UK’s Earliest Chain Link Suspension Bridge To Be Restored

Asignificant portion of the Levelling Up Fund announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been earmarked for the restoration of the historic Whorlton Bridge.

As part of the Levelling Up Fund announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn, Durham Country Council has received £20 million, and a significant portion has been earmarked for the restoration of the historic Whorlton Bridge over the River Tees.

Durham Magazine reports that the bridge, the UK’s earliest surviving example of an iron chained suspension bridge with twin battered masonry pylons at each end, has been closed since December 2020. The bridge proves access to the A66, A67, and Barnard Caste from nearby villages, and also forms part of the National Cycle Network (NCN) and Teesdale Way.

The historic bridge, now a Grade II-listed structure and a Scheduled Monument, was opened in 1831 to provide a route for horses and carts to transport coal southwards from Durham’s coalfields.

The entire deck is supported solely by the original iron chains, and a weight limit of three tonnes was implemented in 1914. This limit remained in place for almost a century, with major repairs undertaken in 1993 and 2003, but hanger failure was reported on the bridge in 2019.

Following an inspection of the damage to Whorlton Bridge, the council was forced to immediately close it to all vehicles. The initial investigation revealed that the hangers were continuing to deteriorate at a significant pace, which meant that the bridge was no longer able to safely support pedestrians due to it being close to collapse.

A further set of detailed and specialised tests were ordered on the bridge to help determine how restoration could be undertaken.

However, due to the bridge being Grade II listed and a Scheduled Monument, these testing works had to be given Scheduled Monument Consent by Historic England, in conjunction with the Environment Agency.

Durham Council successfully received Scheduled Monument Consent for the tests in July, and they got underway in September, and are expected to be completed by mid-November.

Once the assessments are completed, designs for strengthening and refurbishment works can be drawn up. These will again have to receive Scheduled Monument Consent from Historic England.

It is hoped that all plans can be agreed upon by June next year.

The bridge is expected to reopen in spring 2023, with the tendering, planning and execution of the repair works scheduled to place between July 2022 and March 2023, if plans are approved. A visitor centre will also be developed as part of the works, allowing users to celebrate the bridge’s transport heritage.

New Civil Engineer reports that the Whorlton Bridge restoration scheme is one of 105 being supported by the £1.7 billion Levelling Up Fund, which also includes the regeneration of Liverpool’s docks, a major waterfront extension in Doncaster, and revitalisation of Wales’ Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site.

The £20 million award to Durham will also see the re-routing of the A68 at Toft Hill, creating a new 1.6-kilometre bypass away from the village centre which will link from the junction of Hartbrigg Lane to the junction of the A68 at Toft Hill Lane.

An average of 8,000 vehicles use the road every day, and it is hoped that re-routing will help to improve journey times, reduce road traffic and improve safety in the village.

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