Ribblehead Viaduct 3

My Favourite Buildings…Ribblehead Viaduct, North Yorkshire.

The competition between construction and the countryside is often contentious but sometimes the two come together so harmoniously that you can’t imagine one without the other. Indeed, on these rare occasions the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re doubtful, visit the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire and you’ll discover that sticking 1.5 million bricks in the middle of the Three Peaks really can enhance the landscape. Especially if you then run a steam train over the resulting structure…

The 400m viaduct, commissioned by the Midland Railway, was constructed by around 1000 navvies between 1870 and 1875 out of local limestone quarried in Force Gill. The gritstone for the capstones was probably quarried from the Crag of Blea Moor. Its 24 arches were at first lined with bricks made from the Boulder Clay dug on site and produced in the adjacent brick works.

The navvies lived with their families in shanty towns named after Crimean War victories, posh districts of London and biblical references including Sebastopol, Belgravia, Jericho and Batty Wife Hole – the area immediately beneath the viaduct is called Batty Moss. Some of the towns had schools, libraries and (naturally) pubs but all of them had graves to accommodate the 100 or so who died in accidents and a similar number, including women and children, who fell to smallpox and other diseases. Knowing that so many died in its construction and were buried at the site brings a certain poignancy to the atmosphere, adding to the occasion.

No photograph conveys the unforgettable magic of this perfect match of man’s intrusion and nature’s majesty. Few brick structures of such simple, elegant architecture are as uplifting. Definitely worth a trip.

Duncan Ansell