Work is expected to begin early next year on an ambitious £1 million eight-month long project to restore the historic Rewley Road Swing Bridge at Oxford, more than 30 years after the last freight train trundled across it in May 1984. Despite having long since lost its rail services, the bridge remains owned by Network Rail and stands close to the main railway line just north of Oxford station.
After securing financial support from a range of bodies, including Historic England, Network Rail, the Railway Heritage Trust and Oxford City Council, the bridge’s custodians, Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT), now plan to invite tenders from specialist engineering firms, with the aim of restoration work beginning early in 2018.
Rewley Road Swing Bridge was designed by Robert Stephenson & Co. in 1850 and built by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) the following year, in order to provide a crossing over a waterway linking the Oxford Canal with the River Thames, known as the Sheepwash Channel, and give access to the LNWR’s terminus station, Oxford Rewley Road.
Oxford Rewley Road station closed to passengers in 1951, when services on the route to Bicester, Bedford and Cambridge were diverted into the city’s main (Great Western Railway) station, but the bridge remained in use by coal trains until closure of Rewley Road coal yard on 11 May 1984. Since then the bridge has been abandoned and locked in the open position alongside the waterway.
Much credit for the bridge’s remarkable survival must go to a former British Rail regional manager, David Mather, who managed to get it listed as a scheduled monument in 1993 at a time when the surrounding site was being sold for redevelopment by house builder Persimmon.
OPT Project Manager Natasha Eliot says the Trust’s consulting engineers, The Morton Partnership – a firm which specialises in historic buildings and structures – will be putting the project out to tender shortly, and says that funding is already in place for around two-thirds of the total cost. She adds that Rewley Road Swing Bridge is one of only two moving bridges across the Thames – the other being Tower Bridge!