Ferry Bridge Burton

Ferry Bridge is a Victorian pedestrian bridge over the River Trent in Staffordshire, England. The bridge and its extension, Stapenhill Viaduct, link Burton upon Trent town centre to the suburb of Stapenhill half a mile away on the other side of the river.

The bridge is a "semi-suspension" bridge, of which this is the first and only one of its kind in Europe to be built to this design.[1] It was designed and constructed by a local firm, Thornewill and Warham. It is a three-span footbridge totalling 240 feet in length. The chains were made of flat bar iron, and are continuous from one end of the bridge to the other. They are riveted to the ends of the main girders, not anchored at a distance as they would normally be on a traditional suspension design. The bridge is made of cast iron, and is Grade II listed.

The bridge was built to replace a small ferry service that had operated at the same site since the 13th century. The Ferry Bridge was gifted to the town by brewing magnate Michael Arthur Bass, Lord Burton.

The bridge had its grand opening on Wednesday 3 April 1889, an event attended by between eight and ten thousand people, despite the wet and stormy weather.[2] A photograph shows, in the front row, Mrs Harrison, Sir Michael Arthur Bass (later Lord Burton), Nellie Bass with Misses Kathleen and Violet Thornewill, daughters of the builder, Mr C. Harrison (Mayor) and Lady Bass.[3]

The bridge was still used by hundreds of people every day, until its recent closure for renovation. More images are shown on the Council's WebSite.[4] The grand re-opening of the bridge was held on 21 October 2016.[5] The bridge once again carries National Cycle Route 63 between Stapenhill and Burton town centre.


In the 19th century the brewing industry in Burton and hence the population of the town expanded greatly. As a result, pedestrians often had to wait a considerable time for the ferry. Two boats were needed at peak times. The clamour for a second bridge over the Trent grew. In 1865, the Marquis of Anglesey, who owned the rights for the ferry, obtained an Act of Parliament authorising him to build and maintain a bridge over the River Trent. The bridge was intended to carry all traffic and to be as good as or better than the old Burton Bridge, at that time the only bridge across the river in Burton. Plans were drawn up but never implemented.


In 1885 the Marquis sought parliamentary approval to build a smaller footbridge over the River Trent near the site of the Stapenhill ferry and to sell the ferry rights to Burton Corporation. After long negotiations between the council and the Marquis, Burton brewery owner Sir Michael Arthur Bass, (later Lord Burton, whose wife was Harriet Georgina nee Thornewill[6]) offered to have a footbridge built at his own expense, as long as the council bought the ferry rights from the Marquis.

The Council agreed to pay the Marquis the then huge sum of £12,950 for the rights. Work started in 1888. The official opening ceremony for the bridge was held on Wednesday 3 April 1889. A crowd of between eight and ten thousand congregated on the Burton side of the river alone.

Stapenhill Viaduct, the raised path over the meadows which connects Burton town centre to the Ferry Bridge, was not included in this work. At the banquet at St Paul’s Institute following the official opening, Michael Arthur Bass announced that he was to erect a raised causeway across the meadows to join the Ferry Bridge to Burton. The erection of an iron viaduct was begun and this was presented to the town in 1890. The total cost of the bridge and causeway was just over £10,000.[7] The viaduct and bridge were made free of toll on 13 April 1898.

The Builders

Thornewill and Warham Ltd, an engineering company in Burton, was selected to design and build the bridge.[8] The ownership of the business at this time was split three ways:- by Martha Hammond Thornewill nee Wright (born 1806), who was the widow of a third cousin of Lady Bass, (half share), by her son Robert, born 1843, (5/12 share) and by John Robson Warham (1/12th share).

The Thornewill family had been in Burton since Matthew Thornewill moved from Dunstall, for his children were born in Tatenhill from 1631 onwards. They were in the "iron" business from at least 1730, when Matthew's great grandson Thomas (born 1691) was described as an Iron Merchant, and his son Francis at his marriage in 1767 was a "yeoman and edged-tool maker of Stretton".

By 1740, Thomas and his brother Francis had established a business on the South side of New Street, making spades and other edged tools.

The Earl of Uxbridge owned Clay Mill, which was abandoned as a corn mill around 1730. In 1753 William Wyatt, the Earl of Uxbridge's Steward, wrote that there was "nothing of any value remaining except the building and those in a very shattered and ruinous condition. I had a person with me to take the place in the conditions it is now in for a blade mill, that is, a mill for grinding all sorts of large edged tools and iron plates and for the plating of iron".[9] In 1755 Thomas Thornewill took the lease of Clay Mill at an annual rent of 10 guineas. Thornewill spent over £300 on repairs to the building and its conversion into "a plating Forge for hammering and plating of iron into thin plates".[10] The Clay Mills site was bought by Thornewills in 1786 for £3,220.[11]

In 1792 there is reference to "Mr. Thornewill, ironmonger, of Clay Mills, Stretton".[12] By 1829 brothers John & Francis Thornewill, Iron Merchants and Iron and Brass Founders were established in New Street.

John Thornewill died in 1836, and his brother Francis died unmarried in 1846, leaving the business in the hands of John's son Robert, born 22 Jan 1799.

In 1849, Robert (aged 50) entered into a partnership with 29-year-old John Robson Warham, an engineer from South Shields, and the firm became Thornewill and Warham. Robert died 16 July 1858 aged 59, and his share of the business (and the running of it) was taken over by his 52-year-old widow, Martha Hammond Thornewill,[13] nee Wright, from Eyam, Derbyshire.

By 1851 Thornewill & Warham was described as "Iron Merchants and Steam Engine, Machinery, etc. Manufacturers".[14] By 1862 they were making colliery winding engines.[15]

The company went on to build steam engines and locomotives, the first probably in 1858, and provided the Burton Breweries with most of their locomotives between 1860 and 1880.

In 1868, a new partnership was formed, in which Martha Hammond Thornewill, now aged 62, held half the shares, her son Robert (now aged 25) five twelfths, and John Robsom Warham the remaining twelfth. Warham died in 1886 aged 66, Martha in 1889 aged 83, and her half-share in the business passed to her three sons, the other two of whom Robert bought out to become sole owner by 1893.

By 1870 Thornewill and Warham was supplying steam engines to Scotland, London and South Wales, and after 1890 were exporting winding, pumping and hauling engines all over the world - to collieries, cotton mills, gold and diamond mines and waterworks in China, Japan, Borneo, India, South Africa, South America and Australia, at least 329 in all.[16]

Apart from the manufacture of steam engines, the company was also notable for its constructional engineering; they provided and installed much of the ironwork in the Burton breweries between 1850 and 1890.[17]

The construction in 1889 of the Ferry Bridge and the connecting viaduct to Bond End, at a total cost of just over £10,000, was one of the firm's major achievements in that field.[18]

Robert Thornewill, sole owner, died 22 Nov 1914 aged 71; his only son, Robert Surtees Thornewill, was a clergyman in London's East End with no interest in engineering, so the business was eventually taken over in 1929 by a rival, S. Briggs & Co. Ltd. of Burton, itself eventually being absorbed into British Steel.[19]


The bridge is a suspension design, its distinctive feature being that the chains are not anchored at a distance to independent anchorages as they would normally be on a traditional suspension bridge, but are riveted to the ends of the main girders. These chains are made of flat iron bars riveted together, and continuous from one end to the other. This form of construction had not been previously used in bridge construction and the Ferry Bridge was the first bridge in Europe to be built to this specification, and is possibly the only one remaining.

The bridge spans the river in three sections, supported by four cast iron piers each five feet (152.4 cm) in diameter. The piers were placed in pairs fifteen feet (4.57 metres) from centre to centre and were sunk to a depth of between twelve and fifteen feet (3.66–4.57 metres) below the marl and sandstone river bed. The pier cylinders were filled with solid concrete and on top of this there was 3 feet (91.44 cm) of non-porous engineering blue bricks cemented together. Finally, to complete the foundation, there was an ashlar stone bed onto which they were erected.

The centre span of the bridge is 115 feet (35.05 metres) long and the two symmetric end sections each measure 57 feet (17.37 metres). The bridge footway is 10 feet (3.05 metres) wide and stands 11 feet (3.35 metres) above the average water level at the centre and 9 feet (2.74 metres) above at each end. The towers, each of which stands 23 feet 6 inches (7.16 metres) high, when first built were cased externally with ornamental cast-iron work and the bases were panelled and decorated with the arms and supporters of Lord Burton, together with his motto – ‘Basis Virtutum Constantia’ (The basis of virtue is constancy). The towers were surmounted with lions rampant each of which carried a wrought iron staff with gilded copper vanes and Lord Burton’s monogram.

The towers are 20 feet 3 inches (6.17 metres) high, of wrought-iron lattice work 2 feet 3 1/2 inches (70 cm) at the bottom, tapering to 1 foot 4 1/2 inches (41.9 cm) at the top. They were braced together at the top by a lattice girder 11¼" (28.58 cm) deep. The girders are continuous from one end of the bridge to the other. The chains are made of flat bars 3 inches (7.62 cm) thick, riveted to the main girders in the middle of the centre span and at the ends of the bridge. The piers and towers are placed outside the main girders, which increases the resistance of the bridge to wind pressure, the distance between the chains being wider at the tower than at the middle and ends of the girders; the hangers are inclined both along and across the bridge.

The suspension "cables" were made from flat wrought iron plates riveted together to give a "cable" eight inches (203mm) wide by an inch and a half (38mm) thick.[20]

The lattice girders which tie the towers together are cased with more ornamental iron work bearing the date of the erection of the bridge, 1889 and underneath the ironwork appears the inscription ‘The gift of Michael Arthur First Baron Burton’. The bridge was tested by loading the middle section of the bridge with several tons of old rails and its rigidity was further tested by 20 men from the Staffordshire regiment marching in synchronised double time across the bridge. This latter test was considered, in 1889, to be the most severe test to which a suspension bridge could be exposed.

The footway was originally of red deal (Pinus sylvestris/European Redwood), 3 inches (7.62 cm) higher in the middle than at the sides to ensure water runoff. The bridge was lit by six lamps in total, two Victorian lamps hanging from each of the cross braces between the towers with heavy cast iron lamp pillars in character, and four more similar lamps affixed to the towers at the ends of the bridge. The total weight of the iron work of the bridge is over 200 tons (203 tonnes).

At both ends of the bridge span the stone substructure on which the superstructure rests was built by Messrs Lowe and Sons, and the carving of the patterns was executed by Mr Hilton of Victoria Street, Burton.

There is also the interesting 81-span Stapenhill Viaduct over the flood plain; this now has modern steel decking on the original cast iron columns.[21]

The total cost of the structure and viaduct, including acquiring the river-crossing monopoly from the Marquis of Anglesey, was in the region of £20,000.


By 1969, after eighty years serving the people of Burton and Stapenhill the elements had taken their toll. The Burton Mail reported that the bridge was in a "serious condition". There was a suggestion that the council (which now owned the bridge) should dismantle it and that a new one be built at a cost of £60,000. Instead, specialists were called in to examine the whole structure, and concluded that the ornamental features and ironwork were too heavy and were causing excessive stress to the structure and should be removed. It was described by the borough surveyor of the time as just dead weight, and this was done.

The council agreed to renovate the bridge. The bridge was enshrouded in scaffolding for nearly a year. When this was removed there was public disappointment that the bridge had lost all its embellishments, and that the previous colour scheme of gardenia and plum had been replaced by black and white. Local newspapers reported on the 'Rape of the Ferry Bridge'. The Burton Civic Society achieved Listed status for the structure, when, on 22 June 1979, Burton's Ferry Bridge was Grade II listed by English Heritage.

Two of the original cast iron lions and one of the plaques which had stood on the piers to the bridge are now (2016) on display at the National Brewery Centre in Burton, and a few other items removed for scrap in 1969, e.g. a Victorian lamp, can be found in the gardens and homes of local residents who saved them from the scrapyards.

In the mid- to late-2000s Burton Civic Society became aware that the bridge structure was deteriorating dramatically and brought this to the attention of both the local East Staffordshire Borough Council (ESBC) and to Staffordshire County Council (SCC), as responsibility for the bridge had passed from ESBC to SCC. Quotations and estimates were obtained for the refurbishment, and for the renovation and replacement of the embellishments that had been removed. However, the overall cost was prohibitive.

There was much public concern that, if left to deteriorate further, the demolition of the bridge and its replacement with a modern structure was again a possibility. Lobbying by the Burton Civic Society continued, and by 2014 - when the bridge celebrated its 125th anniversary - the SCC acknowledged that work on the bridge was imperative. A campaign to restore the bridge was started by a social media group called "Friends of the Ferry Bridge", which had over 400 active members. SCC set up a Working Group to discuss the refurbishment of the bridge with representatives from ESBC, the Environment Agency, Historic England, Burton Civic Society and from the "Friends of the Ferry Bridge".

The majority of the refurbishment suggestions made by SCC were immediately accepted by the Group and a planning application for the required works was granted by ESBC. The "Friends of the Ferry Bridge" were asked to help choose the colours, and chose to maintain the main bridge in black and white with the rosettes or quatrefoils painted with red centres. The local population were advised from June 2015 of the closure of the footbridge which, even in 2015, 126 years since its opening, continued to be the major footpath linking the Stapenhill Ward with the town centre.

Work on the refurbishment started on 7 September 2015 and is due to be completed in about a year.[22] The refurbishment will ultimately cost around £1 million. It is being Project Managed by Amey, a Company that manages infrastructure and public services across the UK. The work has been hindered by some severe weather conditions, high river levels, gales etc. which have affected the ability to carry out the work safely. Due to the extent of the work being undertaken the bridge is closed, with traffic diverted over the nearby St Peter's Road Bridge.

The refurbishment has also resulted in the cancellation of the Burton Regatta[23] which has been a popular annual event since it was first held in 1865, one of the oldest annual sporting events in the country and nationally recognised as one of the finest remaining river regattas. The event attracts competitors from all over the country to compete for an array of silver trophies which is itself one of the finest collections in the United Kingdom. The regatta has only rarely been cancelled.

The bridge was finally reopened to the public on the 21st October 2016.


"The Friends of Ferry Bridge" community action group played a major role in pushing forward the restoration project. On 4 November 2016, at the annual "Impact on the Community Awards" ceremony of the Trent and Dove Housing Association held at Pirelli Stadium, this Group won the "Best Community Project" Award, presented by Sally Gunnell OBE.[24]

The different regions of the Institution of Structural Engineers[25] present awards annually in different categories.[26] In 2016, the Midland Counties region presented the Ferry Bridge with their award in the Pedestrian Bridge category. The Ceremony took place on 03.11.16 at Edgbaston Stadium.


  1. A.O.F. Guide to Burton-on-Trent, 1911, p.13
  2. http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk/category/surviving/ferry/ferry2
  3. http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk/category/surviving/ferry/ferry2
  4. https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/transport/staffshighways/roadworks/schemeinfo/eaststaffs/Ferry-Bridge-Refurbishment/Ferry-Bridge-Images/Ferry-Bridge-Images.aspx#ad-image-0
  5. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1209720555745005&set=gm.667460716749574&type=3&theater
  6. http://www.thepeerage.com/p2839.htm
  7. "Burton upon Trent: The Development of Industry" by C.C. Owen, Phillimore & Co., 1978, p. 120
  8. A.O.F. Guide to Burton-on-Trent, 1911, p.13
  9. Paget MSS, Wm Wyatt to Uxbridge, 19 May 1753
  10. Paget MSS, Wm Wyatt to Uxbridge, 17 May 1755 and 19 Feb 1764
  11. P.D. 3 March 1807
  12. Shaw, p.27, see Denis Stuart reference below
  13. http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=674544.msg5195182#msg5195182 Picture 34D
  14. White's Directory of Staffordshire (1851) p. 548
  15. Victoria County History of Staffordshire, Vol.II, p. 150
  16. "Burton upon Trent: The Development of Industry" by C.C. Owen, Phillimore & Co., 1978, p. 120
  17. "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland", A. Barnard, 1889, Vol. 1 pp. 409
  18. "Burton upon Trent: The Development of Industry" by C.C. Owen, Phillimore & Co., 1978, p. 120
  19. "Burton upon Trent: The Development of Industry" by C.C. Owen, Phillimore & Co., 1978, p. 121
  20. https://www.ice.org.uk/disciplines-and-resources/ice-library-and-digital-resources/historical-engineering-works/details?hewID=2746#details
  21. https://www.ice.org.uk/disciplines-and-resources/ice-library-and-digital-resources/historical-engineering-works/details?hewID=2746#details
  22. https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/transport/staffshighways/roadworks/schemeinfo/eaststaffs/Ferry-Bridge-Refurbishment/Ferry-Bridge-Refurbishment.aspx
  23. http://burtonregatta.co.uk/
  24. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1244082225642171&set=a.113825282001210.15925.100001212165273&type=3&theater
  25. https://www.istructe.org
  26. https://www.istructe.org/news-articles/2016/regions/regional-awards-open-for-entries

External links

Coordinates: 52°47′40″N 1°37′34″W / 52.79457°N 1.626021°W / 52.79457; -1.626021

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