Lydbrook Bridge background
Lydbrook Black Bridge, also known as Stowfield Viaduct, is an iconic, heritage structure as relevant and vital today as it ever has been. Constructed around 1875 of iron and steel it carried the Ross & Monmouth Railway (later absorbed by the Great Western Railway) over the River Wye.
The bridge connected the historic settlements of Lydbrook (centre of local iron industry and river commerce) and Welsh Bicknor (birthplace of King Henry V). Originally ferries connected the settlements. A monument to the area’s industrial past, it connects with over 500 years of metal-working history and millennia of transport and commerce up, down and over the Wye. The railway line finally closed in 1964. Then the bridge’s deck was partially refurbished as a footway. Today, it sits in the heart of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is a lifeline for two communities, critical for tourism as well as being an historic landmark in the valley. The bridge spans the Wye, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC) also having a public Right of Navigation and voted the nation's favourite river. The area is extremely popular for walking, fishing and canoeing. Up to 20 canoes per hour pass under the bridge on day or half day trips down to Symonds Yat (following in the 'paddle-strokes' of the likes of Rev. Guilpin, Wordsworth & Turner on the picturesque Wye Tour in the 1700s & 1800s). The bridge is a crossing point for the Wye Valley Walk, the 136 mile long regional trail that follows the River Wye for its entire length. The YHA Wye Valley Hostel, based in the old vicarage at Welsh Bicknor uses the bridge for organised groups - often young people - arriving by coach or mini-bus as the easiest access to the Hostel, with an evocative walk over the former railway bridge and short wooded hike up to the Hostel. A people counter installed on the bridge for the Wye Valley Walk recorded over 21,000 users in 2015.
Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), had to close the walkway over Lydbrook Bridge in February 2016 due to safety issues with the structure. Herefordshire Council / Balfour Beatty implemented a Path Closure and Diversion for the Wye Valley Walk which crosses the bridge. On behalf of GCC, Amey commissioned a Principal Inspection Report for Lydbrook Bridge. The report covers visual and tactile inspection of the visible areas of the structure, using rope access and an Underwater Inspection. A Feasibility Study by GCC identifies a number of options including to repair the bridge structure sufficiently by inserting a Fibre Reinforced Plastic (FRP) deck to carry the footpath. These reports are available on GCC website http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/roads-parking-and-rights-of-way/major-projects/lydbrook-bridge/
The Wye Valley AONB Unit worked with Gloucestershire County Council, Herefordshire Council and the Black Bridge Steering Group to submit an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a Heritage Grant totalling £1.6M to conserve and enhance the bridge for generations to come while celebrating the personal & community connections to its heritage. Unfortunely the HLF bid was unsuccessful and a temporary surface has been placed on the bridge to make it accessible for walkers again. Meanwhile the partners are still seeking the resources needed for a long term solution.
Lydbrook Bridge is one of the four remaining (of the original ten) rail bridges to span the River Wye and was constructed to carry the connection between the Ross-Monmouth Railway and the Severn and Wye Railway at Lydbrook junction station, for the Edison Swan Cable works. The bridge is not listed.
There are several other places along the Wye Valley where infrastructure issues may become critical over the next few years. For example Redbrook Bridge is not dissimilar to Lydbrook, however a £1 Million Lottery Bid for its restoration was unsuccessful in 2013 as it was not deemed ‘under imminent threat’.