Back to Work at Bennerley

With the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown work on the Bennerley Viaduct resumed on May 18th.   Ackroyds, the contractor for the repairs to the ironwork, brick piers and abutments, withdrew from the site after only a couple of weeks in March because of disruptions to their supply chain. The contractors are now back at work. They have installed an access road to the eastern abutment, started repairs to some of the pier bases and salvaged a lot of the capping stones for the parapet walls. Our thanks go to all the funders who are making this restoration possible.

A temporary access road has been constructed to enable repairs of the
abutments to take place
The original capping stones have been salvaged for the rebuilding of the parapet walls
The parapet walls are being reconstructed to the original dimensions using this image taken in 1969
(from the Jim Freebury Collection)

A reminder to locals and visitors: the viaduct itself and other parts of the site may be fenced off in the interests of the health and safety of workers and members of the public. Rights of way such as the footpath from the Erewash Canal over the railway line  passing under the viaduct to Newton’s Lane and the bridleway at the eastern end are unaffected.


Viaduct to feature in TV Documentary Series

We have just had  confirmation that a new TV series, “The Architecture the Railways Built”, will be broadcast on Tuesday 28th of April at 8pm on the Yesterday Channel. The viaduct will feature prominently in the first episode of the 10 part series.

The film crew from Brown Bob Productions spent a lot of time with us last summer. Paul Miller did a magnificent job taking the film crew around the viaduct and sharing our railway heritage with them. We look forward to watching the series which will attract both a national and international TV audience. 

To see a short video trailer of the programme click here It promises to be a feast of viewing for all those who love our railways. Enjoy!


Covid 19 halts work on “Iron Giant”

When the contractors arrived on site in early March to carry out critical repairs, another major milestone had been achieved. The site compound was installed; safety fencing, signage and scaffolding were erected; and the temporary access road to the eastern abutment was started. The long awaited work by contractors had commenced following years of planning, fundraising and community input.

But no sooner had the work started, it had to be temporarily halted due to the current pandemic. The scheduled work has been temporarily suspended whilst the Covid 19 lockdown is in place. The work will recommence when it is safe to do so..

Whilst the virus has interrupted the momentum which the Bennerley project has gathered, it will not derail the initiative. Clearly, all face to face community engagement activity, meetings and workdays have been temporarily put on hold, but virtual meetings and planning are still taking place to ensure that we hit the ground running when we come out of the lockdown.

In the meantime, Spring is arriving at the viaduct. The primroses are out, the cherries and the blackthorn are starting to blossom and the newly laid hedges are starting to green up. The eerie calm down at the viaduct may even give those ground nesting birds like the lapwing and the little ringed plover a better chance to thrive.


Restoration Work to Commence in March

 We approach another project milestone with the imminent commencement of the restoration works by Ackroyds, a Nottingham firm from Basford. The company are delighted to be involved with the renaissance of the viaduct. The restoration works will include repairs to the pier bases, the brick parapets and some of the ironwork. The works will be overseen by specialist Conservation Engineers, Blackett Ord.

Over £300,000 has been generously granted by Historic England to help fund the restoration. Ben Robinson, Historic England’s Principal Advisor for Heritage at Risk, said: “The importance of this viaduct cannot be underplayed, it’s one of only two surviving wrought iron railway structures of this type and is a stunning example of the genius of British engineering. We’re so pleased that it has a fantastic future ahead of it, as a prominent landmark and as a thoroughfare. Historic England is proud to play a part in this, not just through funding essential repairs but also through advice and guidance. It is a pleasure to work with all the organisations and individuals involved in its rescue.” 

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct are most grateful to all the generous funders of the project. There is still some way to go with fundraising but with close to £1million already being pledged, we are confident the structure will be reopened in the near future after fifty years of closure.


Erewash Partnership Support FoBV with New Office Base

The FoBV have set up their new headquarters in an office at the Erewash Partnership’s Castledine House Business Centre on Heanor Road, Ilkeston. Jeff Wynch, Chair of FoBV, referred to the move as another milestone in the progress of the project. “The use of an office and the enthusiastic support of the Partnership will help us to be more business like and professional as we take on a bigger role in ensuring the future of the viaduct.”

As well as helping new businesses, the Partnership also gives vital backing to projects which benefit the wider community. Chief Executive, Ian Viles, said, “We are delighted to be able to help the Friends in their mission to bring the viaduct back to life as a community asset. Our new address is:

Friends of Bennerley Viaduct, Castledine House, 5 – 9 Heanor Road, Ilkeston, Derbyshire, DE7 8DY

The featured image shows Erewash Partnership Chief Executive, Ian Viles, along with FoBV chair, Jeff Wynch, and Kieran Lee.


Sir Neil Cossons OBE accepts invitation to be FoBV Patron

We are delighted to announce that Sir Neil Cossons OBE has agreed to be the patron of the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct. Sir Neil was born in Beeston and has a long held affection for, and interest in, Bennerley Viaduct. He was involved with the fight to save the viaduct when it was threatened with demolition forty years ago.  Sir Neil spoke against the proposals to demolish the viaduct at the public inquiry at Beeston Town Hall in 1980. He stated that he “received something of a pummelling for advocating preservation in the face of the demolition proposals.

Sir Neil has been the leading champion of Britain’s heritage over the last fifty years.  He was appointed as the first director of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust in 1971. From 1984 to 1986 he was in charge at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich before spending fourteen years as director of the Science Museum.  Sir Neil was the chairman of English Heritage from 2000 to 2007 and from 2016 to 2019 he served as a trustee at the Heritage Lottery Fund.  He received an OBE in 1982 and was knighted in 1994.

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct feel privileged to have Sir Neil as our patron and are most grateful for his interventions at a time when the viaduct was at imminent risk of demolition.


AGM: Friends of Bennerley Viaduct

The Gate Inn Awsworth, Monday Feb 10th Start 7:00pm

The Bennerley Viaduct AGM will take place at the Gate Inn, Awsworth on Monday February 10th. All welcome but only members will be able to vote. The first half of the meeting will be concerned with the AGM and an update of developments within the project.

The second half of the meeting will be an illustrated presentation by Dr Dave Gent, a Civil Engineer with an expertise in wrought iron structures. Dave Gent led the team which conducted a recent condition survey on the viaduct. Dave has also conducted some original research in developing techniques designed to extend the life of wrought iron structures. If you have any questions about wrought iron or the condition of the viaduct, Dave is your man. All welcome.

Wrought Iron Expert, Dr David Gent, leads a guided tour on Bennerley Viaduct

Work Begins on Western Ramp

Work has begun creating the western ramp of Bennerley Viaduct which will enable access to the deck of the structure from the Erewash Canal towpath. In appalling weather conditions, contractors have removed scrub vegetation  to enable engineers to construct the ramp. Actual work on the ramp construction will start early in the new year. The commencement of the work is another historic milestone on our journey to reopen the structure. We thank the contractors who carried out this work in abysmal weather and floods.


Bennerley Viaduct Selected for Inclusion in 2020 World Monuments Watch List

Bennerley Viaduct, the grade II* listed Victorian wrought iron structure straddling the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire boundary, has gained international recognition by its inclusion in the 2020 World Monuments Watch list.  The railway viaduct, still on Historic England’s at-risk register, is one of just 25 projects selected from a competitive pool of 250 nominations worldwide, and the only site to be chosen in Britain this year.  All the sites included in the 2020 World Monuments Watch List were selected to support communities who are striving to save sites of outstanding cultural importance.

Bennerley Viaduct – A Site of Outstanding Cultural Importance

World Monuments Watch is run by the New York based World Monuments Fund, a private non-profit organisation, which sponsors an ongoing programme for the conservation of cultural heritage worldwide. The World Monuments Fund identifies endangered sites and works with local communities both to conserve their heritage and to explore ways of ensuring its long-term stewardship.

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct, who submitted the application, and owners Railway Paths Ltd, are delighted by this massive boost to their joint project. Kieran Lee of the Friends said:

 “Inclusion in the World Monuments Watch List is recognition of the cultural significance of the viaduct and of its potential to improve people’s lives. Over the next two years we’ll benefit from the support and advice of heritage experts and increase our chances of gaining further funding for our project.”  

Chair of the Friends group, Jeff Wynch, added:

“Our group has come a long way since its first meeting in 2015, but we need to grow and develop so that we can secure the site’s long-term future. This new partnership with the World Monuments Watch could not have come at a better time.”

Securing a long term future of the “Iron Giant” is a key aim
for the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct

John Darlington, Executive Director of the World Monument Fund, Britain paid this tribute to the viaduct:

“Bennerley is an extraordinary monument – special because of its historical importance as the longest wrought iron viaduct in Britain, but also special because of what it means to the local community. It’s a delightful opportunity to showcase heritage and its contribution to health, wellbeing and as a home to nature. We’re so pleased that is has made it onto the 2020 Watch, and look forward to a catalytic partnership.”

John Darlington, Executive Director of the World Monument Fund (Britain)
examines the wrought iron piers at the Viaduct

Plans to repair and restore Bennerley Viaduct and to create access to a new deck were approved this summer, and enough funds have been raised for the project to start in Autumn 2019. Recent weeks have seen a massive volunteer effort to relocate great crested newts, so that repair work on the brick piers can begin and vegetation has been cleared to create access for contractors.  Public engagement with the project continues to grow in all respects from increased membership and volunteer numbers to oversubscribed guided walks and attendances at illustrated talks. International recognition from the World Monument Watch will add to the amazing momentum that the project is generating.

The Great Crested Newts of Bennerley Viaduct in Safe Hands

A Bit about Our Newts

Best of Both Worlds

The amphibious Great Crested Newt spends most of its life on land, so protecting terrestrial habitat is just as important as conserving water sources. They like hedgerows and boggy grassland where they can hunt for invertebrates in summer and autumn, and safe hidden spaces to lie dormant during the winter. It is not full hibernation, but newts will seek out a muddy bank or compost heap to wait out the colder months. The conditions at Bennerley Viaduct are ideal for Great Crested Newts

Great Crested Newts (c) Jeremy Wyatt
Illustration by Jeremy Wyatt

Dancing Queens

When the temperature rises at the start of spring, the male grows his eponymous great crest which signals the beginning of the breeding season. From April to May male Great Crested Newts ‘dance’ using their impressive tails to waft pheromones to entice females. The great crest is then re-absorbed by the male after mating season ends.

Smooth and Great Crested Newt eggs

Newt Nursery

Female newts lay around 200 eggs. Each individual egg is then meticulously wrapped in a carefully chosen pond plant leaf. The tadpoles will then spend around 4 months in the water before their ‘metamorphosis’ into 7cm newtlets.

Great Crested Newt Belly (c) Philip Precey
Photo by Philip Precey

One of a kind

Each Great Crested Newt has a unique pattern of black spots on their orange underbelly, which helps scientists to track their movements. They can easily be distinguished from palmate, and smooth newts, as unlike our other natives they have textured skin and a warty appearance.

Pond predators

The tadpole of the Great Crested Newt will feed on just about anything they can find, including insect larvae, frog and toad tadpoles. As adults, they are even more voracious and will eat juvenile newts and feast on frogspawn. Newt tadpoles are predated on by great diving beetles and fish. If they make it to adulthood, they develop the ability to secrete toxic chemical in their skin to protecting them from predators.

What’s in a name?

A juvenile newly metamorphosed newt is called an newtlet or eft, from the Old English name for the species ewt. The Great Crested Newt’s Latin name Triturus Cristatus comes from the Greek God Triton, son of Poseidon and his Tritons, the satyrs of the sea.

In literature

Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth famously required “Eye of newt, and toe of frog” to stir into their bubbling cauldron. There is some debate as to whether this is a reference to the amphibian’s body part or a colloquial herbalist’s term for mustard seeds.

Exacting Requirements

Great Crested Newts are very particular in their requirements, and will travel up to 1 km to find the right pond. So if they are present in an area it’s a great indicator of the health of a water source. The water in the settlement lagoons and the expanse of land under the viaduct and on the old coal plant makes Bennerley a haven for newts.

The settlement ponds are ideal breeding ponds for newts

(This article was adapted from the Wildlife Trust’s website)