Stockport Viaduct

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Stockport Viaduct
Stockport Viaduct in 2012.jpg
Stockport Viaduct
Greater Manchester UK location map 2.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Greater Manchester
General information
Town or city Stockport, Greater Manchester
Coordinates 53°24′33″N2°09′51″W / 53.4091°N 2.1642°W / 53.4091; -2.1642 Coordinates: 53°24′33″N2°09′51″W / 53.4091°N 2.1642°W / 53.4091; -2.1642
Construction started1839
Client Manchester and Birmingham Railway
Technical details
Structural systemBrick arch
Design and construction
Engineer George W. Buck

Stockport Viaduct carries the West Coast Main Line across the valley of the River Mersey in Stockport, Greater Manchester, England (grid reference SJ89089030 ). It is one of the largest brick structures in the United Kingdom.

West Coast Main Line railway route in Britain

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is one of the most important railway corridors in the United Kingdom, connecting the major cities of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow. It is one of the busiest mixed-traffic railway routes in Europe, carrying a mixture of intercity rail, regional rail, commuter rail and rail freight traffic. The core route of the WCML runs from London to Glasgow, with branches diverging to Northampton, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, totalling a route mileage of 700 miles (1,127 km). Services from London to North Wales and Edinburgh also run via the WCML; however the main London-Edinburgh route is the East Coast Main Line. In addition, several sections of the WCML form part of the suburban railway systems in London, Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, with many more smaller commuter stations, as well as providing links to more rural towns.

River Mersey Major river emptying into Liverpool Bay

The River Mersey is a river in the North West of England. Its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon language and translates as "boundary river". The river may have been the border between the ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria and for centuries it formed part of the boundary between the historic counties of Lancashire and Cheshire.

Stockport town in Greater Manchester, England

Stockport is a large town in Greater Manchester, England, 7 miles (11 km) south-east of Manchester city centre, where the River Goyt and Tame merge to create the River Mersey, and the largest in the metropolitan borough of the same name.


Stockport Viaduct was designed by George Watson Buck for the Manchester and Birmingham Railway. In 1839, work commenced and around 11,000,000 bricks were used in its construction before it was completed in 1840. The viaduct is 33.85 metres (111.1 ft) high. [1] [note 1] At the time of its construction, it was the world's largest viaduct and a major feat of Victorian engineering. Stockport Viaduct is a Grade II* listed structure, [2] and remains one of the world's biggest brick structures. [1]

The Manchester and Birmingham Railway was built between Manchester and Crewe and opened in stages from 1840. Between Crewe and Birmingham, trains were worked by the Grand Junction Railway. The M&BR was merged into the London and North Western Railway in 1846.

Listed building Protected historic structure in the United Kingdom

A listed building, or listed structure, is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, Cadw in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.

In the late 1880s, the viaduct was widened to accommodate four tracks instead of two. In the 1960s, overhead catenary lines were installed by British Rail for the West Coast Main Line electrification scheme. In the second half of the 20th century, the M60 motorway, was built, passing through two arches between Junction 1 (A5145 road) and Junction 27 (Portwood Roundabout).

Overhead line used to transmit electrical energy to trams, trolleybuses or trains

An overhead line or overhead wire is used to transmit electrical energy to trams, trolleybuses or trains. It is known variously as:

British Rail rail transport operator of Great Britain

British Railways (BR), which from 1965 traded as British Rail, was the state-owned company that operated most of the overground rail transport in Great Britain between 1948 and 1997. It was formed from the nationalisation of the "Big Four" British railway companies and lasted until the gradual privatisation of British Rail, in stages between 1994 and 1997. Originally a trading brand of the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission, it became an independent statutory corporation in 1962 designated as the British Railways Board.

M60 motorway Motorway in Greater Manchester, England

The M60 motorway, Manchester Ring Motorway, or Manchester Outer Ring Road, is an orbital motorway in North West England. Built over a 40-year period, it passes through all Greater Manchester's metropolitan boroughs except for Wigan and Bolton. Most of Manchester is encompassed within the motorway, except for the southernmost part of the city which is served by the M56.


Background and design

The viaduct was designed by George Watson Buck of the Manchester and Birmingham Railway to cross the River Mersey. Buck worked with the architect John Lowe. [3] The line of the viaduct was partially occupied by the engine house of Wear Mill which was built in 1831. The viaduct was built directly over it with piers at either side of the engine house. The viaduct was historically known as Edgeley Viaduct. [3] [4]

John Lowe English darts player

John Lowe MBE is a former World No. 1 English retired professional darts player who was one of the most talented and best known darts players during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in the United Kingdom. Lowe is one of only six players to have won the World Championship three times, having done so in 1979, 1987 and 1993. He is the first player to have won the World Championship in three separate decades. Lowe's titles and achievements span a career of almost forty years, but he is also well known for being the first player to achieve a televised nine-dart finish.

Wear Mill, Stockport

Wear Mill was an integrated cotton works on the Cheadle Heath bank of the River Mersey in Stockport, Greater Manchester, in England. It was started around 1790 and added to, particularly in 1831 and 1884. In 1840, the Stockport Viaduct was built over the river and over Wear Mill.

Stockport Viaduct is 33.8 meters above the bed of the River Mersey, 546.2 metres long and when built was 9.4 metres wide. [3] It has 22 semi-circular arches with spans of 19.2 metres and is flanked by pair of abutment arches of 5.5 metre span. The arch rings are 900mm thick. [3] The arches and spandrels are built of red brick set in lime mortar with ashlar spring courses. The deck parapets are 2.2 meters high on either side. The distance between the arch crowns and the top of the parapets is 3.6 metres. [3] The red brick piers are 3 metres thick and 12.2 metres high. [3] They are solid up to 7.9 metres above the springings above which they have 685mm thick walls filled with ballast. The piers at the abutments have rusticated facings. [3] The original track bed was 8.7 metres wide, ballasted with sandstone from cuttings along the railway. Track drainage was via 100mm diameter iron pipes through the piers. [3]


In engineering, abutment refers to the substructure at the ends of a bridge span or dam whereon the structure's superstructure rests or contacts. Single-span bridges have abutments at each end which provide vertical and lateral support for the bridge, as well as acting as retaining walls to resist lateral movement of the earthen fill of the bridge approach. Multi-span bridges require piers to support ends of spans unsupported by abutments. Dam abutments are generally either side of a valley or gorge but may be artificial in order to support arch dams such as Kurobe Dam in Japan.

Lime mortar building material

Lime mortar is composed of lime and an aggregate such as sand, mixed with water. The Ancient Egyptians were the first to use lime mortars. About 6,000 years ago, they used lime to plaster the pyramids at Giza. In addition, the Egyptians also incorporated various limes into their religious temples as well as their homes. Indian traditional structures built with lime mortar, which are more than 4,000 years old like Mohenjo-daro is still a heritage monument of Indus valley civilization in Pakistan. It is one of the oldest known types of mortar also used in ancient Rome and Greece, when it largely replaced the clay and gypsum mortars common to ancient Egyptian construction.

Ballast material that is used to provide stability to a vehicle or structure

Ballast is material that is used to provide stability to a vehicle or structure. Ballast, other than cargo, may be placed in a vehicle, often a ship or the gondola of a balloon or airship, to provide stability. A compartment within a boat, ship, submarine, or other floating structure that holds water is called a ballast tank. Water should move in and out from the ballast tank to balance the ship. In a vessel that travels on the water, the ballast will remain below the water level, to counteract the effects of weight above the water level. The ballast may be redistributed in the vessel or disposed of altogether to change its effects on the movement of the vessel.


The viaduct circa 1854 Image taken from page 79 of 'Bradshaw's Hand-Book to the Manufacturing Districts of Great Britain ... Illustrated with ... county maps'.jpg
The viaduct circa 1854

Several contractors were employed in the viaduct's construction including John Tomkinson and Samuel and John Holme. [3] Work was overseen by the resident engineer W. Adams and later by W.H. Perkins. [3]

At the peak of the work, around 600 workers were employed in shifts to complete the structure. The viaduct was built of layer upon layer of common brick. [4] It took 21 months to construct, cost £72,000 and around 11 million bricks and 11,300 cubic metres of stone were used. [3] [2] The scaffolding and centring used to build the arches were reused in the construction of the Dane Viaduct 15 miles to the south. [3]

The Manchester to Stockport line was officially opened on 4 June 1840, [5] but the viaduct was not completed until 21 December 1840. [3] On 16 July 1841, the first train crossed the viaduct and it was opened to rail traffic on 10 August 1842 enabling through services to Crewe and facilitating travel to London. [3] [6]

Operational life

The first section of the Manchester & Birmingham line ran from a temporary station in Travis Street Manchester to a temporary station at Heaton Norris on the Lancashire side of the Stockport Viaduct. It opened for traffic on 4 June 1840 and carried nearly 2,000 passengers per day in the second half of that year. On 10 May 1842, train services were extended from Heaton Norris to Sandbach when Store Street in Manchester opened.

The widening of the viaduct Stockport Viaduct widening 1887-89.jpg
The widening of the viaduct

In the late 1880s, the viaduct was widened to accommodate four tracks. [3] The London and North Western Railway, formed in 1846, sought to have four tracks so that slower trains could be accommodated. Between 1887 and 1889, the viaduct was widened by approximately 6.8 metres along one side. The engineer Francis Stephenson retained the dimensions and form of the viaduct for the additional work. [3] Additional tapered piers were built and another abutment arch at the Stockport end was added to carry the wider deck. [3]

In 1929, the arch above Heaton Lane was repaired after several bricks fell from the soffit. [3] The degraded condition of the brickwork was attributed to unseasonably high temperatures in the summers of 1915–1917 which had caused raising in the viaduct's track and parapet. Areas of damaged brickwork were replaced with reinforced concrete, the arch was re-grouted and steel rails were installed. [3]

Street-level view of the Stockport Viaduct. Note the presence of the overhead electrification gantries Stockport Viaduct - - 1073442.jpg
Street-level view of the Stockport Viaduct. Note the presence of the overhead electrification gantries

In the 1960s, overhead catenary lines were installed for the West Coast Main Line electrification scheme. [7]

On 10 March 1975, the viaduct was granted Grade II* listed building status. [3] In 1989, the viaduct was restored at an estimated cost of £3 million. The brickwork was cleaned to improve its appearance [3] and floodlights were installed to illuminate it at night time. [6]

In the second half of the 20th century, the M60 motorway around Manchester, was constructed. [3] Its three-lane carriageways pass through two of the viaduct's arches between Junction 1 (A5145 road) and Junction 27 (Portwood Roundabout). [3]

In late 2007, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council objected to service changes by CrossCountry, which had proposed to reduce the number of Manchester to Birmingham trains stopping at Stockport by 50 per cent. Councillor David White claimed that an 1840 Act of Parliament guaranteed that all trains passing over the viaduct had to stop at Stockport station. [8] In response Labour MP Andrew Gwynne stated "Sadly no such Act of Parliament exists, although it is common currency in the town that it does. I made enquiries with the House of Commons Library and the Parliamentary Archives back at the time some intercity trains stopped using Stockport. It appears it is purely an urban myth." [9]

In 2011, the viaduct was refurbished by Network Rail but by 2018 its condition had declined, limestone staining (caused by failing waterproofing measures) and graffiti are present in multiple areas; local authorities are considering legal action to force Network Rail to address its condition. [10] [11]

The viaduct is mentioned in literature in the introduction to the Northern Mill Towns in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South . In the creative arts, it has been portrayed in works by L.S. Lowry. [3]

Stockport rail accident 1948

A rail accident on the viaduct occurred on 30 November 1948 at 19:40 when in the darkness and thick fog a Buxton train ran into the back of a Crewe and Disley train that was stopped at the signal at the south of the viaduct waiting for a platform. Although the collision was at 10–15 mph, because of the inertial mass of four locomotives, the last (eleventh) coach of the Crewe–Disley service telescoped into the tenth carriage. Five people were killed and 27 were seriously injured. The impact point was approximately in the centre of the viaduct. The inspector attributed the cause to the driver of the lead engine of the Buxton train, which was stopped at a signal just south of Heaton Norris railway station misinterpreting a shout from the assistant porter as having been from the guard giving permission to proceed, which the guard should have obtained from the signal box under Rule 55; as the signal was not visible in the dense fog: The train passed the signal at danger. [12]

See also


  1. c.f. Göltzsch Viaduct in eastern Germany.

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  1. 1 2 Historic England. "Stockport Railway Viaduct (76880)". PastScape. Retrieved 25 April 2008.
  2. 1 2 Historic England. "Stockport Viaduct (210778)". Images of England . Retrieved 29 February 2008.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 “Stockport Viaduct.” ‘’’’, Retrieved: 11 June 2018.
  4. 1 2 Edgeley Viaduct, Stockport, about 1890, Science and Society Picture Library,
  5. Francis Whishaw, The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland Practically Described, J. Weale, 1842, p. 306 google books
  6. 1 2 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. "Stockport Viaduct". Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  7. John Andrew Fairhurst. "Stockport Viaduct" . Retrieved 20 April 2008.
  8. Morley, Victoria (14 November 2007). "Stop! Trains just 'passing through'". Stockport Express. M.E.N. Media.
  9. Gwynne, Andrew (29 August 2012). "Rail services to London via Stockport to be retained – MP" . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  10. Scapens, Alan. "Legal action could be taken against Network Rail over state of Stockport Viaduct.", 6 February 2018.
  11. Scapens, Alan. "Stockport Viaduct is filthy and badly needs waterproofing. But it's not going to happen any time soon...", 24 April 2018.
  12. “Report on the Collision which occurred on 30 November 1948, at Stockport in the London Midland Region British Railways.” ‘’’’, Retrieved: 7 August 2013.