Historic England has awarded Durham County Council £161,000 to repair and revitalise the remains of the world’s first iron railway bridge. Completed in 1823, Gaunless Bridge was designed by ‘father of the railways’ George Stephenson and spanned the River Gaunless in West Auckland, in County Durham. It formed part of the line serving the Witton Park Colliery, and was originally used by horse-drawn coal wagons, replaced by steam locomotives in around 1833.
The bridge was decommissioned in 1901 when it was no longer able to take the weight of the increasingly heavy coal wagons. The iron structure was dismantled and part of this is now on permanent display at the National Railway Museum. However, the stone abutments supporting the structure remained in place and are now part of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Scheduled Monument. In recent years they have fallen victim to anti-social behaviour, which has affected their condition.
The grant from Historic England will be used to repair the abutments, which will support a new bridge deck that will form part of the new 26-mile Stockton and Darlington Railway Walking and Cycling route. During the repair work, Historic England will involve the local community, running sessions about the history of the bridge with local school children and setting up a volunteer group dedicated to the long-term care of the site.
This project is part of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone, a five-year project focused on rejuvenating and restoring the 26 mile stretch of historic railway, and to help realise its potential to become a major heritage attraction and visitor destination in the build up to its 2025 bicentenary.
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