Transcribed from documents in the LHS Archives, up-dated
Midland Railway Bridges
The Midland Railway opened their main line from Bedford to London in 1868, and to start with they only had two tracks, but planned to have four. Most of the over bridges were built for the four track but under bridges were built in two halves as needed, and on these can be seen a joint in the middle showing where the two halves were built.
Removal of bridges
The southern-most bridge in Harpenden is Ayers End Lane, a brick arch, until 1978. Electrification of the main line meant that many of the bridges needed to be removed and the opportunity was taken to rebuild these to give clearance for the electric wires. Ayers End Lane was closed on 7th May 1978 and the side walls were removed, and the tracks filled in with sleepers. On Sunday 14th May all trains were stopped and at 4.40am the bridge was blown up. The heap of rubble was loaded onto a waiting train for removal. A new concrete deck was laid on 4th June 1978 and the bridge reopened soon after.
The same had happened with Cross Lane Bridge in September 1977 when that was blown up in the early hours of 24th September 1977. It was a damp foggy morning, so there was not much to be seen when it was blown up. The road crane that loaded the rubble finished its work but on trying to leave the site could not get up the bank again. It had come down alright but much digging and packing with sleepers was needed before it could get up into the field again, meanwhile of course trains could not use those tracks. The new deck was laid on 6th November and the bridge reopened in January 1978 but by this time Cross Lane had been closed to vehicles so this gave us a rather large bridge for a footpath.
The section of Cravells Road under the bridge was handed over to the local authorities on 4th April 1882 along with £20 to cover repairs to the road, but the railway maintained the right to widen the bridge when four tracks were needed. A new deck was provided for the fast lines side on 26th April 1959. The deck had been prefabricated in Harpenden Station goods yard and transported here by rail.
Skew Bridge, said to be the largest of its kind in the world, is a wonderful example of what the engineers of yesteryear were really capable of. There is a persistent story that the Heath Road houses were built to house the builders of this bridge but in fact houses were demolished to make way for the bridge and one on the corner of Heath Road remained in railway ownership until the present housing was built. The second half was started on 5th September 1891 and when completed gave four tracks into Harpenden Station.
An advert for the Herts Advertiser was painted on it early in 1933 but the council objected and it was painted out in October. That paint went long ago leaving the original advert still showing. That original painting must be one of the best investments that Herts Ad ever made!
Crabtree Lane, again skew of the railway is built in two halves and has some clever brickwork in its arched top.
The footbridge at the station originally only covered the fast lines but was extended to the new up slow platform that was opened in 1906. With electrification the old lattice based footbridge was to be removed and work started in October 1980 to demolish the old building on the up slow platform to allow room for the base of the new bridge to be built. By January the three pillars had been built but on the 14th the centre one was demolished again and rebuilt.
The first half of the new bridge was erected 2nd March 1981 and the east side the following Sunday 8th March 1981, and completed June 1981. And the old footbridge was removed in July 1981. True it was rather tired by now but compared with the ill designed and badly maintained monstrosity placed in a rather strange position it had more interest about it. This bridge too was demolished, when upgrading of stations included bridges with lifts in 2012.
Bridge over Station Road
The two bridges alongside each other for many years had a reputation for leaking water onto passers-by and on two Sundays, 16th and 23rd September 1956 the decks were replaced. Road traffic was diverted round Sun Lane and Carlton Road whilst two railway cranes lifted the new bridges into place.
The Pedestrian Tunnel
Here also is a pedestrian tunnel built following many complaints about the narrow footpath. Work started in January 1967 and the concrete tubes were pushed through the embankment by hydraulic rams. It was completed by 1st March 1967 and became an ideal spot for graffiti artists to mess up. By 1997 the tunnel was badly in need of renovation, and St George’s school students painted the second set of murals. In 2012 Harpenden Youth Council provided designs for a new set of murals, which have never been completed.
Bigger, longer lorries in Station Road
All too frequently the road and sometimes the railway have to be closed when lorries get stuck underneath it, when drivers consider the warning notices do not apply to them. Finally ‘crash barriers’ were erected on free-standing towers, so the any impact was prevented from affecting the bridges.
Further bridge replacements
Carlton Road footbridge, again a Midland Railway lattice work bridge had to go due to safety reasons on electrification and was demolished on 26th November 1978 when the bridge was lifted off and put on railway wagons and the centre pier was removed and also loaded. The end walls were raised and on 10th December the new bridge was put in place and the footpath reopened.
Sun Lane Bridge is one of those that the builders obviously never foresaw the importance it now has as a heavily used road. Built at an angle to the railway the junctions both sides are poor, so when BR announced their intention of rebuilding it, they asked Hertfordshire County Council if they would contribute towards building a new bridge on a better alignment, but they refused and so the bridge was simply raised 18 inches and we now have that steep slope up to it. Work started on 21st June 1978 and the road was closed to traffic but not pedestrians, and reopened again in October but was still not quite finished. The end wall was knocked down the following January by a car, taking 6 months to rebuild it but has been hit several times since.
Hollybush Lane Bridge was an ideal train spotting bridge, but even this was lost in June 1979 when the walls were raised and capped with unclimbable casing high enough that you could not see over. This bridge is longer than most as it also had to cross the Nickey Line as well as the main lines.
The railway through Batford from Hatfield to Luton opened in 1860 and closed in 1966. Most of the route has been kept as a walkway so Sewer Lane Bridge still has a purpose in carrying pedestrians and served as a height restriction to lorries wanting to use Sewer Lane, until it was closed off at the end of 1970.
Crabtree Lane Bridge was over a deep cutting and on closure of the line was felled and the cutting filled to give a slope up to the road from the former track bed.
Station Road Bridge still stands even though traffic has attacked it on many occasions. The parapet walls were rebuilt in July 1956 and a footbridge built alongside due to the narrow path on the bridge itself, erected shortly before the line closed. It is strange that the bridge has never been removed and the road improved here as its original purpose ceased 30 years ago.
By the junction of Station Road and Coldharbour Lane a footpath leads up to Manland Common. Originally this crossed the railway by a level crossing, but was replaced by a tunnel in November 1894 and kiss gates erected at the boundary of railway land, but these were removed in October 1952 in order to help people with prams on their way to Harpenden. Known locally as “the subway” it was removed in October 1971 when Waveney Road was built on the route of the railway line and the pathway realigned to allow the houses to be built.
Ox Lane was retained as a height restriction on lorries and carried the footpath over the road.
Westfield Road crossed a deep cutting that regularly flooded causing problems for the railway, but the bridge was felled and the cutting again filled, the footpath continuing on towards East Hyde.
The Nickey line bridges
The branch line from Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden, joining the main line at Hollybush Lane, was opened in 1877. It closed to passenger traffic in 1947 and to all traffic in 1979. The track was cleared in 1983, and a footpath and cycleway was opened in 1985. In 2006 the Friends of the Nickey Line was formed to work with local councils and Countryside Management to maintain and improve the path for walkers, runners, cyclists and wildlife lovers.
The line crossed Luton Road, and the bridge was retained. However, the bridge linking Roundwood Park to Roundwood Halt was removed and the path raised to the level of the embankments.
The photos below, taken by John Marlow on a sunny February day in 2020, follows along the Nickey Way from the site of the bridge at Roundwood Halt to the bridge over Luton Road.