Welland Viaduct, also known as Harringworth Viaduct or Seaton Viaduct, is the county’s longest spanning railway viaduct which crosses the valley of the River Welland between Harringworth in Northamptonshire and Seaton in Rutland.
The viaduct is technically not in Leicestershire but Northampton and Rutland. But we will cover it anyway.
Use of the viaduct.
The viaduct lies on the Oakham to Kettering Line and carries the twin track non-electrified line between Corby and Manton Junction, where it joins the Leicester to Peterborough line. The route is generally used by freight trains although there is a daily East Midlands Trains passenger service between Melton Mowbray and St Pancras via Corby. There are also some steam train outings across the viaduct and these are eagerly awaited by enthusiasts.
History of Welland viaduct.
The broad valley of the River Welland to the east of Uppingham presented a major problem to the directors of the Midland Railway Company in the 1870s. They needed to get their track down into Northamptonshire and on to London but the only way to link the hill on each side was to build a massive viaduct. The cost would be enormous but they finally gritted their teeth and decided to go ahead.
Building of the viaduct and the Navvies.
The first brick was laid in March 1876 and the last arch was finished in July 1878. Two thousand navvies, housed in a temporary settlement called Cyprus.
The viaduct was built by vast gangs of navvies – the word ‘navvy’ came from the ‘navigators’ who built the first ‘navigation canals’ in the eighteenth century.
By the standards of the day they were well paid, but their work was hard and often very dangerous.
They built a reputation for fighting, hard living and hard drinking. ‘Respectable’ Victorians viewed them as degenerate.
The Navvies came from all over the British Isles and even continental Europe, bringing along their wives and children. These were often followed by merchants and even prostitutes, both selling their services. Many of the families were fleeing famine in Ireland, and some were the ancestors of the 15,000 travellers who live in Britain today.
The Navvies and their families worked in appalling conditions, for two years they lived in rough timber huts alongside the viaduct they built.
The harsh conditions and communal living meant that navvies evolved a lifestyle, culture and even a language of their own. They built a reputation for fighting, hard living and hard drinking.
The viaduct was built from bricks manufactured and fired onsite which had a red face. Some of the bricks had imprints of children’s hands and feet, from where they had walked on the clay-filled moulds before firing in the kiln
Size of the viaduct.
The viaduct is 1,275 yards (1.166 km) long and has 82 arches, each of which has a 40 feet (12 m) span. It is the longest masonry viaduct across a valley in Britain and also a Grade II listed building.
Drone footage of the viaduct.
Repairs on the viaduct have employed other types of bricks, predominantly blue engineering bricks which have better water resistance and are much stronger than commons, making them excellent for arch re-lining and face brick replacement, leaving a patchwork appearance.