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Heritage advisor, Judy Jones, talks about new railings due to be installed in the new year at Marple Aqueduct.
In April this year, I submitted a Scheduled Monument application for the installation of a parapet railing on the beautiful Marple Aqueduct. This was the culmination of many, many months of consultation and collaboration with our customers, local interest groups, Stockport Council and Historic England.
The Aqueduct carries the Peak Forest Canal over the River Goyt and was completed in 1800. Also known as the Grand Aqueduct, it is the tallest aqueduct in England and the tallest masonry arched aqueduct in Britain. It was designed by the engineer for the Peak Forest Canal, Benjamin Outram.
Whilst there had been warning signage in place to discourage access to the unfenced, offside area for over 10 years, there have been recorded incidents and anecdotal information in recent years that demonstrated that some people were living dangerously, and there was a real prospect of people accidentally falling to their death.
It seemed that as well as a number of near misses there was a local youth’s game, where children jump the canal to land on the off-side, doing this at locations where they judge that trees might break a fall.
We clearly needed to review the situation and so held consultation events in November 2014 and February 2015 to invite comments, opinion and views from members of the public. Marple Aqueduct is a Grade I Listed structure and is scheduled under the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 – changing this magnificent structure needed very careful thought and any intervention could not be taken lightly. However, ultimately we concluded that additional measures had to be put in place.
The new parapet railing was designed with the historic significance of the Aqueduct in mind, and rather than applying something ‘off-the-shelf’, a bespoke solution was required. In close collaboration with Knight Architects, we based our design on the loop pattern of ‘cotton weaving’, which acknowledges Samuel Oldknow’s historic Mellor cotton mill in Marple and the use of the Peak Forest Canal for transporting the cotton he produced.
Each vertical rail is ‘woven’ between the two low-level rails and the top rail, as a single self-intersecting ‘thread’. These vertical elements form the ‘warp’, and the horizontal rails form the ‘weft’. This design was very well received, and gained wide-ranging praise from the many stakeholders involved in the project. Both Scheduled Monument Consent from Historic England and Planning Permission from Stockport Council were granted in June 2017.
A Yorkshire company, Bisca, have been commissioned to fabricate the railings and a visit was arranged to their workshops on a rather snowy day in late November. Bisca is an impressive company, based in Helmsley on the edge of the North York Moors, and the team work in partnership with local skilled craftsmen to produce carefully detailed products.
Along with colleagues from the Trust, and our contractors, I made the journey to see the first sample of the stainless steel railing section. After an overview of the project from the manufacturers point of view, Bisca’s Senior Design Engineer, Claire, took us to the workshop to see the sample. In shiny stainless steel, the uprights were yet to be finished in matt black, which will be an elegant nod to an original Georgian period style of railing. The horizontal bar at the top and bottom will remain unpainted, so as to ‘disappear’ once installed, mirroring the surrounding colours of the tree canopy and sky.
The panels will follow the curve of the aqueduct, which is something we have been keen to achieve from the start, avoiding a ‘threepenny bit’ effect.
The railings are due to be installed starting at the end of January 2018, and despite the fact that this is a contemporary intervention to a 200 year old masonry gem, I personally think it is so beautifully designed and detailed, it is an addition of which both Benjamin Outram and Samuel Oldknow would approve.
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.