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The Good, the Standard, the Ugly: Victoria Bridge

Jonathan Schofield on a dilapidated link between Salford and Manchester

Written by . Published on September 16th 2009.

The Good, the Standard, the Ugly: Victoria Bridge

Category: Good

I’ve got the harmonica. Have you got the banjo?

Shall we start then?
All right.

One, two, three, four.......
'Hurrooh what a bother, this, that and the other,
All jumbled together – a comical sight!
My oath I declare on ‘tis just like a fair on,
Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night.'

What did we just do then?
We sang a nineteenth century song about one of the worst maintained listed structures in Manchester: Victoria Bridge. One of the worst maintained, but symbolically, one of the most important. The 1839 bridge slightly to the south of the Cathedral leading into Salford stands on the site of the original bridge between the two cities, was part of the A6 between London and Scotland for centuries, and had a battle take place on and over it. The song refers to the extraordinary fair that took place on it on Saturday evenings.

Who was the architect?
We don’t know. But we know it was completed in 1839 and is one of very few Manchester bridges built down a slope, in this case between the high ground of Manchester and the lower, often flooded, area that is now old Salford. It’s stone and leaps the river in one powerful elongated arch. There are orbs on scrolls decorating the bridge. These refer to the royal authority of the recently crowned Queen Victoria. Construction had started in 1837, the first year of Victoria's reign. The total cost was £20,800. The first vehicle that crossed the bridge was a wagon belonging to Messrs Lupton and Adamthwaite, brewers, Cook Street, Salford, It was officially opened 12 years later by the Queen herself. A typesetter at The Times was dismissed when he couldn’t resist amending the line ‘Her Majesty passed over the bridge and duly declared it open’. He was fired because he changed the ‘a’ in ‘passed’ to an ‘i’.

Ah yes typos, none of them on Confidential eh? More history please.
Verrie fonny. Anyway the first bridge was wooden and built a millennium ago. A stone bridge was built in the fourteenth century which had three arches and a two-storeyed chapel plus a cell for a priest who prayed for the soul of Thomas del Bothe who’d provided the money for the chapel. Here, travellers would stop and pray for their souls and good old Thomas’s, and be given alms and food before journeying on. In 1649 when Manchester was being ruled by the Puritans the chapel became a gaol, where drunks were put until released on a payment of a fine. The landlord where they got drunk often had to pay a fine as well.

You mentioned a battle?
Yes indeed. The bridge was the scene of one of the first battles of the English Civil War. During the war, Salford was Royalist while Manchester was Parliamentarian. The Royalists besieged Manchester and attacked across the bridge several times in 1642. They were repulsed. Manchester was never taken and became the centre of Parliamentary influence in the North West. There’s a mural showing the battle in the Town Hall by Ford Madox Brown. Indeed the bridge was often at the centre of things. This report from 1616 is interesting: " Anno 1616 was an extraordinary flood, called from the day Lambard' s Flood, in which the water suddenly rose many yards plumme above the ordinary course, that men stood upon Salford Bridge, and laded up water with a little piggin. It is a easy matter with God to drowne a towne ; yea, a world . "

And the state of the bridge today?
It’s shocking, left to rot shamefully by the cities of Manchester and Salford. Thus the one time most important bridge in the region is a mess, with broken ironwork and vandalised stone orbs. On the south side a 2.5m willow grows out of the stonework. Simply disgraceful.

So what’s going to happen to Victoria Bridge?
Well it’s right in the centre of a huge scheme to turn this area into a vibrant and living part of the city centre. There are some visualisations shown below. All this is apparently still going to go ahead – although at a slower pace for obvious reasons. Part of the plan is put a boulevard through the Greengate area of Salford which would terminate at the Manchester end in a greened-up footbridge across the River Irwell with plants deliberately placed there unlike the one on Victoria Bridge. Aesthetically you can see why they are doing this, it delivers a striking finish to the planned boulevard. But is it necessary? It’s uncertain how or when Victoria Bridge will be restored yet, but why not use this ancient crossing as a focus of the re-development rather than building another bridge? And one last thing.

Go on
All together now.
‘If troubled with pthisic, there are doctors with physic,
With lozenges, boluses, poppys and pills,
With ointment for drawing, with baccy for chawing,
Would blister your chops, till your red in the gills.
There’s snuff for your noses, and salve for your toeses,
With poultry and pigs, pickled pork and police,
With pokers, and fendyrs, and newspaper vendors,
And Stretford black puddings a penny a piece.’

You have a terrible voice, you know?

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Old 3DSeptember 16th 2009.

Those visuals are a couple of years old, the new plan is a bit different, those water features are gone and it's now a more open space, the new bridge is still there, but once it reaches the Salford side it opens into an arc of steps that curve away from Victoria Bridge; think Exchange Square.

Burt CodeineSeptember 16th 2009.

You know, I was wandering around the city at the weekend and the shear amount of foliage growing from our buildings is a bloomin disgrace. The Albert Bridge is just one of many examples of this neglect. I used to tall visitors (if they hadn't done so already) to look up and take in the majesty of some of the country's finest Victorian architecture...but I don't tend to do that anymore. The devil is in the detail and a little TLC, a few bob (and perhaps some respectful lighting - see Prague) could see this bridge brought up to scratch. Bruntwood have done wonders with turning a backwater street into something approaching special (New York Street)...other than that, lets wait for this greengate master plan to take hold...

Ali McGowanSeptember 16th 2009.

Exchange Square is horrible :( - dead trees, broken water features and far, far too built up. The addition of the metal bars on the walls (to prevent skateboarders using it) just made it even worse. Such a wasted regen. opportunity. Let's not make the same mistake again...

Just do it!September 16th 2009.

I assume this is a listed structure and maybe English Heritage would support a restoration. Has anyone asked Manchester Planning?

I know...September 16th 2009.

Those renders are very old, Ask have changed the public realm.. and lets just say its not very impressive! When you look at cities like Barcelona they take pride in their public space, where here a lot of developers but any old meaningless junk to fill the space for as cheap as possible!

rough around the edgesSeptember 16th 2009.

The whole are at that end of deansgate is a bit of a sham -both on the salford and manchester sides. The rail bridges over deansgate into victoria are a flaky, litter strewn, dirty mess (with the ubiquitous plants of course). It these were cleaned and painted, they would make a great entrance/exit for the north end of the city. The road/pavements around here on the side streets are rubbish, broken and run down. Lets not forget, there are probably a few hundred people living here too. Most laughable is the excuse of cleaning the Puma "etching off the bridge on deansgate" Why pressure wash part of it. Its just made it look worse. At least before, there was something ordered and designed. Now its just a haphazard washed out mess. Sheer lazyness

Just WilliamSeptember 16th 2009.

What would be brilliant would be for Manchester City Council to put the statue of Oliver Cromwell back on the Manchester side of Victoria Bridge.They moved it to Wythenshaw Park in the 60s.This was the spot on which the Manchester Roundheads saw off the Salford Cavaliers.It would bring an important bit of history back to this forgotten place - and put a good looking statue somewhere were lots of people can see it.

Burt CodeineSeptember 16th 2009.

So long 'open air NCP car park' then.You're right Simon - the back of Harvy Nicks (and the side bit which leads to Exchange Sq) does indeed turn it's back on this back...and it's a shocking piece of 'architecture' too.

Pedro1874September 16th 2009.

How funny, my pet hate and embarrassment about Manchester is all the trees/foliage growing where they shouldn't so close to the centre. The first thing I noticed when I returned over twelve years ago and I still see them everywhere - disgraceful.

LaurenSeptember 16th 2009.

Did I hear right a short while back that someones proposing to the council that the river be reopened as a thoroughfare for water transport? It would need a major clean up operation but could be a major quirk for tourism!

LeeSeptember 16th 2009.

Years ago, when things were shipped up and down the country by water, waterways including rivers and canals were dredged annually so they were deep enough for transport, theses days they are quite shallow, this is why floods happen more frequently, it would be great to have trips on the river but they need to sort out the shere state of it first, it amazes me everytime im in the city, how under used the rivers are and how we really dont make very much of them whatsoever!

SimonSeptember 16th 2009.

The bridge used to be something of a 'gateway' into the city with buses stopping at the old Station at the bottom or crossing to go to Cannon Street. There was also Shambles Square and the shops around there. Since the redevelopment of the area it is now nothing more than "just behind Harvey Nicks"It should certainly be preserved and looked after. but the city has quite literally turned it's back on the area

PeteSeptember 16th 2009.

Great article!"...about one of the worst maintained listed structures in Manchester"Sadly it's got a lot of competition. The Store Street Aqueduct is also in a bad state, with parts of it being gradually broken up by leaks, ice and weeds.Is the neglected old firestation by Piccadilly Station listed? It's a wonderfully grand building, but in its present state it's not really the best thing to greet visitors to the city.

Jonathan Schofield - editorSeptember 16th 2009.

Sorry Old3D, I left a message with Central Salford Regeneration and they haven't got back to me yet. When they do and send me new images I'll post them up.

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