Goodbye to the old ‘Destructor’ and hello to a new Victoria Bridge.

Decorative detail on the old Destructor Bridge.
The 'doomed' Destructor Bridge across the River Avon.
The ‘doomed’ Destructor Bridge across the River Avon.

Bath’s old Destructor Bridge – which links the Upper and Lower Bristol roads into the city – is due to close for demolition, as part of the Western Riverside. It is going to be replaced with a new structure big enough to take two-way traffic with a cycle-way and pedestrian access.

How the new 'coat-hanger' bridge will look.
How the new ‘coat-hanger’ bridge will look.

A new exhibition has opened at the Museum of Bath at Work – close to the Assembly Rooms – which features an illustration of that replacement bridge. For my money the new one – a new steel arch truss bridge – will soon have a nick-name of its own as it looks like a giant white coat-hanger.

This new exhibition, however,  is much more about the Victoria suspension bridge nearby and about the man who designed it – James Dredge – but let’s just finish talking about the Destructor Bridge first.

Seems this ‘unlisted’ structure cannot be economically strengthened, refurbished or widened to fulfill the need for a vehicle lane in each direction – plus improved access for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Destructor Bridge with the last remaining - and soon to be demolished - gasometer behind.
The Destructor Bridge with the last remaining – and soon to be demolished – gasometer behind.

The old iron truss bridge dates back to the 1870’s and was originally an integral part of the Midland Railway – and installed to provide road access to the Bath terminus at Green Park Station. It was sold in 1905, when it was deemed unsuitable for Midland Railway purposes, and moved to Midland Road.

It was named the ‘Destructor bridge’ as it then joined the city’s recycling yard to a giant incinerator situated across the river. The incinerator was known as a ‘Destructor’ thereby providing the bridge’s new title.

A wonderful three-dimensional model at the Museum of Bath at Work shows the bridge in relation to the incinerator and the old gasworks behind.

The three-dimensional model showing the Destructor Works and gasworks beyond.
The three-dimensional model showing the Destructor Works and gasworks beyond.

The last standing gasometer, which still makes its substantial mark on the sky-line behind the old bridge, will also disappear soon as part of the riverside ‘regeneration’.

The new bridge – to quote the written information on the exhibition boards –  will be ‘understated and forms part of an overall environment that is balanced and well-mannered, respecting the natural landscape setting of the river corridor as well as the new architecture of the Bath Western Riverside development. This is achieved through the clean simple lines of the new design, it’s spare detailing and structural features like the steel plate hangers, whose proportions echo the deep window openings of the new Bath Western Riverside vernacular, itself a contemporary interpretation of the much-loved Georgian style.’

View of the exhibition at the Museum of Bath at Work.
View of the exhibition at the Museum of Bath at Work.

That’s quite a sales pitch and this is actually quite a detailed exhibition which celebrates the successes, and often the failures, of James Dredge  – the Bath brewer who built the nearby Victoria Bridge to carry beer from his brewery across the Avon without using a ferry or having to detour through the city centre.

This bridge – which is  150 feet in length and  cost £1,760 to erect – features Dredge’s unique ‘Taper principle’ which is based on using wrought-iron suspension chains rather than cables.  It apparently made a bridge cheaper and quicker to build.The cables are slung from Bath stone towers and the road deck is joined to the cables by iron rods which, unusually, are not vertical. The deck is made of wooden planks.

The Victoria Bridge under refurbishment.
The Victoria Bridge under refurbishment.

This one across the Avon went up in 1836 but seven years earlier Dredge was one of several civil engineers competing to build a new bridge a little further down river at Clifton in Bristol. A Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel got that job!

While Brunel turned also to building ships and railways,  James Dredge went on to design over 50 bridges and piers in his life – including a contract to link Birnbeck Island with the mainland at Weston-super-Mare.

He didn’t get very far before his  pier construction works were swept away in a storm in 1847. Dredge was accused of being incompetent and was sued for the £1,450 he had been given up front! He was declared bankrupt in 1849 and his claimants got back just £23 3s and 11d of their investment.

How the Victoria Bridge should look when work is finished.
How the Victoria Bridge should look when work is finished.

It is good to know that his Victoria Bridge in Bath will be retained and refurbished. It was closed to users in 2010 because of safety concerns but now – after much uncertainty – an internal structure has been fitted to render it usable during restoration work which will hopefully soon have it back in working order.

Referring once more to the written accounts now featured on the highly-visual boards on display at the exhibition, it is interesting to read just how important the much-ignored river through the city has now become.

I quote: ‘The majority of Bath’s key future development sites share a relationship with the river. The re-integration of the riverscape will help to re-invigorate the role of the river, its bridges and adjoining buildings as spaces within the city’s public life.’

The 'regeneration' of the riverside.
The ‘regeneration’ of the riverside.

‘The River Avon, through the ages has been bridged and the chronology of bridge construction is played out through the structures that have existed on the river through the city. The regeneration of Bath Riverside will mark the next chapter in this story, replacing the Destructor Bridge with a new structure and contributing to the refurbishment of Victoria Bridge. As Bath Riverside progresses west, the removal of the Pipe Bridge and replacement with a pedestrian footbridge will open up new public realms and parks along the river.

Possible new bridges may also be added to extend this chronology into the future providing the city with a celebration of continued engineering, design and innovation.’

Another view of the exhibition.
Another view of the exhibition.

Wow. It’s impressive language but go judge for yourselves. The exhibition ‘James Dredge and the Victoria Bridge – Past, Present and Future‘ is on from March 1st to May 31st. It is open from 10.30 am until 4pm and admission is free!

In the meantime l am hoping that  a use could at least be found for the decorative ends of the old Destructor Bridge on the Upper Bristol Road side.

Using these in some way as a memorial to the old Destructor?
Using these in some way as a memorial to the old Destructor?

Some way of using them as a memorial to another  passing of what is left of Bath’s industrial age. This is an old bridge that has served a railway and a city well. The exhibition has a suggestion box and l would urge you to use it!

A press release on the subject has now arrived from B&NES and l will add it for you to consider.

Take part in history – comment on Victoria Bridge proposals

People are being invited by Bath & North East Somerset Council to view and comment upon the proposals for the refurbishment of Victoria Bridge and proposals for the replacement of the Destructor Bridge from 1st March – 24th March 2013.

The plans follow the Council approving its budget which approved funding that took the investment in Victoria Bridge to £3.4 million. They are being displayed as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Bath at Work on celebrated engineer and designer of the bridge, James Dredge.

Extensive research by the Council into the history of Victoria Bridge, including the life and work of James Dredge will present many historical illustrations of the bridge rarely seen at the Museum of Bath at Work, Julian Road alongside the designs. The research has helped shape the refurbishment which takes into account the heritage of the bridge.

Councillor Roger Symonds (Lib-Dem, Combe Down), Cabinet Member for Transport, said, “The engineering expertise of the past is shaping the future refurbishment of this important bridge. Bath & North East Somerset Council has delved into history to support our aims of making the city more appealing for people on foot and who use bicycles.

“Victoria Bridge is a vital connection between communities on either side of the River Avon. It supports sustainable travel to Bath Riverside that in the coming years will support thousands of new homes and jobs for local people.

“The structure has a high heritage value which played a significant part in the story of the city’s industrial development and advanced bridge engineering through the Victorian era. The exhibition is a unique opportunity for people to explore history and have their say on these multi-million pound projects.”

Get involved – exhibition details

The Victoria Bridge Exhibition, including proposals for the replacement of Destructor Bridge with a two way traffic bridge with pedestrian and cycle ways is open Friday to Sunday only, 10.30am – 5pm. Anyone who cannot attend the exhibition can view the plans online at www.bathnes.gov.uk/victoriabridge

Although the opportunity to comment closes on 24th March, the exhibition continues until May 23rd – more details at www.bathatwork.org.uk