History of Friar Gate bridge

The Great Northern Railway (GNR) established its Derby station adjacent to Friar Gate (with its elegant Georgian houses) and the line had to cross the street.  A simple plate girder bridge was not considered suitable for this genteel thoroughfare, so Andrew Handyside & Co of Derby were commissioned to design and supply something more suited to the surroundings.  The result was an elegant arch in cast iron, with intricately moulded parapets and spandrels incorporating the town’s ‘buck-in-the-park’ emblem.  The abutments were of dressed stone.  It was actually two nearly-parallel bridges, each double-track, slightly separated towards the south-western end to accommodate the adjacent station’s island platform.

The Bridge became redundant when the line closed in May 1968. The adjoining viaduct to the north-east was demolished in the early 1970s and the Bridge became in danger of demolition.  However, vociferous public support led to it being designated a Grade 2 listed structure in 1974.

Derby City Council purchased the Bridge from British Rail  for £1 in 1985, and with this the obligation to maintain it.  For some years periodic repainting was carried out and there were a couple of cosmetic restorations.  However, the Bridge has now fallen into disrepair and is swathed in safety netting.


A conservation survey commissioned by the City Council in 2014 found that the basic structure was still sound but there were drainage problems and widespread corrosion.  A full restoration will require some new castings and the removal, repair and refitting of many parts of the Bridge.  These include both the obvious decorative castings and the less-glamorous frames and beams that used to support the track on top of the Bridge.  It will also require a full paintwork restoration.


In April 2015, Derby City Council allocated £260,000 towards restoring the Bridge, with a view to obtaining substantial further funding from the Heritage Lottery Foundation.  The Council’s commitment to the Bridge is very encouraging but can only lead to a partial restoration.  This would halt the decay and improve the appearance but would limit the load-bearing capacity and mean that further attention would be required in a few years.


The Friends of Friar Gate Bridge believe that this iconic and much-loved structure deserves a full restoration – and with your support we can achieve it.


In August 2017 (following a great deal of effort from the Friends) the Heritage Lottery Fund provided a significant amount of funding to enable a study to take place on alternative option for the full restoration and on-going use of the Bridge.


In September 2017 (following competitive tendering), Lathams Architects were appointed to conduct a ‘Viability Study of Option’. This this project commenced in the first week of November and will run through to mid 2018.

Origins of the bridge

The Great Northern Railway (GNR) started life in the 1840s, building a main line roughly parallel to the Great North Road from London King's Cross to a point south of York.  By the 1870s it had created a large network of lines in the East Midlands and Yorkshire, and often found itself competing with its arch rival, the Derby-based Midland Railway.  It was thus with some relish that it accepted the challenge to build an extension from Nottingham right through the Midland’s headquarters city with connections to Burton-on-Trent and eventually as far west as Stafford.  The principal aim of the line was to break the Midland’s monopoly on moving coal from the many collieries in the area, and hence reduce its price for local homes and industries.


The GNR established its Derby passenger and goods stations adjacent to Friar Gate, and the whole line thus became known as the Friargate Line (seemingly the railway preferred to omit the space in Friar Gate).

From east to west, the line crossed the famous Bennerley viaduct and passed through Ilkeston North and West Hallam stations before burrowing under Morley in a 238 yard tunnel and reaching Breadsall, where a fine country station was built to the same design as those at Mickleover and Etwall.


The line continued on an embankment adjacent to the old Derby Race Course, over the Little Eaton branch of the Derby canal on a viaduct, over the Midland line and on towards Chester Green.  It then crossed the river Derwent before passing under North Parade, North, Arthur, Henry, Edward and King Streets and crossing Brook and Agard Streets to reach Friar Gate and its station.


From Friar Gate westwards, the line passed under Uttoxeter Old Road, parallel to Slack Lane, through what is now the Kingsway Retail Park, under Kingsway and through the 464 yard Mickleover Tunnel.


From the tunnel the line ran through a cutting, under a bridge in Station Road and into Mickleover Station.  It then ran through fields to Etwall and finally south to Egginton to join the main line from Derby to Crewe.


View the Derby Friar Gate Route Map.

Route of the line through Derby

Impact of the line on the Friar Gate area

So eager was the Corporation to have a second railway line serving Derby that the Act of Parliament authorising its creation contained very little protection for local residents.  The GNR was able to do whatever was necessary to complete the route economically.  The route can still be clearly discerned in an aerial view of the city today, almost 50 years after the line was closed.


The residential areas around Friar Gate and South Street were particularly affected, with South Street losing half its length and Baxter Street vanishing completely beneath the GNR’s yard and warehouse.  Short Street and Cherry Street were completely demolished.


Uttoxeter Old Road had to be raised to cross the railway where it was eight tracks wide, creating an awkwardly steep approach road and a difficult junction with Parcel Terrace, as well as resulting in the demolition of more of the original Victorian terraced housing.

Friends of Friar Gate Bridge is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation registered with the Charity Commission for England & Wales Number 1163174

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© 2017 Friends of Friar Gate Bridge