Lost viaducts brought the coast together

Staithes viaduct
Staithes viaduct
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Anyone today visiting the Whitby area or taking a trip to the town along the Eskdale line cannot fail to be impressed by the remarkable and beautiful brick Larpool viaduct which carried the Scarborough to Whitby line.

Today this magnificent artefact is used by cyclists and walkers as part of the Sustrans Whitby to Scarborough cycle route.

Crossing Newholm viaduct

Crossing Newholm viaduct

However, visitors are often unaware that there were four other viaducts in the local area and one more at Staithes.

These viaducts at Upgang, Newholm, Eastrow, and Sandsend were neither brick nor beautiful, yet they were certainly remarkable and magnificent. There was a strange, dark, almost threatening quality about these wrought iron constructions; they were unique and they possessed a fascinating, almost compelling aesthetic.

These viaducts carried the Whitby-Loftus line and anyone who travelled on this remarkable and short-lived line will remember the dramatic scenery, seascapes, and mysterious tunnels through which they passed.

Yet it is the viaducts on this well-loved line that tell the strangest stories and which reveal hidden secrets. For instance, how many people know that on the walk between Sandsend station and Deepgrove tunnel along the Cleveland Way they pass over a timber viaduct which has been hidden under the embankment which traversed the alum steeping pits?

Dr Michael Williams

Dr Michael Williams

This long-lost viaduct was, like the five iron viaducts, completed long before the rest of the line. The cost of these artefacts was immense. In today’s money the five iron viaducts would cost well over £1.2. million.

The iron viaducts had a very troubled history before the opening of the line. In the nineteenth century, before a new line could be opened to the public and thus declared safe, it had to pass a rigorous inspection by the Board of Trade. The Whitby-Loftus line failed this inspection process three times before it was finally allowed to open, and these failures were almost entirely due to the inadequate nature of the viaducts’ construction.

But what made things worse was the effect of one of the greatest disasters in railway history: the fall of the Tay Bridge in late December 1879 which claimed the lives of over eighty people as an entire train fell into the storm-lashed estuary over which the bridge had been built.

Truly there was now danger on the line. Naturally the Government did not want a repeat of this terrible event, and afterwards imposed the most stringent regulations on all new viaducts.

Sandsend viaduct

Sandsend viaduct

The Staithes viaduct, in particular, was recognised to be the most at risk. What made things even worse was that the Government Inspector for the new viaducts was none other than Major General Hutchinson, the very man who had inspected the Tay Bridge before its opening and who had declared it safe.

Hutchinson, then, had to be very careful indeed; he limited the speed over the viaduct to 20mph, he demanded that two expensive additional bracings be added to the construction as well as parapets and guard rails, and he insisted that a wind gauge be attached to the viaduct which, when the wind pressure became too great, a bell would ring in the signal box and all trains would be stopped until the wind had died down.

These improvements worked, the danger was over, and at last the line was opened in December 1883 after taking 12 years to build.]

Dr Michael Williams will be giving a presentation entitled The Viaducts and Tunnels of the Whitby-Loftus Line on Friday May 16 at 7.30 pm at the

Hinderwell Village Hall.

This event is organised by the Mulgrave Community Research Group.

Admission is £3 (refreshments available).