History of the Bridge
The Bridge c. 1922
A Grade II* listed structure, Victoria Bridge spans the River Avon connecting the Upper and Lower Bristol Roads, through the Bath Western Riverside development, making up part of the Bristol/Bath cycle network.
The Bridge was built in 1836 as the prototype demonstration of James Dredge’s patented taper chain principle. Over 50 further bridges were built throughout Britain, Ireland, India and Jamaica, using the same principle and Victoria Bridge is the eldest of a small number of the survivors.
In 2010, the Bridge was closed to the public amid concerns about the Bridge’s condition and consequent strength and stability. In 2011 the Council formalised a project and appointed a project team, including a team of engineers and specialists in their field, to develop a permanent solution to enable the bridge to be reopened.
Monitoring undertaken in Autumn 2011 revealed the condition of the bridge to be rapidly and unpredictably deteriorating and a decision was taken to close the River and towpath beneath, before bringing forward the installation of a temporary truss, as an emergency solution to stabilise the bridge. The truss installation was completed in December 2011 which, following the subsequent addition of access ramps, ensured pedestrians were able to cross the River via an elevated walkway through a truss. The truss acts as a large ‘hanger’ to support the main span of the historic structure and will also serve as a working platform for the forthcoming refurbishment works.
In June 2012 the Council Cabinet gave funding approval for the permanent refurbishment of the Bridge. The solution has been developed in close consultation with English Heritage and seeks to achieve an appropriate balance between heritage, engineering and maintenance constraints. It involves dismantling and reconstructing the metal superstructure using the majority of the original ironwork, which will be refurbished, and some newly fabricated steel components which will help give the Bridge the required strength for modern use. The original Bath stone towers will be cleaned and conserved and some new foundations will be built to support the Bridge’s north and south backspans.
The Council held an Exhibition in spring 2013 at the Museum of Bath at Work, which provided an opportunity for visitors to learn about the history of the Bridge and its designer, James Dredge, and comment on proposals for the refurbishment. Following this an application for listed building consent for the refurbishment proposals was submitted to the Council and work began to find a suitably qualified contractor to undertake the refurbishment work.
In August 2013 listed building consent was granted.
When completed the bridge will look similar to its original appearance in Victorian times. Historical research has identified that for the majority of its past the ironwork of the bridge was painted a dark green. This colour will be used for the refurbished bridge in response to its past. The refurbished bridge will also re-establish the permanent link for cyclists and pedestrians between the Upper and Lower Bristol Roads, through Bath Western Riverside, and with the towpath beneath while restoring one of the City’s most important pieces of heritage infrastructure.
Installation of the temporary truss, December 2011
The refurbishment works commenced in late winter 2014 and have been successfully completed by Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Ltd, (BBCEL) working on behalf of the Council.
The presence of the temporary truss and the use of some innovative construction techniques by Balfour Beatty enabled public access across the bridge to be maintained for over 90% of the construction period, even though the bridge superstructure had to be completely dismantled and reconstructed.
The newly refurbished bridge was officially reopened on 15 January 2015 and as a result of the work English Heritage have been able to remove Victoria Bridge from their Heritage at Risk Register.
Since the formal re-opening of Victoria Bridge, some sections of the anti-slip surfacing have peeled away from the timber deck planks beneath. This appears to be a result of excessive thermal expansion of the glass reinforced plastic (GRP) planks, (these are glued and screwed to the timber beneath), which breaks the glue bond and creates the rippling effect that can be seen in certain areas of the bridge deck. This system was chosen particularly to give an efficient means of securing the anti-slip surface to the deck during the tight time-frame in November 2014 when the route across the Bridge was closed to the public for the removal of the temporary truss and finishing of the Bridge deck.
Tests and trials have been undertaken to establish whether a more secure construction can be achieved with the GRP planks remaining in place. These trials are ongoing and in the meantime the Bridge is being regularly inspected and the Council’s Contractor Balfour Beatty is visiting the Bridge to carry out repairs to keep the Bridge safe for use. Contemplating the possibility that a different solution may be required, an alternative system has been proposed which involves gluing an anti-slip aggregate directly to the timber deck planks, without the use of the GRP. A trial of the system has been undertaken on the Bridge and subject to the trial being successful, the GRP planks would be permanently removed from the bridge and the new solution installed throughout. A period of 3 to 4 weeks will be required to assess whether the trial is successful and so installation of the new solution would happen in the Spring of 2015. Access across the bridge will be maintained throughout these works.
Re-opening of Victoria Bridge, January 2015.
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