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Causey Arch, near Stanley
The Causey Arch is a bridge near Stanleymarker in County Durham. It is the world’s oldest surviving railway bridge.

It was built in 1725-26 by stonemason Ralph Wood, funded by a conglomeration of coal-owners known as the "Grand Allies" (founded by Colonel Liddell and the Hon. Charles Montague) at a cost of £12,000. Two tracks crossed the Arch: one (the main way) to take coal to the River Tyne, and the other (the bye way) for the returning the empty wagons. Over nine hundred horse-drawn wagons crossed the arch each day using the Tanfield Railwaymarker.

At the time the bridge was completed in 1726, it was the longest single span bridge in the country, a record it held for thirty years until 1756 when a bridge was built in Pontypriddmarker, Wales.

An inscription on a sundial at the site reads "Ra. Wood, mason, 1727".Use of the Arch declined when Tanfieldmarker Colliery was destroyed by fire in 1739.

The Arch was restored and reinforced in the 1980s. There are a series of scenic public paths around the area and the Causey Burn which runs underneath it. The quarry near the bridge is a popular spot for local rock climbers.

Causey Burn itself flows into Beamish Burn which then flows into the River Teammarker eventually discharging into the River Tyne.

Interesting facts

A local legend is that Wood, haunted by the collapse of his earlier timber bridge and fearing that this arch would also collapse, committed suicide by jumping from the top of it. This is probably untrue. This information appears to be derived from a two-volume book called "Local Records" published in 1833 by John Sykes. Sykes was writing more than 100 years after the event and may be mistaken, or simply reporting local rumour. The origin of the suicide story remains obscure but contemporary accounts are strangely silent on the matter. Later texts (e.g. "Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade" by Robert Galloway) also repeat the story. Websites like that of the Durham Mining Museum report these lurid tales apparently without checking them. Contemporary records clearly state that Wood was still employed by George Bowes some months after the opening, and according to Professor Skempton if Wood did throw himself off the Arch then he landed a long way away – he apparently died in Stockton-on-Tees in 1730 (Skempton, 2002). This intriguing tale thus remains to be confirmed. The explanation that Wood was distraught after seeing his first bridge collapse into the gorge is also problematic, as Wood was a mason – a worker in stone, the likelihood of him being involved with the first timber-built structure is doubtful seeing as Bowes employed numerous engineers precisely for such tasks!

References

Skempton, A.W. (2002) Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Volume 1, 1500-1830, p 791-792. Published by Thomas Telford Ltd.




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