Welland Viaduct, The Grandest Railway Viaduct in the Country

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Welland Viaduct, also known as Harringworth Viaduct or Seaton Viaduct, is the county’s longest spanning railway viaduct.

It crosses the valley of the River Welland between Harringworth in Northamptonshire and Seaton in Rutland.

The viaduct is technically not in Leicestershire but Northampton and Rutland. 

Use of the viaduct.

The viaduct lies on the Oakham to Kettering Line and carries the twin-track non-electrified line between Corby and Manton Junction, where it joins the Leicester to Peterborough line. 

Freight trains generally use the route. There is also a daily East Midlands Trains passenger service between Melton Mowbray and St Pancras via Corby.

There are also some steam train outings across the viaduct and these are eagerly awaited by enthusiasts. The Flying Scotsman crossed the viaduct in 2018.

History of Welland viaduct.

The broad valley of the River Welland to the east of Uppingham presented a major problem to the directors of the Midland Railway Company in the 1870s.

They needed to get their track down into Northamptonshire and on to London but the only way to link the hill on each side was to build a massive viaduct. 

The company gritted their teeth, accepted the enormous costs and decided to go ahead.

The building of the viaduct and the Navvies.

The first brick was laid in March 1876 and the last arch was finished in July 1878. Two thousand navvies were housed in a temporary settlement called Cyprus.

The viaduct was built by vast gangs of navvies – the word ‘navvy’ came from the ‘navigators’ who built the first ‘navigation canals’ in the eighteenth century.

By the standards of the day they were well paid, but their work was hard and often very dangerous.

They built a reputation for fighting, hard-living and hard-drinking. ‘Respectable’ Victorians viewed them as degenerates.

The Navvies came from all over the British Isles and even continental Europe, bringing along their wives and children. Merchants and even prostitutes often followed, both selling their services.

Many of the families were fleeing famine in Ireland, and some were the ancestors of the 15,000 travellers who live in Britain today.

The Navvies and their families worked in appalling conditions, for two years they lived in rough timber huts alongside the viaduct they built.

The harsh conditions and communal living meant that navvies evolved a lifestyle, culture and even a language of their own. They built a reputation for fighting, hard-living and hard-drinking.

The viaduct was built from bricks manufactured and fired on site which had a red face.

Some of the bricks had imprints of children’s hands and feet. This is from where they had walked on the clay-filled moulds before firing in the kiln.

Size of the viaduct.

The viaduct is 1,275 yards (1.166 km) long and has 82 arches, each of which has a 40 feet (12 m) span.

It is the longest masonry viaduct across a valley in Britain and also a Grade II listed building.

Photo by Baz Richardson.

Maintenance.

Repairs on the viaduct have employed other types of bricks, predominantly blue engineering bricks which have better water resistance and are much stronger than commons, making them excellent for arch re-lining and face brick replacement, leaving a patchwork appearance.

Maintenance of the viaduct
New bricks on the viaduct.

Video of the Flying Scotsman crossing.

Video by Alan Plumb

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Check out our other Leicester railway articles here. For a full history of the viaduct, check out Harringworth Village’s website here.


Book Recommendations.

If you are interested in Leicester’s history then we recommend the following books (Click on the images or links below)

Fearless: The Amazing Underdog Story of Leicester City

The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III

Leicester Murders


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Thomas is fascinated by the city's long and varied history. He also hates to discuss himself in the third person but can be persuaded to do so from time to time.
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