Bridging the Irwell

The development of Burrs Country Park could not have been progressed without rebuilding the old Burrs Bridge. Until about 1880, the only way to cross the river here was by the ford, or for pedestrians, over the feeder canal aquaduct. During floods, the only alternative for horse and cart, shifting raw cotton, finished yarn, and coal, was a long and awkward route via the Plumpton Brook and Walmersley Road, to the canal terminal at Bury Bridge.

Old bridge, drilling rig displaced by flood water

By 1987, the old bridge, with two brick and stone piers, and carried upon wrought-iron beams, was in a poor state, with a 2 tonne weight limit. Bury MBC committed to a £240,000 rebuild, by Harbour & General Works Ltd (now VolkerStevin of Preston), which started in September of that year. The first task was a site investigation, to determine the foundation design. A drilling rig erected by the old bridge almost came to grief when flood waters forced it away from its anchors.

Meanwhile, before the old bridge was demolished, an alternative access across the river had to be provided. At this point, and at practically no cost to Bury MBC, the Territorial Army’s 127 Field Company (REME), based at Clifton, in Salford, stepped forward. Astonishingly, over a single weekend, these dedicated and highly capable men constructed a military ‘Bailey Bridge’ across the Irwell, just to the east of the existing bridge.

Leading edge of Bailey Bridge being pushed across river, Stock Street visible to left

On Simons Field, to the south of the river, they assembled a long steel deck and high parapets, of which the ‘leading edge’ comprised lightweight elements which curved upwards at the river end. The whole structure was carried upon rollers, and was simply pushed forward across the river by a large bulldozer, being dependent upon the cantilever effect to ensure that the whole structure didn’t tilt into the river.

Bulldozer pushing Bailey Bridge

Once the lightweight north end had ‘landed’ on the north bank, this part was progressively dismantled, to be replaced by the ‘full spec’ bridge structure as the bulldozer pushed it forward in incremental sections. There was nothing flimsy about this temporary bridge – it was designed to take 38 tonne vehicles, and was only dismantled, by a reverse procedure, once the new bridge was completed.

Old bridge under demolition

Demolition of the old bridge was then fairly straightforward. A large excavator sat upon the masonry of the old ford, and simply pushed up and displaced the old iron beams, then used a hydraulic breaker to reduce to riverbed level the two masonry piers and the end abutments.

Crane on south river bank

What then followed was the digging of a pair of huge holes down to bedrock on the north and south riverbanks, followed by concrete being poured within timber formworks to create the new bridge abutments. A massive crane was then brought in, and in the words of the site engineer, this lifted and located the four 30 metre steel beams ‘as if they were just pencils’.

North bridge abutment

And the concrete deck and parapets were then added, and then in September 1988, a small group gathered to witness a ribbon being cut by the retiring Chief Executive, Jim McDonald, and the bridge being officially opened to road traffic. This was to represent the fifth bridge crossing the river at Burrs, and a sixth was to follow when the new ‘pipe bridge’ was erected just downstream, several years later.