BRIDGE TO THE PAST

Huge re­spect for the men who orig­i­nally built the canals as we try our hands at 18th cen­tury-style bridge-build­ing – it’s not easy

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY MARTIN LUDGATE

Our Deputy Ed tries his hand at 18th Cen­tury-style bridge build­ing on the Cotswolds Canals

In­tra­dos? Ex­tra­dos? Queen closers? Okay, I’m an ex­pe­ri­enced canal restora­tion vol­un­teer who’s laid a fair num­ber of bricks over the last cou­ple of decades (and I know what a queen closer is) – but this is some­thing re­ally rather dif­fer­ent from what any of us are used to.

I’m with a team of Wa­ter­way Re­cov­ery Group and Cotswold Canal Trust vol­un­teers at Wey­moor Bridge – or rather at what was once Wey­moor Bridge, and (hope­fully) in the not too dis­tant future, will once more be a tra­di­tional hump-backed canal bridge. At the mo­ment, though, it looks like two large chunks of brick-faced abut­ment, one on each side of the silted-up canal chan­nel and, in be­tween them, a mass of scaf­fold­ing sur­round­ing some large, curved steel gird­ers. On top of th­ese gird­ers, a curved sur­face made up from wooden laths and ply­wood has been added. Th­ese, be­tween them, form the ‘cen­tring’, the tem­po­rary form­work upon which the bricks form­ing the arch are to be laid. And over the top of the whole lot is what looks sus­pi­ciously like the sort of mar­quee that gets used for out­door wed­ding re­cep­tions (be­cause that’s what it is!) to keep off the rain that’s threat­en­ing to dampen our spir­its.

The vol­un­teers’ job for the next fort­night is to lay the bricks to form the arch. I’m with the ad­vance party of ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teer brick­lay­ers who’ve turned up on site a day early to try to get our heads around what we’ve al­ready re­alised is a whole lot more com­pli­cated job than the typ­i­cal straight lock cham­ber wall.

For starters, we’re lay­ing it not as three sep­a­rate rings of brick­work around the arch (as is com­mon on canal bridges), but ‘fully bonded’ – like build­ing a thick wall, but grad­u­ally tilt­ing over as it ap­proaches the crown of the arch. This, I am as­sured, will push up the strength of the arch from per­haps a seven-tonne weight limit to the 44 tonnes needed for the mod­ern farm ma­chin­ery which will

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