The GNR established its Derby station adjacent to Friar Gate, with its elegant Georgian houses, and the line had to cross the street. A simple plate girder bridge was not considered suitable for this genteel thoroughfare, so Andrew Handyside & Co of Derby were commissioned to design and supply something more suited to the surroundings. The result was an elegant arch in cast iron, with intricately moulded parapets and spandrels incorporating the town’s ‘buck-in-the-park’ emblem. The abutments were of dressed stone. It was actually two nearly-parallel bridges, each double-track, slightly separated towards the south-western end to accommodate the adjacent station’s island platform.
The Bridge became redundant when the line closed in May 1968. The adjoining viaduct to the north-east was demolished in the early 1970s and the Bridge was also in danger of demolition. However, vociferous public support led to it becoming a Grade 2 listed building in 1974.
Derby City Council purchased the Bridge, and the obligation to maintain it, for £1. For some years periodic repainting was carried out and there have been a couple of cosmetic restorations. However, the Bridge has now fallen into disrepair and is swathed in safety netting.
A conservation survey commissioned by the City Council in 2014 found that the basic structure is still sound but there are drainage problems and widespread corrosion. A full restoration will require some new castings and the removal, repair and refitting of many parts of the Bridge. These include both the obvious decorative castings and the less-glamorous frames and beams that used to support the track on top of the Bridge. It will also require a full paintwork restoration.
In April 2015, Derby City Council allocated £260,000 towards restoring the Bridge, with a view to obtaining substantial further funding from the Heritage Lottery Foundation. The Council’s commitment to the Bridge is very encouraging but can only lead to a partial restoration. This would halt the decay and improve the appearance but would limit the load-bearing capacity and mean that further attention would be required in a few years.
Friends of Friar Gate Bridge believe that this iconic and much-loved structure deserves a full restoration – and with your support we can achieve it.