NORTH ROAD. The first permanent connections with the mainland were built as part of the Devonshire and Buccleuch Docks systems. A hydraulically operated iron girder bridge was erected between the entrance basin & Devonshire Dock to provide a narrow roadway & railway link to northern Old Barrow. The link followed the route of an ancient ford from Hindpool to Crow Nest Point, known as the "North Way", hence North Road. In early times the ford just to the north of the site of Michaelson Road Bridge was known as the "Middle Way" or "Middle Road", [to Old Barrow]. Strangely this ford was also known as 'Bewley Wife Steps.' When the [later] "High-Level Bridge" was built; North Road, right up to recent times, was known as the "Low Road" as distinct from the Michaelson (High Level) Road Bridge. When the northern entrance to Devonshire Dock fell into disuse, a caisson at North Road was sealed in place & the top of it can still be seen just inside VSEL perimeter fence. Now that the infill of Devonshire Dock is complete, we have a fixed connection with Barrow. The tarmaced road with traffic light controlled junction is a far cry from a bridge wide enough for a horse & cart or a railway wagon: but not at the same time. The Graving Dock alongside the original Devonshire Dock entrance basin is now "The Dock" maritime museum, the basin itself is the car park. At the rear of the car park, the massive hinges on which Devonshire Dock gates swung could still be seen in the 1980s. To one side, a capstan used to open the gates by hand is still in place and nearby the hydraulic pumps. Although they too may have buried under tarmac. (see above). Above & Right: The Graving Dock in use and disused, now forms the lower floor in the Dock Museum f THE "HIGH-LEVEL BRIDGE" (Michaelson Road Bridge). The Michaelson Road High-Level Bridge has, unlike the necessity for an opening span at North Road, increased in importance over the years. The first structure was, in fact, a Low-Level bridge. Devonshire Dock opened in October 1867, but Buccleuch Dock was not completed until February 1873. In the intervening years, Devonshire Dock was sealed from the tide by gates at Walney Channel and an embankment at the [now] Michaelson Road end, which left the south end of Barrow Channel still open to the sea. The embankment provided access to Barrow Island until Buccleuch Dock was finished when an opening bridge became necessary to connect the two new docks. A new embankment was then built from Cunninger Point on Old Barrow to the mainland at the south end of Buccleuch Dock. The approach to the original swing bridge that the High-Level Bridge replaced from the town side sloped gently downhill to quay level and across, the then forty-foot opening, then uphill to Old Barrow. The bridge itself was a two-leaf swing bridge, hydraulic power coming from a pumping station on the town side of Devonshire Dock, which also supplied power for the Graving Dock gates and North Road Bridge as well as various cranes and capstans. Increased and larger maritime traffic could gain access to the docks system when the Ramsden Dock entrance was opened in 1879. At a stroke, this made the forty-foot span of the original swing bridge inadequate. The bridge itself was also inadequate for the increasing demands made by the growing shipbuilding industry on Barrow Island. A fine Victorian design for a 'high level' bridge was drawn up. It was an unusual design inasmuch that the entire opening span raised itself bodily above the level of the approach road, then drew itself horizontally on wheels over to the town side abutment. Hence its technical name 'Lifting Drawbridge'. The foundations on the town side consisted of large 'rafts' of concrete, which is still accepted modern-day practice. However, on the island side of the channel, a method in line with modern practice was used: but the material employed was not. The foundations on the Barrow Island side consisted of timber piles driven into the ground then capped with concrete. The finite life span of timber and its virtually unknown condition, buried deep in the earth was an element consultants surveying possible designs for a new bridge 75 years later, had to consider carefully. The bridge approach sections, made of wrought- iron, were supported on massive cast-iron pillars. The opening was enlarged to seventy-nine feet six inches & two completely separate and independent opening spans were provided, again the load-bearing parts were made of that Victorian wonder-metal wrought iron, planked with timber. To digress slightly, how many Old Barrow children have crossed the old High-Level Bridge and looked through the gaps in the planking - then gone to bed that night to have nightmares about falling through the gaps - am I alone? I think not. Hydraulically operated, the bridge machinery lived in a hollow section in the brick & stone pier on the town side. Power as before was tapped from the Devonshire Dock Pumping Station built by Sir W.G. Armstrong of Elswick. [Yes, the same Armstrong later involved with Vickers]. The 100hp steam-driven pump delivering water at 750psi was more than adequate, and large accumulators ensured delivery pressure was constant. The first span was completed in 1882, but the second was delayed while modifications were carried out to allow for unforeseen extra loads imposed by trams. Unforeseen, that is until the Barrow in Furness Tramways Act was passed in 1883. The second span was completed in 1886 - except for a short length of the tramway that was curiously missing. Such was the soundness of the design & construction that when it was finally demolished in the late 1960s, it was thought, by one school of thought to be good for another 25 years of use. An engineering survey, however, showed the wrought iron cross members under the timber planking on the movable span to be over-stressed by vehicles of more than four tons. [So the nightmares were not entirely without foundation - if you'll pardon the pun]. The brick-built approach arches over Hindpool Road, due to increased traffic loads were another cause for concern. In 1939 plans were mooted for a replacement bridge. The cost in those pre-war days was estimated at £130,000, but with the commencement of hostilities, the plan was shelved. PLANS FOR A NEW BRIDGE It wasn't until 1958 that a new bridge was again considered necessary. Barrow Borough Council employed London based Consultant Engineers; Messers Mott, Hay & Anderson to produce proposals, costing estimates, explore possible methods of construction & produce preliminary drawings. After some unavoidable delays, a report & proposals arrived for the Highway's Departments consideration. Five types of opening-span were considered: a. A DRAWBRIDGE. similar to the old one, this was rejected mainly because the foundations would require strengthening over a far greater area, [the whole area the movable span would traverse], with a resultant greater cost. b. A SWING BRIDGE. similar to the original low-level bridge of the 1860s, this also was rejected because its construction would completely close the road for upwards of two years. c. A VERTICAL LIFT BRIDGE. was dismissed out of hand due to the complication & extra expense involved building the necessary lifting towers on both sides of the dock. d. A ROLLING LIFT BRIDGE. Vickers expressed their approval of this type, combined with widening the passage for ships to 100 feet. Very nice of them to give it the nod, but they were not prepared to stump up some £££'s to help the project become a reality. After all, they would have been the main beneficiaries of any improved access over or under the bridge. In the end, this design was considered to have the same inherent disadvantages as a drawbridge; the vertical load moves horizontally as the bridge rolls, making strong foundations over a greater area essential. e. A BASCULE (Trunnion) BRIDGE. Two variations of this type were considered; the double-leaf & the single leaf. The double-leaf was quickly discarded. This type splits at mid-span & requires extra foundations at both ends two accommodate two sets of machinery. So the design finally accepted was for a single leaf Bascule (Trunnion) Bridge, & that is what we have today. An advantage of this design is when the bridge is being raised the downward forces exerted by the dead weight load of the span structure pass directly through the trunnions, or pins, on which the whole structure pivots. Therefore only a relatively small area needs really strong foundations. Turning forces (moments) created by the overhanging leaf during the lifting operation are negated by massive counter-weights. In fact, the present Michaelson Road Bridge is so finely balanced; it is designed to be lifted by hand. It has been calculated that one leaf could be raised by four men in one & three-quarter hours, using the removable capstans provided. The Town Council's Highways Committee spent several years haggling over sharing costs for the new bridge with the old British Transport Docks Board, (who were responsible for bridge maintenance, and it was considered the 1886 bridge to be good for another 25 years service. Vickers, on the other hand, who didn't think the advantage to their operations worth the expenditure required. The Council's bickering nearly lost us the chance of a new bridge altogether so, in the end, an exasperated Ministry of Transport forced the issue. In 1963 the Ministry offered a grant of 75% of the total building costs, some £510,075. They also offered to pay the full cost of building the new bridge to 'HB-Special Loading Requirements' standard - another £21,500. The offer, however, was couched in 'make your mind up and take the money now - or lose it' terms. The threat of the grant being withdrawn spurred the Council into a frenzy of inactivity, and it wasn't until 1964 that Mott, Hay & Anderson put the job out to tender, the estimated cost having risen in the meantime to £749,892. A contract with McAlpines was signed and work started in 1965. The fact that the old bridge's moving span was constructed in two separate halves was put to good use when the new bridge was built. It too was designed to operate in two halves, split lengthways. The plan, which worked well in practice entailed using the span of the old bridge nearest Buccleuch Dock for two-way traffic, while the Devonshire Dock span was demolished. That side of the present bridge was then erected in the fully open position. When completed, it was then lowered, commissioned and the trick reversed. The new bridge, although built in two halves which can be operated individually, it is normally lifted as a single span. The new Michaelson Road Bridge was formally opened by the Rt Hon Earl of Derby MC on the 29th July 1968. A BRIDGE TOO FAR Barrow Island, like a giant's stepping-stone, provides Barrow's link with Walney. In the last century, numerous fords were the only means of getting to Walney, [Good enough for 'em, I say]. When most of the fords were swept away by dredging, several entrepreneurs acquired rowing boats and set themselves up as ferrymen. Later as Walney began to develop, the land-owners began agitating for a proper ferry. A campaign conducted through the pages of the Barrow Herald galvanised the rest of Barrow's populace into frenzied indifference. The campaigners led by a school-master called [appropriately] Mr J.R. Head, who taught at the school built on the promenade by Mrs Michaelson; discovered they could sue the Furness Railway on the grounds of injury to their lands by reduced access. In 1877, the Furness Railway settled out of court by promising to provide a ferry within nine months. It was written into the agreement that the Walney land-owners could travel for half-price. (The Furness Railway slyly dropped this concession when the contract was modified later). It was also agreed the ferry would run from 5.30 am to midnight. With a resounding splash, Barrow Shipbuilding Company proudly launched a metal box named 'Steam Ferry No1 in 1878. After twenty-four years service, 'No1' was replaced with another metal box, imaginatively christened 'Steam Ferry No2'. The Corporation bought land on Biggar Bank in 1881 for use as a public recreation area for the townspeople; now people actually wanted to go to Walney! Not satisfied with their new ferry, they now clamoured for a bridge. Another newspaper, the 'Vickerstown Chronicle' was published from 1902 to 1904 to further the cause. The Corporation and [naturally] Vickers were keen to have a bridge built. Still, the Furness Railway argued a bridge would be a navigation hazard to ships using the Graving Dock and expressed a preference for a tunnel or subway. There was much gnashing of teeth when the bridge got the go-ahead because they had just bought the ungrateful Walneyites a new ferry. Sir William Arrol Co of Glasgow built the bridge at a cost of £175,000. A toll was levied to defray part of construction costs. Opened in 1908 by Mrs T.F. Butler, Mayoress of Barrow, the SS Philomel steamed through the spans dressed overall to mark the occasion. Twenty-seven years later, to celebrate King George V and Queen Mary's Silver Jubilee, the toll was lifted, to this effect a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the east end of the bridge by the Duchess of York. The grandly named, but now redundant 'Steam Ferry No2' was transferred to Southampton. Now in its 112th year and probably the oldest surviving rack and pinion actuated bridge in Britain, Walney Bridge is showing its age. There have been proposals to permanently fix it in the down position, maintenance costs again being the bugbear of these old but magnificent structures. Although the passage has not been used by commercial shipping for very many years, the idea has not been welcomed by yacht owners north of the bridge and other interested parties.
Left: All that was left of the original Devonshire Dock gates. Above: All that remained of the caisson, (top picture). This may be gone now with the latest bout of building work by BAE.
That small bridge was shared by trains, cars, motorbikes & the brave on push bikes.
ABOVE: Bridge span open while under construction. RIGHT: World War I tank attacks Biggar Bank.
Walneyites return home after sight-seeing on Barrow Island
When the Duchess Of York freed the bridge of toll they could cross for no charge. (Just like the ford).
20th century
21st century, and they lecture us about pollution
Left: c. 1910 and 1975 (© Peter Steel).
Bridge Approach from Barrow Island. From tramlines to a roundabout & in 2020 traffic lights are now a necessity.
Another shortcut from the shipyard to Walney. The beautiful ‘Mudlark’ takes to Walney Channel, and may God help all who sail in her.
Some time ago Les Trotter wrote a poem about Walney Bridge.