Galton Bridge - unsung masterpiece.

Galton Bridge is one of the unsung wonders of the waterways. It was designed by Thomas Telford as part of his massive BCN New Main Line engineering formation and spans his great 12 metres deep Smethwick Cutting.

Galton Bridge, early 19th century print by Louis Haghe.

Built with iron cast by Horseley Ironworks in 1829 with diagonal lattice ribs and spandrels, Galton Bridge pre-figures later railway architecture and in some respects makes Telford’s Pontcysyllte Aqueduct of 1815 look old-fashioned. It is one of a family of similar Telford designs, including Mythe Bridge (1826) and Holt Fleet Bridge (1828) which both cross the River Severn.

Telford wrote that he had designed Galton for ‘safety, combined with economy’ and for a time the bridge was the highest and longest single span (46 metres) bridge in the World. Its height still impresses today, but it also makes it difficult to view the bridge properly when seen from the canal and this is perhaps one reason why it is not more celebrated. The best way to appreciate its scale is from on top, a safe prospect now that it no longer carries road traffic.

Galton Bridge was named after Samuel Galton (1783-1844) a Quaker industrialist who sat on the BCN Company committee in the early 19th century. It may not feature much in the standard canal literature, but as an elegant minor masterpiece of engineering it deserves to be better known.

Nigel Crowe

National Heritage Manager

Last date edited: 27 June 2016

About this blog

Nigel Crowe

As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.

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