Railway Times (20/Jan/1866) - Lancashire and Yorkshire: Fall of Mytholm Viaduct

The following is a transcription of a historic article and may contain occasional errors.


An inquiry was held at the Huddersfield station on Tuesday afternoon by Captain Tyler, on behalf of the Board of Trade, in compliance with a memorial of the Holmfirth Chamber of Commerce, respecting the causes of the fall of the Mytholm Bridge viaduct. The viaduct fell on Sunday, the 3rd December, about an hour before the first train was due. It was situated on the branch to Holmfirth, three-quarters of a mile from Brockholes Junction of the Huddersfield and Penistone line and a mile from Holmfirth. It consisted of 13 arches, two of 29ft span, and the others of 37ft 8in. span. The wooden viaduct it was intended to supersede consisted of 26 bays of timberwork, each 26ft 6in. The greatest height of the viaduct was 86ft 6in. to the rail level. The arches were 2ft thick; the distance from the under side of the centre of the arches to the rail level was 6ft. The piers were 4ft thick at the narrowest end at the top. (the viaduct was built on a curve with a radius of 20 chains), with a better of ¼in. to 1ft on each side, and the end batter was the same. The piers varied in length from 28ft 4in. to 29ft 3⅓in., and the narrow ends were on an average 12in. less than the broad ends. They were built on footings in two courses of 12in. each, projecting 6in. on each side of each course. The stonework was built between and among the open timberwork it was intended to supersede, and the timber was removed as the stonework approached completion; and no great quantity had been removed when the viaduct fell. The side supported by the narrow ends of the piers was the side first prepared for use, but though the rails had been laid trains had not run over it when it fell. Before taking evidence Captain Tyler, accompanied by Mr. Watts, assistant engineer of the Lancashire and Yorkshire ; Mr. Wadsworth, of Holmfirth, the contractor; Mr. Craven, president of the Holmfirth Chamber of Commerce; Mr. S. S. Booth, solicitor; and other gentlemen, viewed the ruins of the viaduct Mr. T. Holmes, woollen manufacturer; Mr. A. Lockwood, farmer; Mr. Eli Wimpenny, manufacturer; Mr. Barrowclough, architect; and Mr. W. J. Moorhouse, gentleman, all residents in the neighbourhood, gave evidence to the effect that they had noticed cracks in the piers, particularly in No. 7 from the Huddersfield end of the viaduct; that No. 7 had had to be supported by three buttresses; that No. 7 and No. 8 piers had bulged out some inches, the first in three places; that men were engaged time and time in pointing up the cracks with mortar; that some of the cracks extended through the stones; that no "through stones" had been noticed in the piers; and that stone and rubble for filling up the piers had been cast out of wheelbarrows into the interior, in some instances unmixed with mortar. Mr. Watts, assistant engineer, produced the specification and plans signed by Mr. Meek, the engineer, and Mr. Wadsworth, the contractor. The specification provided that the work should be of good rubble stone, and the piers, spandrils, and parapets wore to have a through stone in every square yard of surface. He visited the place, perhaps half a score of times. The work was superintended by Mr. Kershaw, who also looked after the platelayers on 15 miles of line. Had a salary of two guineas per week, and had never superintended the erection of a bridge or viaduct before. Kershaw always reported the works as progressing satisfactorily, but he (Mr. Watts) had found fault with the character of the mortar, and there not being a sufficient number of through stones. He noticed small cracks in Nos. 7, 8, and 9 piers, but they gave him no alarm. About the 31st October last be found three buttresses being built against No. 7 pier, and that it had bulged an inch and a quarter half-way up, but he did not think there was any danger. Also noticed a slight bulge in No. 8 pier. When the work was 20ft. up he received an anonymous letter complaining of It, and went up to the place with Mr. Meek, the engineer. They ordered more through stones and better mortar to be used, and also ordered three or four piers towards Huddersfield end to be pulled down to the extent of 4 ft, because the work was bad. He trusted to Mr. Kershaw to see that the work was done. ["Mr. Wadsworth, the contractor, subsequently stated that Kershaw had given him no orders on the point, and the defective portions of the piers had not been pulled down.] If one stone went two-thirds through the pier, and another on it went to the otherside, it would be such a "through" as was meant in the specification. Mr. Meek had allowed the contractor to deviate from the specification and use Yorkshire lime at 13s. 6d. a ton instead of Halkin mountain lime at 29s. a ton. One-half of the foundation of No. 7 pier was built on rock and the other half on gravel, and that and bad workmanship, he thought had caused the fall of the viaduct.

Mr. Wadsworth, the contractor, stated that the foundation of some of the piers was partly on rock and partly on gravel, the rock being at the broad end of those piers, so that the thinnest end of the piers had the weakest foundation; but that in the case of No. 7 the rock ran longitudinally, so that half the foundation on one side was on gravel and the other half on the rock. He never remonstrated against that state of things, but worked according to the plans, specifications, and Mr. Kershaw's orders. He had built one viaduct eleven years ago, but it was on a different principle. Three buttresses were built to support No. 7 pier, when it began to draw towards No. 8 after the centres were set There was a little settling at the narrow ends of four of the piers. He was attending to other work during the fortnight before the viaduct fell, but his brother was on the ground. He considered the defects in the foundations, particularly of No. 7 pier, the principal cause of the failure of the viaduct. His contract was for £7,100, and the day he signed the specification Mr. Meek permitted him to use Yorkshire instead of Halkin mountain lime, but the amount of the contract was not reduced. The piers were filled up with good rubble, no wheelbarrows were used, and no filling was put in without mortar.

The sub-contractor was also examined, but Kershaw (who has left the company's service) and Wadsworth (brother to the contractor) were not in the way, and could not be examined. Kershaw's statement has to be sent to Captain Tyler, who will report to the Board of Trade, and, as he intimated, probably recommend the erection of a wooden viaduct for use during the erection of a new stone one.

Railway Times (20/Jan/1866) - Lancashire and Yorkshire: Fall of Mytholm Viaduct


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This page was last modified on 9 April 2019 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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