Lord-Lieutenants of both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire cut the ribbon to mark the restoration and opening year of “the Iron Giant”, at event attended by hundreds of local people.
At 12pm on Sunday 7 August, Sir John Peace, the Lord-Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, and Mrs Elizabeth Fothergill CBE, the Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire, were joined by Scouts and Cubs from Greasley and Ilkeston, volunteers and trustees of the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct, and crowds of local people, as they cut a ribbon in each county and met for a symbolic handshake in the centre of the bridge, which crosses the county boundary.
First opened in 1878, as part of the Great Northern Railway between Nottingham and Derby, the wrought iron Bennerley Viaduct has long been an iconic sight, stretching over the Erewash Valley, near Ilkeston. Closed to trains in the 1960s, it has been restored and opened as a walking and cycling route by a coalition of funders and community initiatives, including Railway Paths Ltd. and the Railway Heritage Trust, alongside the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct, the charity which now manages the viaduct as a visitor attraction and heritage site.
Not only did 2022 see the opening of the ramp, steps and deck, allowing visitors to access the viaduct and cross from one side to the other, but it also saw the start of a major project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to raise the profile of the viaduct and work extensively with the local community, plus ongoing work funded by Severn Trent to develop a nature reserve and footpath underneath the viaduct. It is also the year that the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct took on a 99 year lease, committing to care for the viaduct for the foreseeable future. The official ‘launch’ on Sunday 7 August was a celebration of this momentous year in the history of the viaduct, and signals the beginning of even more exciting times ahead.
Alongside the opening ceremony, the day also included free guided tours, a children’s trail under the viaduct, and a street art themed art activity delivered by Parkside High CIC, a local partner. There was food and drink, with music from Shirland Welfare Brass Band. Estimates suggest that nearly 1000 people visited, walking across the viaduct, and enjoying ice creams and fish n chips in the sunshine, while the band played.
Alongside the Lord-Lieutenants of both counties, guests in attendance included Darren Henry MP (Broxtowe); Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry; Jo Smith and Ruth Bellamy from the National Lottery Heritage Fund; Cllr Trevor Rood, Chairman of Kimberley Town Council; and more local councillors from both sides of the valley. It was an event that brought people together, at a site beloved by many. An unexpected guest was David Abbott, great-grandson of the Great Northern Railway Engineer who is likely to have designed the viaduct in the 1870s.
It was the first of many community events that will be held at the viaduct in coming years, with one of the main aims of the National Lottery Heritage Fund financed project being to grow the viaduct into a sustainable visitor attraction. The day was also a chance for the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct to fundraise, and recruit new volunteers.
Mrs. Elizabeth Fothergill CBE, Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire, said: “As HM Lord-Lieutenant of Derbyshire it is my pleasure and privilege to be part of the official opening of the Bennerley Viaduct, what a unique and amazing addition to the numerous attractions of the area and I know it will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for years to come. I would like to pay tribute to the passion, hard work and commitment of all those who had the vision to bring this incredible piece of transport history back into use and to those who funded and supported the project, you should all be justifiably proud.”
Rebecca Morris-Buck, Project Manager for the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct’s NLHF funded project said, “We are so thrilled that our first big event since we received National Lottery funding was such as success.
On behalf of all staff, trustees and volunteers involved in our charity, we’d like to thank everyone who attended: Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenants, our distinguished guests and their supporters, Parkside High CIC, 1st Greasley and 4th Ilkeston Scout groups, and all the members of our community who celebrated with us. Our celebration wasn’t just about the viaduct being open, it’s about the power of a community coming together, and a sense of local pride.
As the charity who manages the viaduct, we are now moving into our next phase, focusing on fundraising to provide better access to the viaduct – including a ramp at the eastern end and a well-managed footpath and new bridge underneath – and holding a programme of events and activities at the viaduct, for the public and schools. Our long term vision is ambitious, including a visitor centre, café and car parking, but events like this make us believe that we can achieve it and create a hub for heritage, walking and cycling in the wider area, and be a catalyst for investment. We’d urge anyone who loves our project and wants to help shape our future to get involved; we’re currently recruiting new trustees, and new volunteers and members of the Friends group are always welcome.”
For more information about volunteering, or others offers of support, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Image credit: Kerry Wheatley. With thanks from FoBV.