North Union Railway bridge, and through the Cliff cutting, into the heart of the town. The erection of the viaduct arches upon the line, from near the Penwortham reservoir to the new bridge, was commenced some six or seven months ago, and had advanced pretty rapidly towards completion before this unfortunate accident happened.

The viaduct is intended, when finished, to consist of Fifty-two brick arches, from stone springers, exclusive of the arches over the river; and the contract for the work was let to Messrs. Mc.Cormick and Daglish, of Liverpool, railway contractors; and again sub-let by them to Messrs. Bridgewater and Crowther, under whose personal superintendence the works have gone on. The length of the viaduct will be upwards of a quarter of a mile, and will run into an embankment similar to that of the North Union Railway, near to the Penwortham reservoir.

On Thursday morning fifteen of the arches were completed, eleven having their centres stacked, and six others had a portion of the brick work commenced upon them, nearly the whole of the piers being completed, and in a fit state to receive the arches. The arches completed, or in the course of completion, were the whole of the arches between the seventeenth and the thirty-seventh arches from the New Bridge. The centres of arches Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22,23, 24, 25, and 26, had been slacked for some time, but the centre of the arch No. 27, was only slacked on Tuesday last. The centre of the arch No. 16, and the arches between arch No. 27, and arch No. 37, remaining standing.

The arches are built upon a pile foundation, the piles being of wood, driven into the earth, and covered with a wood sheeting, eight or nine inches thick, screwed on to the piles. The soil is of a mossy, spongy nature, and would require the piles to be firmly driven—much more firmly, we have been given to understand, than they were. The weight of each arch with one pier is, we understand, about 120 tons, there being eighty-one yards of brick work in each. Arches Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21, from the New Bridge were covered with asphalt—a composition of pitch, sand, and gravel—to prevent the ingress of the rain, and to enable the mortar to set. The other arches were not asphalted.

For some days latterly the weather has been extremely wet, and a considerable depth of water has fallen and accumulated upon the line of railway, and in the adjoining fields, tending in a great measure to prevent the mortar from setting. To this circumstance, no doubt, the fall of the arches may, in a great measure, though not wholly, be attributed.

The accident happened at a few minutes past one o'clock on Thursday afternoon, and at the time it occurred there were but few individuals upon the line. We understand that seven men were near the arches at the moment they fell, one of whom had only a few moments before their falling descended one of them, on a ladder. These men were making preparations for the bricklayers to commence work, and saw the whole occurrence. A contemporary journal states that two men were upon the top of the arches at the time they fell, one of whom jumped from the top—a height of thirty feet, and the other descended by a ladder. We have made inquiries as to the truth of this report, but find there is no foundation for it—there having been, in reality, no person either upon the arches or within several yards of them at the time the accident happened. Indeed, had it been true, the men must have been buried in the ruins, as the arches fell without a moment's warning, in one continuous crash. A noise, like the report of a gun, was heard, and immediately the whole of the thirteen arches fell. Arch No. 27 from the river, the centre of which was only removed on Tuesday, is supposed to have been the arch which gave way first, and, from an inspection of the ruins, this appears highly probable, as the piers on each side of the arch, which were left standing, are cracked and lean towards each other, indicating a great pressure of the other arches on each side. The two arches from which the centres had not been slacked, Nos. 28 and 29, and the ten arches on the other side of arch No. 27, fell almost immediately together, arch No. 17 being the last to give way. The next arch, No. 16, would in all probability have given way as well, but the pier between that arch and No. 17, was near three times as thick as the other piers, and consequently was enabled to withstand the pressure upon it better than the other piers.

The whole of the 13 arches entirely fell in, and one of the piers,—that between the 24th and 25th arches, was buried in the ruins, Indeed, the whole of the piers are more or less considerably injured, and are so cracked that they will all have to come down and be rebuilt.

Fortunately as the day was extremely wet, none of the bricklayers or other men employed in the erection of the viaduct were at work; if they had been, besides the destruction of arches there would, in all probability, have been considerable loss of life. It was only upon the Wednesday —the day previous to the accident—that upwards of 100 workmen were employed upon and about the arches; and about an hour before the accident happened,

Mr. Mason, a gentleman engaged in inspecting the works as they proceed fowards [towards] completion, walked across the whole of the arches, at which time they appeared perfectly


Soon after the accident occurred, Messrs. Bridgewater and Crowther, the sub-contractors, with Mr. Mason, and another inspector of the works, were upon the spot, and they at once set to work to prevent the arches nearest the Penwortham reservoir, from following the other, and being destroyed. A number of workmen were quickly collected together at the wreck, and timber having been procured the arch, No. 30, was as quickly as possible propped up on the side nearest the river,.as it was found that it had given away a little, and the top of the arch was slightly cracked. The centres of the 28th and 29th arches were completely buried with the falling bricks and stone, and smashed to pieces. Along the whole length of the thirteen arches a complete wreck was presented—bricks, mortar, stones, and rubbish, being strewed along the line, and several of the piers left standing seemed in a tottering state. Some leant inwards and some were broken off at the top, one completely destroyed and others only slightly cracked.

The 18th pier from the river is, we perceive from a personal inspection of the ruins, slightly cracked at the bottom. A portion of the brick work above the stone springers of the 19th is left standing to a considerable height, and the lower portion of the pier has sustained a

considerable crack. The 20th, 21st, and 22nd piers are also cracked at the bottom, and the 23rd is cracked in the centre of the brick work and at the bottom as well, a large portion of the work above the springers remaining. The 24th pier leans considerably towards the Penwortham Reservoir and has sustained a large crack at the bottom. The 25th is entirely down, the brick and stone work being distributed, with the brick work of the arches, on each side of it. The 26th is also cracked, and the 27th is only slightly injured, a thick piece of timber between it and the 28th which is split up by the pressure upon it, supporting it. The 29th leans towards the Ribble and has sustained several large cracks, and the pier on the other side leans the other way.

There have been various rumours afloat as to the cause of the accident—some attributing it to the rain having softened the mortar, and prevented it setting; others to the badness of the materials, the mortar being stated to contain very little lime and too much sand, mixed with a quantity of common soil; and others to the bad workmanship throughout. We have been given to understand that representations have frequently been made to the contractors that the arches would never stand, but must give way the first -time a train passed over them, if not before. Some time ago, in a case where the contractors were summoned by several of the workmen for non-payment of wages, it was strongly rumoured that disclosures would be made by the plaintiffs respecting the badness of the workmanship of the arches; but such disclosures, however, were not made.

The contractors will suffer a heavy loss from the accident; and, in addition, the opening of this branch of the East Lancashire Company’s; line will be delayed for a considerable period. Providentially, no person was injured by the accident; had it been otherwise there would no doubt have been a searching investigation into its cause, and the whole of the circumstances connected with the erection of the arches.

The scanned image of the article came from the Preston Digital Archive.  


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