History in Structure

Saltford Tunnel West Portal (MLN111164)

A Grade II Listed Building in Saltford, Bath and North East Somerset

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Latitude: 51.4048 / 51°24'17"N

Longitude: -2.4573 / 2°27'26"W

OS Eastings: 368289

OS Northings: 167403

OS Grid: ST682674

Mapcode National: GBR JX.QNMK

Mapcode Global: VH88X.CY9H

Plus Code: 9C3VCG3V+W3

Entry Name: Saltford Tunnel West Portal (MLN111164)

Listing Date: 17 July 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1409186

ID on this website: 101409186

Location: Saltford, Bath and North East Somerset, Somerset, BS31

County: Bath and North East Somerset

Civil Parish: Saltford

Built-Up Area: Saltford

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Tagged with: Architectural structure Tunnel portal

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A tunnel portal in the Tudor-Gothic style, with a four-centred arch, set in an cutting under Saltford village in an otherwise rural landscape. Erected c.1836-40


MATERIALS: ashlar Bath stone portal and copings. Squared and coursed Pennant stone retaining walls and tunnel lining. Small engineering brick patches.

DESCRIPTION: depressed, four-centred arch, with a span of 30ft (9m), consisting of ashlar voussoirs and a recessed roll and then hollow moulding. The mouldings continue to the ground without visible stops. Two small sections of engineering brick patching. The arch is set within a giant square hoodmould with stops, which frames chamfered spandrel panels. This ashlar portal is itself set within a coursed Pennant stone retaining wall extending above and to the sides. This is topped by a plain coping course which rises gently to a peak over the centre.

The tunnel is not very deep, and buildings and gardens of the village of Saltford crowd the low hill above the portal.


Great Western Railway

The Great Western Railway was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1835 to construct a line from London to Bristol. At 118 miles this was slightly longer than the other major trunk railway of its time, the London and Birmingham (112 miles) and considerably longer than other pioneering lines. Construction of the line began in 1836, using a variety of contractors and some direct labour. The first section to be completed, from London to Maidenhead Riverside (Taplow), opened in 1838, and thereafter openings followed in eight phases culminating in the completion of the whole route in 1841. Work at the Bristol end of the line had started in 1835, and the section from Bristol to Bath had opened in August 1840.

The engineering of the railway was entrusted in 1833 to Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), who was already known for his engineering projects in Bristol. More than any other railway engineer of his time he took sole responsibility for every aspect of the engineering design, from surveying the line to the detailing of buildings and structures. He sought to achieve as level a route as possible and, working from first principles, he persuaded the Directors of the GWR to adopt a broad gauge of 7ft 0¼ in rather then the standard (4ft 8½in) gauge in use on other lines. A two track broad gauge line was 30ft wide, and this determined the span of the overbridges and other structures. Except for larger bridges such as Maidenhead Bridge, the majority of Brunel’s masonry bridges did not need to be as innovative as his works in timber and iron, and his structures followed the typical architectural idioms of his time, but they were all beautifully detailed and built and together they formed integral parts of a consistently-designed pioneering railway.

Although he left no written statement concerning his design concept for the line, it can be inferred from its design and from the way it was described when opened that part of his vision was a line engineered according to picturesque principles. This influenced his selection of the route and the design of structures along it. For reasons of cost, but also because it helped blend the railway to the landscape, he used local materials for bridges and other structures, ranging from stock brick at the London end of the line, to red brick, Bath stone east of Bath and Pennant stone west of Bath. This intentional variety was remarked on by contemporaries, for instance in J.C. Bourne, 'The History and Description of the Great Western Railway' (1846). On the line from Bristol to Bath, where the track runs along the Avon valley, Brunel chose to use Tudor four-centred arches for both the over- and underbridges, and castellation for tunnel portals and viaducts. This makes it the most distinctive part of the whole route from London to Bristol, and it is also the section on which the structures have generally survived in their original form because this part of the route was not quadrupled and the Pennant stone used for most structures has lasted well.

Surviving contract drawings for bridges and other structures on this section of the line carry the signature of I.K. Brunel, reflecting his involvement with every aspect of the project. The Resident Engineer was G.E. Frere (1807-87), assisted by G.T. Clark (1809-98) and Michael Lane (1802-68), but their individual contributions have not been identified.

Saltford Tunnel

Saltford Tunnel is a very short tunnel (160m) lined in Pennant stone, with a horseshoe-section bore, bored underneath the village of Saltford west of Bath. It was one of twelve tunnels designed and constructed by Brunel between Chippenham and Bristol. The West Portal was built c.1836-40 under contract 2B. An original contract drawing survives, signed by the contractor William Ranger on 6 May 1836. This shows a design with stepped parapet and no frame to the arch, but as completed the portal resembles the East Portal (MLN1 11157). There have been no major works since construction.

Reasons for Listing

Saltford Tunnel West Portal is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date: the portal dates from the Pioneering phase of railway design, prior to 1840, and as such there is a presumption in favour of listing;
* Architectural interest: its Tudor Gothic design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel is of clear architectural interest;
* Historic interest: as a design of circa 1836-40 by Brunel;
* Intactness: the portal is remarkably unaltered and survives well;
* Group value: as part of the most architecturally interesting and imaginative sequence of railway tunnels in the country.

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