Here in the heart of Sussex we have one of the most elegant transport structures to be seen in the whole of Britain.
It’s been with us since 1841 but we still haven’t properly decided what it really should be called. Though widely known as the Balcombe Viaduct (because that’s the name of the nearest station), I much prefer the alternative title of Ouse Valley Viaduct. Not only does it sound so much more romantic but it is a fact that the River Ouse has its source close by and it is also fact that this waterway made construction of the mighty edifice possible.
The 11 million bricks incorporated in the viaduct’s 37 arches were made in Holland, ferried across the English Channel and transported by barge up the Ouse from Newhaven via Lewes.
In addition many tons of facing stone came from quarries near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Just imagine the sheer effort expended in such an enterprise when railways – and indeed all mechanical machinery – were in their infancy.
There were competing routes proposed for the railway from London to Brighton, including one which was to be confined to a tunnel for almost the whole distance!
The London & Brighton Railway chose Sir John Rennie’s recommended route and engaged John Urpeth Rastrick to be engineer.
He was a man of considerable experience in railway engineering, having helped construct Richard Trevithick’s “Catch Me Who Can”, only the third steam locomotive to be built in the world.
Rastrick’s early work included spanning the River Wye with a cast iron bridge at Chepstow in 1816. He was also involved in the building of the London Road viaduct in Brighton, another at Shoreham and a putting a bridge over the River Arun. However, for me his crowning achievement must be the Ouse Valley Viaduct; something like 110 trains a day pass over this spectacular Sussex landmark proving that it has really stood the test of time. Without doubt John Rastrick can be very proud of his track record.