Denby Dale Viaduct

Denby Dale Viaduct is curved railway viaduct which carries the Huddersfield & Sheffield Junction Railway (now known as the Penistone Line) over Wakefield Road (A636), Barnsley Road (A635), and the River Dearne.

The original viaduct was built from timber but this was replaced by the current stone viaduct in 1880.


The Timber Viaduct

Although originally planned as a stone viaduct, "all the [local] stone quarries [were] in the hands of parties who demanded enormous prices for the stone".[1] Instead, the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company (L&YR) built it as a lightweight timber structure, "the beams of timber being set end to end and held together by cross-pieces placed at right angles and diagonally".[2] The ends of the viaduct, which each crossed over a road, were constructed from stone.

During construction, the viaduct was badly damaged by a gale on 20 January 1847 with 27 out of the 40 upright supports blown down. The cost of the damage was reportedly £5,000.[3] Despite concerns over the suitability of a timber viaduct, the contractor Robert T. Carlisle[4] (employed by Miller & Blacky) wrote to the Leeds Mercury:[5]

I beg to inform your correspondents that the Directors are about to persevere with the erection of the viaduct, and that with TIMBER, and also that some hundreds of thousands of tons of earth will have to be conveyed over the viaduct to an embankment on the line previous to the opening, so that its stability will be put to a sufficient test, as the earth waggons will be drawn by a locomotive engine.

Labourer Henry Biltcliffe fell to his death from scaffolding in late September 1847.[6] 31-year-old mason Thomas Hinchliffe was working on the viaduct in October 1847 when he lost his balance and fell 54 feet to his death.[7]

The viaduct had been rebuilt by early 1849 and the line was opened on 1 July 1850.

The Barnsley Chronicle reported in June 1860 that "all the rafters manifesting the slightest symptoms of decay are being removed and replaced with new ones" in the "curious wooden viaduct crossing Denby Dale".[8]

Concerns about the structure continued and in 1866 the Huddersfield Chamber of Commerce requested that the L&YR inspect the viaduct, but they "found it was perfectly safe".[9]

In 1868, the North Eastern Railway Company announced that it would replace "the whole of their numerous wooden viaducts with stone and iron". The Huddersfield Chronicle noted that if the L&YR did the same and replaced the Denby Dale Viaduct, "it would be a source of gratification to the many travellers who now journey to London by that route".[10]

Alderman H. Brooke raised the issue of the viaduct at the Huddersfield County Borough Town Council meeting of 17 May 1869:[11]

Any gentleman who had viewed the viaduct from the road beneath, must have been fearfully struck with the dangerous nature of it. In fact he should say there was scarcely a gentleman in the district, whose business compelled him to pass over it, who did not approach it with a fear and almost a shudder [...] The timbers were in a fearful state of rottenness.

Several other councillors and aldermen agreed with Brooke, and it was claimed that the "timbers had never been painted nor preserved in any way". Alderman Day stated that he had heard some people preferred to travel via Wakefield to get to London rather than use the line to Penistone.[12] It was resolved to write to the railway company requesting that they "take immediate measures for the reconstruction of the viaduct in stone" otherwise they would write to the Board of Trade.

A special meeting of the Town Council was held on 21 June to discuss the fact they the L&YR had not replied to the two letters sent by the Town Clerk and a resolution was passed to "call the attention of the Board of Trade to the unsafe state of [Denby Dale] viaduct, and to the great desirability of having the same rebuilt with stone".[13]

Captain H.W. Tyler of the Board of Trade carried out an inspection on 16 September 1869 which involved taking a test load of over 167 tons over the viaduct. From the level of vibrations, he recommended that the speed of trains passing over the structure should be "reduced considerably" and that no train should be allowed to stop on the viaduct. Of particular concern were reports that heavily laden excursion trains had passed over the viaduct at up to 50 miles per hour. Tyler finished by stating that he would recommend that the L&YR construct a stone viaduct "as soon as possible" whilst ensuring the the current timber structure be maintained.[14]

Despite the recommendation by the Board of Trade, the L&YR decided not to build a replacement viaduct and instead spent around £1,000 on repairs over the next five years. Their argument was that the timber design allowed for sections to be easily removed and replaced.

Captain Tyler returned in mid-April 1874 for a second inspection. This time four 40 ton engines passed over the viaduct at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Although there seemed little in the way of vibrations, when he inspected the upright timbers at ground level, he found many were rotten. Even those which "appeared sound to the eye, when chopped by the axe, displayed a rotten or hollow core".[15] Tyler ended his formal report by stating:

I am far from wishing to create an unnecessary alarm, but I should not be doing my duty if I did not state, as the result of my examination, that in the present condition of the viaduct a reasonable and sufficient margin of safety has not in my opinion been preserved, and that extensive renewals out at once to be undertaken, together with a thorough examination of the whole work.

The Stone Viaduct

Huddersfield County Borough Council continued to apply pressure on the railway company and by March 1877 the latter had publicly committed to constructing a new stone viaduct alongside the existing wooden structure.[16] Advertisements were placed in the press in June and the contract was awarded to Messrs. Naylor Brothers:[17]


The Directors are prepared to receive TENDERS for the ERECTION of a STONE VIADUCT, at Denby Dale, on the Huddersfield and Penistone Branch Railway. Plans and specifications may be seen, and Forms of Tender obtained at the Engineer's Office, Hunt's Bank, Manchester. Tenders endorsed, "Tender for Denby Dale Viaduct," to be in the hands of the undersigned not later than 10 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, the 3rd, July prox.

J.H. STAFFORD, Secretary.
Manchester, June 12, 1877.

The first stone of the new viaduct was laid at 4pm on 20 September 1877 by Mr. Hinchliffe of Denby Dale.[18]

Construction on the viaduct was well underway by the following summer when an accident occurred to labourer William Beaumont. A pulley system was being used to lift stone using large buckets and it was common practice for the labourers to descend in the empty bucket. Whilst Beaumont was descending, the bucket overturned and "he fell to the ground from a considerable height". The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent reported that "it was found that he had been seriously injured, so much so that his life is despaired of".[19] He died a few days later. It was later stated that Beaumont had recklessly sat on the edge of the bucket with his arms folded, rather than standing in the middle holding onto the chains, and had fallen backwards.[20]

The viaduct was built using snecked rubble stonework (which had proved successful on the Lockwood Viaduct) with arches formed of parpoint masonry.[21] The ashlar cladding was reportedly taken from a quarry next to Balk Farm at Upper Cumberworth.[22]

Work was nearing completion in September 1879 when the contractors auctioned off much of the equipment used for the construction:[23]

WILBY AND DRANSFIELD, instructed by Messrs. Naylor Bros., in consequence of the new viaduct at Denby Dale, will SELL BY AUCTION, on Monday, the 10th day of November, 1879, in the Station Yard at Denby Dale, at 1.30p.m., two 3-ton steam Derricks, 45ft. jib, by Smith, of Rodley, 15 months in use, complete ; one 30-cwt. Portable Crane, by Balmforth ; wood Pay Office, 10ft. x 7tf., very strong ; double-blast Bellows, 2ft. diameter ; contractor's Tools, 50 lots of Jib and other Chains, iron Mangers, Tip Boxes, &c.

The keystone of the final arch was fixed at a ceremony held on 27 September 1879. In an article promoting the event, the Huddersfield Chronicle gave the following description:[18]

This is one of the most substantial works in the railway world ; its length is 1,100 feet, and greatest depth 126 feet, and consists of 21 arches of 40 feet span, supported by 16 piers and 6 abutments ; the piers are 11 feet wide at the bottom, and 6 feet 6 inches at the top, all solid masonry ; the abutments at the north end are three in number, the widths of which are 29, 26, and 23 feet respectively. The skew bridge at the south end, crossing the Barnsley Road, is supported by 2 abutments, 45 feet 6 inches being the width of each ; the bridge has an opening of 40 feet on the square and 55 feet on the skew face ; the abutment against the bank at this end is 40 feet, all solid stone work ; the depth of the bank at each end is 80 feet, supported by a retaining wall 300 feet long, 15 feet wide at the base and 13 feet at the top. The arch quoins are three feet and two feet alternately on the soffit, the depth being three feet ; the arches are two feet six inches thick, turned with parpoint masonry. The string course is 12 inches thick, and two feet wide — the copings of the parapet are one foot thick and 18 inches wide. The contractors are Messrs. Naylor Brothers, and this work reflects the highest credit upon them ; they have used eight steam engines and about 15 horses, with these they have moved 100,000 tons of material, or about 200 tons for every working day, and the estimated quantity of timber and plant is not less than 1,000 tons. This gives the best idea of the vast amount of work done in this undertaking. The company’s chief engineer is S. Meek, Esq., the work being carried out under the direct supervision of W. Hunt. Esq., assistant engineer, and J.H. Rayner, Esq., resident, men of great experience and acknowledged talent in this class of work.

The new viaduct was formally opened on the weekend of 15/16 May 1880.[24]

In October 1880, the L&YR began advertising for tenders to dismantle and remove the wooden viaduct:

LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE RAILWAY. The Directors are prepared to receive OFFERS for the PURCHASE of the WOODWORK, &c., of the disused TIMBER VIADUCT at Denby Dale, near Huddersfield. The materials will be divided into two lots, and offers may be made for both or one only. Parties purchasing to be at the expense of taking down and removing.

By early 1882 it had become apparent that the L&YR had failed to fully survey the ground upon which the new viaduct had been built and that there were former coal mines underneath. Fortunately these were not too close to the surface and it was stated that "there is no reason whatever for apprehension".[25] The railway company then sought to minimise the risk of subsidence by undertaking to fill in the old mines with bricks and rubble.[26] By December 1882, the Huddersfield Borough Surveyor was satisfied that "the viaduct was safe, and that no public apprehensions need to be felt on the subject".[27]

Historic England Listing

  • Grade II
  • first listed 15 August 1985
  • listing entry number 1313339

Denby Dale Railway Viaduct. Railway viaduct across valley of River Dearne. Built 1884 for Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Rock-faced stone. 21 round arches on imposts to tall, slightly battered rectangular piers. Curving plan. Later square abutment to each end on west side, each with 2 arches.

Further Reading


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Notes and References

  1. "Huddersfield Chamber of Commerce" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Nov/1866). It is sometimes claimed that the decision not to use stone was due to local stone masons being on strike, but this is not corroborated by contemporary newspaper accounts.
  2. Gateway to the South: The Centenary of the Huddersfield and Sheffield Junction Railway (1950) by Stanley Chadwick.
  3. "Fall of the Denby Dale Viaduct" in London Evening Standard (01/Feb/1847).
  4. Robert Tomlinson Carlisle was born circa 1813 in Cumberland, Carlisle was listed in the 1851 Census as a contractor of Rotherham employing 160 workmen. He was declared bankrupt in 1853 and died in 1873 aged 60.
  5. "Fall of the Denby Dale Viaduct" in Leeds Mercury (13/Feb/1847).
  6. York Herald (07/Aug/1847). His surname may have been Biltcliff, which is the spelling recorded in the index of deaths.
  7. "Accident on the Sheffield and Huddersfield Railway" in Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (16/Oct/1847).
  8. "Viaduct Repairing" in Barnsley Chronicle (23/Jun/1860).
  9. "Huddersfield Chamber of Commerce" in Leeds Mercury (16/Nov/1866).
  10. "Wooden Railway Bridges" in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Mar/1868).
  11. "Meeting of the Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (22/May/1869).
  12. In "Talks with Old Yorkshire Cricketers" (Yorkshire Evening Post 19/Feb/1898), it was reported that cricketer Tom Emmett would tell fellow travellers "sit still, don't move [and] don't breathe until we get over" when crossing over the viaduct.
  13. "Meeting of the Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (26/Jun/1869).
  14. "Meeting of the Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (23/Oct/1869).
  15. "Board of Trade Inspection of the Denby Dale Viaduct" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (17/Apr/1874).
  16. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (22/Mar/1877). The company was discussing the works as early as February 1876.
  17. The firm was established by George Naylor (died circa 1881) and then taken over by his sons, George William Naylor (died September 1888) and Thompson Naylor.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Denby Dale New Stone Viaduct" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Sep/1879).
  19. "Shocking Accident at the Denby Dale New Viaduct" in Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (26/Jul/1878).
  20. "Local & District" in Leeds Times (24/Aug/1878).
  21. "The Denby Dale Viaduct" in Huddersfield Chronicle (15/May/1880).
  22. "Sales by Auction" in Yorkshire Post (06/Dec/1884).
  23. "Sales by Auction" in Barnsley Chronicle (01/Nov/1879).
  24. "Local News" in Huddersfield Chronicle (15/May/1880).
  25. "Scraps and Hints" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (10/Feb/1882).
  26. "Huddersfield Chamber of Commerce" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Feb/1882).
  27. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (23/Dec/1882).