Bennerley Viaduct a scenic route across Erewash valley

Bennerley Viaduct was built between May 1876 and November 1877, and spans the Erewash Valley. It is also a Grade ll listed structure.

The viaduct is 442 metres in length (1452 ft) and has a height of 18.5 metres (60 ft 10 inches) above the river Erewash to the rails.

A view of Bennerley Viaduct

The viaduct is now open to the public after 54 years of closure. The deckworks are complete allowing the public to enjoy magnificent views from the top of the structure.

The viaduct, known affectionately as ‘The Iron Giant,’ connects Awsworth in Nottinghamshire and Ilkeston in Derbyshire. The line is part of the old Great Northern Railway, a part of the Derbyshire extension.

The plans to restore this stunning piece of railway history to incorporate decking and walkways that link existing public footpaths and access points in the area has come to fruition. All of the decking is in place, with steps to one side and an access ramp to the other. 

Bennerley viaduct spanning the Erewash valley

Our original walk was taken some time ago while the Iron Giant still awaited its transformation. It was a random walk. We had been indecisive about where to take the dogs until we got a spark of inspiration.

Cycling 

On cycle rides, the Bennerley Viaduct had been in view a couple of times from the Nottingham canal tow path where my husband and eldest son had been riding with our daughter to Matlock in Derbyshire.

It was the first time I had an opportunity to visit this part of the Erewash valley. For me it was inspiring and I’m so glad we happened to be in the area. I like old historic ironwork and architecture, along with rugged and inspiring places.

walking the dogs at Erewash

History 

Bennerley Viaduct miraculously survived air attacks in 1916. On January 31, 1916, 9 Zepplin airships of the German Airship Naval Division executed an air raid over the Midlands area in an event known as the Great Midlands Raid.

One of the airships taking part in the raid, the L.20 (LZ 59) based at Tondern in Schleswig (now part of Denmark), was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Stabbert. He conducted the raid on the area and dropped 7 explosive bombs into the surrounding area but the viaduct remained undamaged by the attack.

One bomb fell to the north of the viaduct at Bennerley Junction damaging the Midland Line. Later, another 15 bombs fell on Stanton Iron Works also damaging a railway bridge across the Nutbrook Canal.

Industrial Past at Bennerley

Construction 

Most railway viaducts at the time were constructed of brick but the foundations of the Bennerley Viaduct would be subject to subsidence caused by mining. As a result, the viaduct had to be made from wrought iron, which was designed by Richard Johnson (Chief Civil Engineer of the GNR). It was this method of construction that ultimately saved the viaduct from demolition when it was decommissioned.

When the demolition companies put their estimates in for demolishing the viaduct, the cost was said to be too high. The wrought iron could not be cut by oxy-acetylene torch and would, instead, have to be taken apart, rivet by rivet.

This is a rare example of a railway viaduct built in this style, as others have long since been taken down.

viaduct had to be of wrought iron construction

Transformation 

The Bennerley Ironworks were to the north of the viaduct and when this was eventually demolished, a British coal distribution depot served by sidings from the former Midland Railway line took over the site.

This has also since been demolished but signs of it still remain. The renovation of the viaduct has transformed the Iron Giant into a wonderful place to walk and cycle.

Once the full funding was put in place with the help of The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct and funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as the thoughtful planning of the Erewash and Broxtowe Borough Councils, the project became a major success. 

Looking Across to Ilkeston from the viaduct

Heritage 

It was lovely to see the Bennerley Viaduct in its rugged condition, but even more so since its restoration.

I say well done to those involved in taking care of this piece of industrial history and for keeping the restoration campaign alive.

We need to take care of our heritage. It’s something to be proud of, when so many historical and industrial structures have been lost over the years.

Reflection of Bennerley Viaduct

Location 

The viaduct is situated between Cotmanhay and Awsworth, near the town of Ilkeston, at Ordnance Survey grid reference SK 473 438.

made by The Bennerley ironworks

Conclusion 

I believe I’ll be visiting again on many more of my walks. The area is certainly worth further exploration in the future.

Our most recent walk was taken directly from home to see Bennerley Viaduct, where we went from one side to the other and took in the views across the valley.

We then continued along the Erewash canal to Langley Mill where we took a train back to Nottingham and walked back home from the train station. All in all, it was a wonderful 26 mile walk full of gorgeous scenery and history. 

Unpredictable journeys are sometimes the best kind, especially when discovering a little piece of history and taking time for a relaxed wander to unwind and take it easy. The dogs enjoyed the open space for sure, and I, myself, feel inspired by this place. It really deserves the restoration and recognition it is now receiving.

Wild Orchid beside the Bennerley viaduct

Note: Bennerley Viaduct was the only site from the UK to be included in the 2020 World Monument Watch. Its inclusion on the global watch list elevated our Iron Giant from a humble viaduct to international treasure.

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2 Comments

  1. Janine Moore says:

    Thank you very much, Kieran.
    The Bennerley viaduct has become a regular place to admire since my first visit, I’m lucky to live close enough. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress on the restoration as soon as it’s safe enough to do so. The Friends of Bennerley viaduct are doing a fantastic job.
    kind regards
    Janine

  2. Excellent article Janine. Glad you enjoyed the viaduct,

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