An idyllic section of the river Dee passes through the Eaton Hall estate, itself part of the Grosvenor estate, with Eaton Hall one side of the river and Aldford on the other. Connecting the two parts of the estate across the river is the Grade-1 listed Eaton Hall Bridge (otherwise known as Iron Bridge), built in cast iron by William Hazledine (1763–1840) to a design by Thomas Telford (1757–1834). Like Aldford village itself, also part of the Eaton Hall estate, the bridge and its immediate surroundings are manicured, coiffured, and meticulously polished. Funny to think of the gracefully decorative bridge as a direct outcome of the innovative Industrial Revolution, one of the dirtiest, noisiest and most polluting episodes in history.
A public footpath crosses the bridge from the south and continues to follow the river north on the western bank towards Chester (a few days ago, I described a walk to the bridge along the footpath from Churton, heading north along the eastern bank of the Dee). The bridge is still used for road traffic today, but because it is on a private estate, the daily load has always been very limited, and the bridge had remained in good condition since it was completed in 1824. Repairs were required in 1980, when some of the iron struts (load-bearing beams) were replaced with steel.
The Eaton Hall Bridge was commissioned by the Marquis of Westminster, Robert Grosvenor who reinvented Eton Hall in an imitation and extravagant Gothic style (by William Porden) and simultaneously restored the gardens and driveways. It seems surprising that he chose a traditional aesthetic for his house but a modern iron bridge to connect the two parts of the estate, and that may account for the ecclesiastical-style ornamental flourishes that embellish the bridge’s design, also derived from Gothic architecture.
The Eaton Hall bridge was modelled not on Thomas Telford’s more ambitious suspension bridge projects over the Menai Straits and Conwy river, but on his earlier Bonar (completed 1812) and Craigellachie (completed 1815) bridges. It was a formula that worked, and was used again after Eaton Hall Bridge had been completed, with Telford’s Mythe and Holt Fleet bridges.
Like its predecessors, Eaton Hall Bridge was made of cast iron that was produced in William Hazledine’s iron foundry at Plas Kynaston at Cefn Mawr before being sent by canal to Chester and down the Dee to Eaton Hall. Hazledine and Telford had met when Hazledine had a small foundry in Shrewsbury. Telford arrived in Shrewsbury to become county surveyor for Shropshire, responsible for all public building works, and the two men, both Freemasons, became friends and professional collaborators. Hazledine trained as a millwright, but his family owned a small foundry and Hazeldine went on to grow his iron casting business with the large Coleham Foundry at Shrewsbury. He established the Plas Kynaston foundry to service the construction of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct (1794-1805), thereafter taking advantage of the canal network to carry his cast iron in segments to be transhipped by river or sea to where it was needed. The civil engineer and surveyor for the Eaton Hall Bridge job was William Crosley (b.1802-d.1838), a well-respected canal and railway engineer who is not recorded as a contributor in previous Telford-related projects. The construction of Eaton Hall Bridge was supervised by Hazledine’s right hand man, William Stuttle, who implemented most, if not all, of Hazledine’s works on behalf of Telford.
The bridge consists of a single 150ft (46m) arched span, the same as that of the Bonar and Craigellachie bridges, formed of four ribs (30 x 2 ft / 9.15m x 62cm) that were cast in seven sections. The ribs are connected with wrought iron bolts and braced by transverse plates. It has open spandrels (the roughly triangular sections between arch and bridge top) featuring lattice bracing. Over the top of the arch, the bridge is fitted with cast iron deck plates, which support the metalled roadway. These are bolted together and lie over the full width of the bridge, 17ft (5.2m) wide.
The stone abutments at either end are made of plain, pale yellow ashlar sandstone, and curve outwards to meet the river bank. At the entrance to the bridge at either end, and on both sides, are short octagonal posts. These posts are consistent with other Telford bridges, most of which have some sort of carved stonework detail flanking each end of the bridge, usually considerably more elaborate.
The Bonar, Craigellachie and the later but very similar Mythe and Holt Fleet bridges were elegant but rather plain. At Eaton Hall bridge a lively ornamental element was added. The spandrels, spandrel struts and outer arch ribs were provided with decorative cast iron motifs that give it a slightly frivolous edge, consisting of trefoils, quatrefoils and mouchettes. Cast iron fretwork (a repeating design of interlaced linear elements) is also bolted to the outer bracings, something that was done at other bridges but generally with a much simpler motif. I don’t know what the original colour arrangement was supposed to be, but today it looks excellent in light blue and white. The build date is cast into a the crown of the arch on the south side.
None of Telford’s earlier or later bridges have this delicate ornamentation. The only exception of which I am aware is Waterloo Bridge at Betws y Coed (1815), which has themed ornamental components in its large corner panels, as well as a bold statement spanning the full arch, commemorating the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
The gently arching road crossing the bridge is flanked with lovely white cast iron railings with short “dogbar” intervals between decorative features and decorative details beneath the rail adding real elegance to the overall impact. At the apex of the bridge are a pair of cast iron double gates made to the same design, that today are usually kept open. The railings terminate in the octagonal sandstone pillars.
It seems clear that although it was built to a Telford design, Telford himself was so busy with other projects that he was not involved with the contract. William Hazledine presumably took responsibility for the job, using the designs for Bonar and Craigellachie bridges, for which Hazledine had cast the iron and implemented the build. Hazledine himself was probably also rather busy on Telford projects at this time, and the work itself seems to have been carried out by the civil engineer William Crosley, who performed the essential survey work, with William Stuttle, Hazledine’s trusted Clerk of Works and Stuttle’s son William Westaby Stuttle helping to implement the build. Being experienced in the building of this type of bridge, Hazledine and the Stuttles would have needed minimal input from Telford.
Telford’s workload was certainly immense at this time. Just a few of these projects include ongoing on the Mythe Bridge over the Severn at Tewkesbury (started 1823 and completed 1826), the reinvented 3000 yard / 2743m Harecastle canal tunnel (started 1822 and completed 1827) and the Holyhead road (started 1810 and completed 1829) that included Holyhead harbour and two fabulous suspension bridges crossing the Conwy and Menai Straits. He was also involved in a number or road and railway surveys. Hazledine’s foundry provided the cast iron and the construction expertise for these as well. This probably accounts for the presence of William Crosley, who was not usually employed by Hazledine and seems to have been brought in specially for this job.
By this point in both Telford’s and Hazledine’s careers, Eaton Hall Bridge was a very small private project, but its decorative flourishes means that it stands out from other Telford and Hazledine bridges for its fragile beauty. That it was the subject of much pride by those most closely involved with its construction is indicated by the incorporation of the names of its key builders into the bridge’s design, preserved in raised cast iron lettering in the far corners of the delicate ironwork: “William Hazledine Contractor” (in the northwest corner), “William Stuttle, Founder” (in the southwest corner), “William Crosley Surveyor” (at the northeastern corner) and “William Stuttle Junior Founder” (southeastern corner). Unfortunately, apart from one corner that is clearly visible from the footpath (William Stuttle Junior), the other three are partially concealed by tree branches, so I was unable to get clear photographs. The absence of Telford’s name in these credits also suggests that Telford was not directly involved in the construction of the bridge.
Next to the bridge and to its south, on the west bank of the river is Iron Bridge Lodge, a typically polished Grosvenor Estate building. It was commissioned by the first Duke of Westminster, designed by the Chester firm of architects Douglas and Fordham and completed in 1895. The plastic-topped black shed next to it doesn’t contribute anything positive to the aesthetic, but I assume that it is only temporary, and the Lodge is an otherwise very attractive addition to the bridge and its surrounding scenery. There is a full description of it on the Historic England website.
Books and articles
Ching, F.D.K. 1995. A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Glover, J. 2017. Man Of Iron. Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Bloomsbury
Rolt, L.T.C. 1958, 2007. Thomas Telford. The History Press.
Pattison, A. n.d. William Hazledine (1763-1840): A Pioneering Shropshire Ironmaster. West Midlands History https://historywm.com/articles/william-hazeldine-1763-1840 (Pattison’s full 278-page M.Phil, on which the article is based, is available here: https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/3358/1/Pattison12MPhil.pdf )
Eaton Hall Bridge https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Eaton_Hall_Bridge
William Hazledine https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Crosley_(1802-1838)
Eaton Hall Bridge
Iron Bridge Lodge
Eaton Hall Iron Bridge