Road bridge. medieval with a 1667 east extension, C18 extensions to both sides completed by 1787, an east extension in 1821, and 2015 to 2016 parapets and restoration of the outer walls following the removal of 1996 extensions (which had replaced late-C19 extensions) and early-C20 Hennebique-type platforms to each side.
Reasons for Designation
Rochdale Bridge, a medieval bridge with a 1667 east extension, C18 extensions to both sides completed by 1787, an east extension in 1821, and 2015 to 2016 parapets and restoration work, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a multi-phased bridge originating in medieval times with later extensions to widen it in 1667, the C18 and the early C19;
* the structure encapsulates evolving styles of bridge design with the medieval bridge built with a Gothic pointed central arch flanked by round outer arches, and in the C18 extensions built in a classical style with circular arches separated by wide pilasters and dentillated voussoirs.
* the building of the original bridge shows a considerable investment in the pre-industrial transport infrastructure of Rochdale, suggesting the growth of the settlement and growing importance of the route between Halifax and Manchester, which had previously depended upon an adjacent fording point;
* the subsequent widenings of the bridge and the progressively wider angling on the southern side provide a material record both of Rochdale’s continuing expansion and the increasing size of coaches or carts as the volume of goods and people using the route grew.
* the bridge is situated in the centre of Rochdale and contributes to its civic and public character, benefiting from a spatial group value with a number of historic listed buildings, including the Grade I Town Hall and the Grade II former Post Office, adjacent former Oldham Joint Stock Bank (HSBC) and former Union Bank of Manchester.
Rochdale grew up around the route between Manchester and Halifax which navigated the steep valley slopes down to the valley bottom where there was a fording point, and subsequently also a stone bridge, over the River Roch. The original Rochdale Bridge is medieval, although the date of its construction is not known. The narrow three-span masonry bridge had a pointed central arch flanked by round outer arches, a style characteristic of bridges built between 1200 and 1600. A 1324 document refers to ‘John of the Brig’, which suggests that a bridge existed at this time. A C13 or early C14 bridge would coincide with the creation of the medieval borough, reconstruction of the parish church and establishment of a Market Charter in 1251, although cannot be verified. In the late medieval times the town began to grow as a woollen industry began to develop, which may have led to an improvement of the transport infrastructure and building of a bridge. A ‘Survey of the Manor’ in 1626 noted that the bridge to the west of the ford was ‘in decay’ though, which would seem to suggest that the bridge had already been standing a long time by this date.
In 1667 the medieval bridge had a narrow bridge extension built abutting its east side, widening the bridge to allow two carriages or carts to pass simultaneously. The new bridge was also of three spans with round outer arches and a pointed central arch, though the crown of the arch was slightly higher than the original. It appears that the southern arch of the medieval bridge may have been rebuilt at this time as the masonry differs from that of the rest of the bridge, using smaller stones.
An ever increasing flow of traffic over the course of the C18 led to a widening of the bridge on both sides. A description of Rochdale Bridge in 1787 by Edmond Holme recorded accurate dimensions which show that these two extensions were in existence by that date. The bridge on the west side abuts the medieval bridge. It comprised three round arches separated by wide pilasters, the southern two of broadly similar size with a smaller arch to the north which disappeared into the bank. The bridge on the east side was a narrow, tapering extension which was a single-stone width at its northern end and widened out at its southern end to ease the sharp turn of the road on the southern bank. An artist’s impression of around 1820 showed the east side of the bridge with three round arches. A crowd is shown on the bridge watching a bull-baiting, which was being held below in the river bed; on 8 November 1820 this caused the east parapet to collapse with eleven people losing their lives.
The collapse of the parapet resulted in a further widening of the bridge in 1821 to ‘facilitate the communication between the parts of the town on opposite sides of the river’. The bridge extension on the east side of the already widened bridge had a marked curve to its outer, eastern face, especially towards the south side. This helped larger vehicles crossing the bridge and climbing or descending Drake Street, a wide new street constructed around 1810 and forming a major route out of Rochdale towards Manchester. The extension comprised three flattened segmental arches diminishing in size from the southern to the northern side.
In 1864, the General Purpose Committee recommended that the bridge should be widened again on its west side ‘to the extent of 12 feet and rounding the corners in to the Wood Estate’ as part of the development of the Town Hall and Square. A newspaper report of January 1869 noted that the widening was on the point of completion. The extension was a flat-decked bridge supported by stone bridge piers with cast-iron beams supporting the deck and a decorative balustraded parapet. By 1881 it appears that the bridge had been similarly expanded on its east side, with both extensions shown on the 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey map published in 1893. Around 1882 a second bridge known as Wellington Bridge had been constructed to the east, at the bottom of Drake Street.
In the early C20 it was decided to culvert the river with a platform to create a flat surface for a variety of uses in the constricted town centre and to hide the polluted river from view. Hennebique-type concrete structures were constructed on either side of the extended bridge obscuring it from view. In May 1903, the covering of the River Roch between Rochdale Bridge and Wellington Bridge to the east commenced. It was constructed by Leeds-based contractors D Jones & Company, subsequently known as Yorkshire Hennebique Contracting Co Ltd, and was completed in July 1904. As such it was at the cutting edge of concrete bridge construction in England, built at the same time as the two Rochdale bridges on Mellor Street spanning the River Spodden (Grade II, National Heritage List for England: 1412243). The platform was used for the tramway centre, with two tramway shelters shown on the 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey map published in 1910. In April 1909, construction began on extending the covering of the river westwards to form a road junction with Newgate. The work was again undertaken by the Yorkshire Hennebique Contracting Co Ltd and was completed in July 1910.
Further extensions of the river covering were undertaken in the early 1920s, widening the area in front of the town hall to the west and covering of the river eastwards between Wellington Bridge to Weir Street.
In 1996 the Victorian extensions using cast-iron beams were replaced by concrete and steel composite bridges because the original beams had become corroded and not fit for purpose. The stone piers/cutwaters were left in-situ. The Hennebique-type covering between Rochdale and Wellington Bridges was also heavily rendered during 1995 to 1997 repair work, using a modern proprietary polymer modified sprayed concrete.
In March 2015 work started on a restoration project which involved the removal of the 1996 extensions and the Victorian piers/cutwaters, and also the partial de-culverting of the river with the removal of the Hennibique-type platform of 1909 to 1910 built between Rochdale Bridge and Newgate to the west and part of the 1903 to 1904 Hennebique-type platform to the east. The uncovering of the river to either side reinstated the bridge as an entity and also reduced flood risk. The outer walls of the re-exposed bridge required restoration work as they had been damaged by the later extensions. In addition, new parapet walls were needed as the previous culverting had resulted in their removal. The work was completed in June 2016.
Road bridge, medieval with a 1667 east extension, C18 extensions to both sides completed by 1787, an east extension in 1821, and 2015 to 2016 parapets and restoration of outer walls following the removal of 1996 extensions (which had replaced late-C19 extensions) and early-C20 Hennebique-type platforms to each side.
PLAN: bridge carrying the road over the River Roch. The bridge is wider at the south end with a straight outer spandrel wall on the west side and a curved outer spandrel wall on the east side.
MEDIEVAL BRIDGE: this bridge has two circular outer arches and a four-centred pointed central arch set on a projecting plinth. Later extensions to each side obscure all but the barrels of each arch and the lowest portion of the voussoirs, which project below the slightly higher C18 bridge on the west side. The arches are constructed of well-dressed sandstone blocks; the masonry of the southern arch uses smaller stone blocks. The central arch has ashlar-faced voussoirs.
1667 EXTENSION: this narrow, tapering extension abuts the east side of the medieval bridge and is wider at its southern end. It too has two circular outer arches and a similar four-centred pointed, central arch. It is built of similar, well-dressed sandstone blocks.
C18 (pre 1787) BRIDGES: the C18 widening of the bridge comprises an extension on each side. The west bridge abuts the west side of the medieval bridge. It has three circular arches separated by wide pilasters with cutwaters; the smaller northern arch is partially obscured by a modern walkway and retaining wall. The bridge is constructed of well-dressed, regular sandstone blocks with dentillated voussoirs to the arches. The outer spandrel wall has visible original stonework and voussoirs to the lower part of the wall. The cutwaters, pilasters, upper part of the spandrel wall and the parapet are modern stonework related to the restoration (2015 to 2016).
The east bridge abuts the east side of the 1667 extension. It too is a narrow, tapering extension which is wider at its southern end. The extension has three circular arches and is constructed of well-dressed sandstone blocks. The outer spandrel wall is obscured by the 1821 bridge extension.
1821 EXTENSION: this wide extension abuts the east side of the C18 east bridge and has a marked curve to its outer spandrel wall with three flattened segmental arches diminishing in size towards the northern side. It is constructed of rock-faced sandstone blocks with stepped voussoirs and a shaped cutwater between the central and southern arch. The upper part of the outer spandrel wall is modern, rock-faced stonework with smoother dressed stone blocks forming a new parapet wall (2015 to 2016).