Arthington Viaduct

Arthington Viaduct


ARTHINGTON Viaduct is perhaps the shining architectural example of ingenuity overcoming a natural obstacle – but built with the same amount of style and grace which most Victorian engineers applied to their craft.

The viaduct – otherwise known as Wharfedale Viaduct – straddles the River Wharfe at a moderately shallow section in normal waters – and remains an integral feature of the line from Harrogate to Leeds via Bramhope.

But it is the sandstone structure  - with its 21 arches – which remains the impressive edifice for passers-by at ground level and rail passengers.

It was built to incorporate the demands of the Leeds and Thirsk Railway during the age of the railway boom in Britain in the mid 19th century.

Constructed between 1845-9 by Thomas Grainger, then the chief engineer for the company, it is notable not only for its arches but also the gentle 500m curve of the viaduct. Its stately stanchions are also noticeably high, atop central cutwater piers where the feet of the remarkable construct stands in the river.

The foundation stone was laid on 31 March 1846 by Henry Cooper Marshall, Chairman of Leeds and Thirsk Railway Company and the line opened on 10 July 1849 when the nearby Bramhope Tunnel, another key component of the line, was complete. In excess of 50,000 tons of stone were used in its construction.

Much of the stone for the viaduct came from the quarries at Pool Bank; which also would provide much material for the Houses of Parliament.

In 1845 the provisional committee of the Leeds and Thirsk Railway submitted a private bill to parliament seeking permission to build a railway and in the same year the Great North of England Railway (GNER) presented a competing bill for a line to Leeds from a junction with its line at Pilmoor.

The GNER withdrew its bill after it was leased by the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway, which was controlled by the railway financier George Hudson.

The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Act received Royal Assent on 21 July 1845 and construction started on 20 October 1845.

In 1845 the railway received permission for a line from Leeds to Thirsk, part of which opened in 1848, but problems building the tunnel at Bramhope delayed trains operating into Leeds until 1849.

The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Company changed its name to the Leeds Northern Railway on 3 July 1851 before its line to Stockton opened.

The company formed an alliance with the West Hartlepool Harbour & Railway and was involved in a price war with the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway (YN&BR). A merger of the YN&BR with the LNR and the York & North Midland Railway was accepted by LNR shareholders, and by Royal Assent on 31 July 1854 the three companies merged to become the North Eastern Railway.

Just as in America in the early 1800s, the coming of the railway, or the ‘iron horse’ saw industrialists in the UK seize the opportunity to improve transport links to boost their profits.

George Hudson was of those men – legendary among rail enthusiasts, historians and industrialists alike, he was one of the earlier pioneers in the UK of rail but more closely linked with the rival York and North Midland Railway.

Railway mania in the UK reached its zenith in 1846, when no fewer than 272 Acts of Parliament were passed, setting up new railway companies, with the proposed routes totalling 9,500 miles (15,300 km) of new railway.

Around a third of the railways authorised were never built – the companies either collapsed due to poor financial planning, were bought out by larger competitors before they could build their line, or turned out to be fraudulent enterprises to channel investors' money into other businesses.

The Leeds and Thirsk Railway's station in Harrogate was at Starbeck (initially called Harrogate) outside the town centre in the Crimple Valley.

At Bramhope tunnel, workers encountered large quantities of water that had to be pumped out and many died during its construction. A memorial in the form of a replica of the tunnel's northern portal is in Otley churchyard.

The completed line opened on 9 July 1849 when three trains carried 2000 shareholders from Leeds to Thirsk and back.

A temporary terminus opened on Wellington Street Leeds until services were accommodated at Leeds Central and then at the Midland Railway's Wellington Street station.

As with many burgeoning new industries, the bubble of the rail pioneers burst – many companies being merged – with the ultimate nationalisation of British Rail just along the tracks. Some very wealthy men went bankrupt; others did well out of the speculation.

But their architectural legacy is often overlooked; the cuttings, tunnels and viaducts of the period have become lasting testaments to the quality and style of a bygone age.

  • The Harrogate Line follows the former Leeds and Thirsk Line from Leeds to Pannal via the Bramhope Tunnel and crosses the River Wharfe on the Arthington Viaduct.
  • Arthington is also notable for the former site of the railway triangle which approached from the west. Now abandoned, the triangle was formed by the curve of tracks heading west-east from Otley, thanks to the railline along Pool valley bottom, splitting and joining north and south to the Harrogate-Leeds line. It was closed and uprooted by the mid 60s.