The viaduct was built in 1877 by the Great Northern Railway and was officially opened on 1st April 1878. It was on a new route between Nottingham and Derby, linking further afield to Burton-on-Trent and Stafford. Many earlier viaducts had been built of wood or brick and whilst the use of wrought iron was not unusual at the time, steel was just starting to challenge it as the material of choice for large constructions. Ironically steel is more prone to corrosion, so the viaduct would not have lasted as well as it has if had been built of this material.
The construction was composed of trestle piers set into concrete foundations faced in Staffordshire blue bricks. Between the piers are 16 lattice girder spans. This design was deemed most suitable to cope with coal-mining subsidence that occurs in the valley, and much of the structure was prefabricated off site. Apart from a failed attack by a German Zeppelin in 1916 the viaduct has had an uneventful existence. It sits between the Nottingham and Erewash canals in an area rich in industrial archaeology due to its coal mining and iron-working heritage.
The viaduct is referred to in the works of DH Lawrence, the famous writer from nearby Eastwood. The route across the viaduct was well used between Derby and Nottingham, and of course between Ilkeston and Nottingham. It was also on the route that helped to popularise Skegness as a destination for locals. Its days as a working structure were to come to an end in the 1960s with the Beeching axe. The route had always been a ‘duplicate’, as it competed with the former Midland Railway’s Nottingham to Derby line, and as such could not be justified.
Regular passenger traffic ending in 1964 and freight traffic in 1968. It has survived two demolition proposals, the first because it was going to cost too much and the second because permission was denied. Now it is one of only two surviving wrought iron viaducts in England, the other being at Meldon in Devon.
The viaduct is potentially a valuable community asset for transport, recreation and education. The intention is for it to provide a traffic-free link across the Erewash Valley, connecting to surrounding routes, supporting local tourism and enabling people to enjoy the varied heritage and natural attractions of the valley. It could be a focus for learning about industrial heritage in an area steeped in coal-mining, iron-working, railways and canals, and as such is a potential resource for local schools.
To bring all this about will take a fair amount of money, plus effort and involvement from local people who share our passion. The viaduct is in remarkably good condition for its age but has suffered some corrosion. mainly at the exposed ends of the ‘troughs’ that hold the ballast on the deck. This is more apparent near the surviving railway, due to the corrosive effects of the smoke from steam trains in the past. Left to itself it will inevitably deteriorate, so some remedial work is needed.
The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct share Sustrans’ vision to develop it principally as a cycle path & footpath providing a direct route across the valley. This will require ramps at both ends, surfacing and other works. We would also like to see interpretation and loop walks from the structure around the valley where it can be seen at its best, along with a presence at the Erewash Museum in Ilkeston.
The structure is now owned by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity which which has been instrumental in developing cycle routes throughout the UK. Sustrans are formulating a bid for Heritage Lottery money to fund much of the work needed to bring the viaduct into use.
Here is the link to the viaduct’s page on Historic England