Bridge of Iron

Walker and Co. cast iron bridge

The Monday Photo

Only three of the bridges that Walker and Co. of Rotherham made are left in the world, and Tickford Bridge in Newport Pagnell is one of them.

Built in 1810,  it's also the oldest cast iron bridge in the world that carries modern traffic.

The other two existing bridges made by the company are older. The earliest one was built in 1801 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and was the first cast iron bridge to be built in the Caribbean.

The other cast iron bridge was erected in 1802 on the estate of Stratfield Saye House in Hampshire, not far from Reading.

Walker and Co. also made cannon for the navy. It’s thought that around a quarter of all the cannon in Nelson’s fleet at the battle of Trafalgar were made by the company, and 79 out of the 105 cannon on the Victory bore the Rotherham firm’s WCo mark; they were an expert casting firm.

The Newport Pagnell bridge was cast in sections. It was taken by sea to London, then by boat along the Grand Junction canal, which had only opened five years earlier. It wasn’t too far by road from the canal to the site of the new bridge.

The old bridge over the Ouzel there had to be replaced as it had become “ancient and decayed”.

The new bridge had been designed with six arched trusses set side by side, linked together by plates. Each one is made of eleven separate vouissors (which work like the wedge shaped stones that form a masonry arch) joined together with mortise and tenon joints, held tight by wrought iron wedges.

The arches are under compression; they have to be as cast iron, like stone, is strong in compression but weak under tension. The railings and central lamp standards are also cast iron, and the bridge abutments are of local sandstone.

The bridge needed little work or alterations for ninety years, then in 1900 wrought iron plates were added to the two centre bays when one of the deck plates fractured.

In 1972 the stone abutments received extensive repairs. Four years later a reinforced concrete deck on plastic foam had to be laid over the bridge to evenly spread the load of modern traffic, but in 1999 the bridge had to be strengthened again with carbon fibre. This all works, as you can see by the bus.

In the mid 1990s bollards were installed on the bridge, creating a width restriction to stop lorries and other large vehicles. It wasn’t popular; the gap was too narrow and quite a few cars lost mirrors on the bollards.

I wonder now if the restrictions were there to protect the bridge until it could be strengthened again. If you know anything about all this, please comment below.

Tickford bridge is a very fine example of early civil engineering in cast iron, which is why it is Grade 1 listed.

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Late to the Party

Clown costume

 

The Barrel Bikers, a local motorcycle club, usually have a Christmas party every year. It’s always held after Christmas, on a Saturday near the beginning of February. This doesn’t stop them giving out raffle prizes wrapped in Christmas paper!

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Getting Out of the Gutter

Milestone  Swanbourne

The Monday Photo

Here’s a milestone, on the A413 just over a mile from Winslow. From here it’s 49 miles to London, and nine miles to Aylesbury.

In the distance, you can see a white van signalling to turn right off the main road to go down the side road to Granborough, but until 1824 the first stretch of the Granborough road was part of the main road South; the next mile or so of what we call the A413 didn’t exist.

If you followed the white van you would find yourself going downhill and past two houses together in one building on the left. A little further on the modern road goes sharp right. But this was once a T junction, and the old turnpike went straight on, through Holcombe Gutter.

This name’s a clue to why the road was altered. Travellers found that the turnpike through the gutter became extremely muddy and difficult to traverse during the winter, so the route had to be moved to drier ground. The new stretch of road ran along the ridge above the gutter.

The two houses we’ve just passed were once a pub, described as the Small Beer Hall. By the time the new stretch of road was built it was known as The Neptune. It might have had other names.

With the new section of road finished the pub lost most of its passing trade, and a new pub, also called The Neptune, would be built opposite the modern turn to Swanbourne, but not until 1833. It’s now a farm house.

From the sharp right hand bend on the road to Granborough a farm track follows the old turnpike straight on and up out of the gutter. Not far along, it was joined from the left by Ave Lane, a green lane from Swanbourne that might have been a drover’s road.

From there, still going quite straight, it’s possible to follow the turnpike up the hill though it’s covered in trees. Where it once curved left across a field to join the modern main road there is little sign of it, but it comes out next to where the new Neptune pub was later built, opposite the modern Swanbourne turn.

From there, you could have either carried straight on to Swanbourne, or turned right to go to Whitchurch or Aylesbury along the turnpike.

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Don’t Go Too Far

Social Distancing Project 202A woman alone in her own in a car drives past in Newport Pagnell. She wears a mask.

 

Distance Project 26

Early in the new year I took my car to Newport Pagnell for its MOT, and rather than hang around at the MOT station I walked the short distance into town, with a camera. There were few people to be seen, even though it was lunchtime. That’s where I took this post’s first two pictures.

Social Distancing Project 203The Wyrdos shop in Newport Pagnell isn’t one of the shops that sells essentials, and they certainly can’t do any tattoos or piercings under the present restrictions, though they have been asked to.

 

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Shoes and Spitfires

Lodge Plugs factory

The Monday Photo

This fine building is now divided into flats, but it was built as a shoe factory over 120 years ago. In the 1940s it played an important part in the war effort, but not by making shoes!

Hinde & Mann’s two storey shoe factory on Wellingborough Road in Olney opened in 1894, and the firm did so well that later they extended the building upwards or outwards three times.

By about 1909 their high quality boots and shoes could be bought in every large town or city in the UK, and as far away as New Zealand. They also made boots for the army in the first World War.

When the recession hit in the 1920s and 30s, the company struggled when cheaper and lower quality shoes came on to the market, and the factory closed in 1932. But the firm carried on in other buildings in the town until the 1970s.

In 1940 Lodge Plugs, who made spark plugs for all sorts of military engines in their Rugby factory, were looking for somewhere they could use as a shadow factory.

This factory had to be away from the big towns and cities to avoid the bombing, and together with their main site at Rugby, it would allow Lodge to increase their output; sorely needed because of the war. Olney was ideal, and the Government requisitioned the disused shoe factory for the production of essential war material in August 1940.

Lodge were already making plugs for the RAF, but they had technical problems to overcome; aero-engine development advances quickly under wartime conditions, and the existing types of spark plugs were failing, lasting no more than a few hours.

So Lodge developed spark plug electrodes made of platinum instead of nickel, and by 1942, even in the highly tuned Merlin engines in Spitfires and Hurricanes they would last more than 300 hours.

When America entered the war, their Liberators and Flying Fortress bombers suffered from the same problems with spark plugs the RAF had seen. Lodge designed a special plug for the American engines, and it became the rule to fit this design of plugs to American bombers as soon as they reached Britain.

Three quarters of Lodge’s output went to the RAF and the American Army Air Force, and after the war the company bought the factory and made spark plugs there up to the 1950s. Around 1970 Pergamon Press used the building to store and distribute their educational books and magazines, and in the late 1990s the building was sold to private developers.

Lodge Plugs eventually became Lodge Ignition, and is now called Vibro-Meter UK; they make ignition systems for industry. I suspect that the Lodge Plugs signs didn't go up until after the war to keep the factory a secret; perhaps somebody can tell me if I’m right.

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Christmas in Lockdown

Social Distancing Project 197My nephew places my bag of presents on the road before he picks up my gifts to his family.

 

The Distance Project 25

I wasn’t too happy about spending time at Christmas in somebody else’s house, even though the rules had changed for the holiday. Even with close relatives who take the distancing measures as seriously as I do. I had been invited to visit for on Christmas day by my brother and his family, and I knew my sister would also be there; they are all in a bubble together.

I had already decided not to go in the house when the decision was taken out of my hands anyway; the rules had changed again although it was still permitted to meet a friend or a family member in a public place, and go for a walk together.

But there were presents to exchange.

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