Shock as bridge pile found to be made of timber
SPECIALIST divers are surveying Shaldon Bridge after a shock discovery found that one of the main supporting piles is made of deteriorating wood and not the concrete and steel construction shown on the original plans.
Devon County Council has imposed weight restrictions on vehicles heavier than three tonnes using the bridge while professionals check to see if any other piers also have wooden piles.
Cllr Alistair Dewhirst, the Devon County Councillor for Shaldon, said that “fingers-crossed” the bridge would be reopen to all traffic by the end of the week, if the divers find nothing else wrong.
But he also raised concerns, echoed by the village, that more signage is needed as some people are ignoring the restrictions.
Cllr Dewhirst said: “There is great concern in the community that people are ignoring the weight limits. I am trying to get more and improved signage, and more enforcement, but it is difficult as the council don’t have the manpower or the legal force to stop people who are breaking the limit.”
However, he added that if the engineers thought the bridge was dangerous, then they
Divers inspect the supports of Shaldon Bridge would have closed it to all traffic. The focus of the investigation by divers is on the five piers in the deep-water channel. Because the piers are permanently submerged inspections are extremely difficult and can only be carried out by commercial diving contractors.
Questions have been raised as to why previous inspections of Shaldon Bridge failed to identify that the pile was made of wood, but Cllr Dewhirst said it appeared the contractors who rebuild the bridge between 1927 and 1931 did some ‘jiggery-pokery’.
He said: “Shaldon Bridge’s original construction drawings show that the bridge’s piers are each made up of four concrete piles, which are encased in steel and concrete. However, the inspection revealed that one of the piles inside a pier was made from timber instead of concrete, which has started to deteriorate. Previous inspections have confirmed concrete piles on other piers, but as they are deep under the waterline and in fast moving water, not all the piles were checked when the work was last done.
“The engineers relied on the original drawings, but it seems they were not correct and there was some ‘jiggery-pokery’ by the contractors when they rebuilt the bridge.”
Shaldon Bridge was the longest wooden bridge in England when it opened in June 1827, but after 11 years, the centre timber arches collapsed, eaten through by shipworms. It was rebuilt in wood and reopened in 1840, but it partially collapsed again in 1893. The bridge was completely rebuilt between 1927 and 1931.