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Penny-pinching wrangles that lie behind sad demise of Seven Arches Bridge

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: May 03, 2014

Above and below left, Seven Arches Bridge had stood for years as a means of allowing the Ashbourne to Buxton railway line to cross the Bentley Brook but on  April 21, 1980, it collapsed.

Above and below left, Seven Arches Bridge had stood for years as a means of allowing the Ashbourne to Buxton railway line to cross the Bentley Brook but on April 21, 1980, it collapsed.

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ASHBOURNE has lost many of its architectural treasures over time but 34 years ago, almost to the day, we lost one of our most impressive viaducts.

Seven Arches Bridge had stood for years as a means of allowing the Ashbourne to Buxton railway line to cross the Bentley Brook but on April 21, 1980, it collapsed.

Nowadays, barely any of the once grand structure remains and most of the thousands of walkers and cyclists who use the Tissington Trail, which follows the route of the old railway, wonder why there is a huge dip a few hundred yards from the start.

But the story of how Seven Arches met its demise begins with a bitter dispute between the Peak Park Joint Planning Board (now the Peak District National Park Authority) and the West Derbyshire District Council (now the Derbyshire Dales District Council).

It had come to the national park board's attention that the bridge was in a bad way and members were keen to take the cheapest available option, to replace the entire grand structure with a £105,000 flat-topped replacement. They got as far as employing a contractor to carry out the work when it dawned on them they would need planning permission.

The district council was less than pleased with the plans for a cheap replacement and stuck the boot in, insisting on a proper repair job that was due to land the peak park board with a further bill of £30,000.

Eventually, work got under way on patching up the 60ft arches and Derby contractor GF Tomlinson and Sons was brought in to do job.

Crane operator, 45-year-old Harry Gallagher, from Rolleston-on-Dove, was in the wrong place at the wrong time when his machine became the straw that broke the camel's back.

The Seven Arches rescue effort had been left too late by the feuding authorities and the whole lot came tumbling down, with the crane following shortly after and poor Mr Gallagher stuck inside. He suffered a twisted lower back but was discharged from hospital shortly afterwards.

It was, in fact, miraculous that nobody suffered any serious injuries when the bridge toppled. Had the accident happened moments earlier, workers may have still been carrying out structural repairs underneath the arches but, fortunately, they had moved out in time.

Also, had the river been in a state of high water, which was always going to be a possibility in April, Mr Gallagher could have been in further trouble as his stricken crane would have been in danger of being swept away.

At the time, Derbyshire County Council stepped in and promised the bridge would be replaced. That never happened.

All that is left of the bridge now are pictures and memories, along with bitterness at what had happened.

Locals felt angry at the delays in repairing the old monument and were confident that, given it would only be used by cyclists, walkers and the odd horse rider, it could have survived for another 100 years or so.

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