Rail bridge on track for repair

By Mark Elson in Local People

REPAIRING a historic rail footbridge which has been closed for 10 years ago will be just the ticket for steam railway buffs.

The Forest of Dean Railway (FDR) have applied for listed building consent to dismantle the 125-year-old St Mary’s footbridge beside Lydney parish church so it can be taken away and renovated.

The Grade II-listed structure, which also borders Bathhurst Park, was deemed unsafe to use in 2007 and has been fenced off ever since.

But the heritage rail group hopes to obtain a grant for the work, and aims to reinstall and reopen the wrought and cast iron bridge in April 2019, re-establishing the historic footpath route around Lydney Lake and through St Mary’s churchyard.

The listed footbridge, which is on the ‘Buildings at Risk’ register, is a strong reminder of the town’s growth and dependence on the railway and docks.

Rail historian Neil Parkhouse said the railway was opened in 1868 on the route of the old Severn and Wye tramroad, and its heavy use ferrying coal to Lydney Docks saw the bridge constructed at St Mary’s Halt in 1892.

With workmen from Lydney Tinplate Works crossing the line near the engine shed and works sidings, plus people attending church services taking the shortest route, the Severn and Wye Railway (SWR) feared being liable for a major accident.

And although a long trade downturn meant severe financial difficulties for the firm, they funded the new bridge for the sum of £267, built by Glasgow firm G Smith and Co and opened on September 26, 1892.

Children loved the new bridge’s handrails for sliding down, but their fun was ended in 1901 when iron nuts were fixed because of fears that youngsters might fly onto the iron railings below.

St Mary’s Halt station, where a River Lyd culvert crosses beneath the track and bridge, was reopened by FDR in 1991, but also closed in 2014. The bridge is the last surviving SWR infrastructure on the line, said Mr Parkhouse, author of Forest of Dean Lines and the Severn Bridge.

FDR Ltd spokesman Stuart Williams said: “The railway line which the bridge spans is an operational heritage railway and the passage of trains must be possible at all times, which means that in-situ repairs are not possible as the required scaffolding would block the railway.”

He said the repairs were best done in “a controlled indoor environment enabling cleaning and repair and painting”.

If Forest planners grant permission, it is hoped to dismantle the bridge next January and February using the FDR’s own restored crane.

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JOHN HARRISON · 4 days ago · Report

The St Marys Halt Bridge is a masterpiece of Victorian engineering but it also serves as a very important leisure feature connecting the Lakeside with Bathurst Park. No time should be wasted to get it restored and erected. The recent Lydney Town Heritage Walk brochure (an excellent pamphlet) gives the impression that this bridge is an integral part of the walk and walkers would expect it to be there.

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