Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed lots of celebrities and people of note. But I was bricking it when I was granted a chat with the Stockport Viaduct.
Construction began in 1839 and, one year and eleven million bricks later, the viaduct stood proud over the town below. Today it remains one of the largest brick structures in the UK. Designed by George Watson Buck, the 111 ft high, 1,786 ft long viaduct carries the West Coast Main Line across the valley of the River Mersey in Stockport, Greater Manchester.
Nevertheless, being 180-years-old hasn’t stopped the Stockport Viaduct from moving with the times. The structure has recently dipped a brick into the world of social media to tweet thoughts and views from the (sort of) bridge. Northern Soul is the first publication to speak to Stockport’s finest, though how it managed to handle a mobile phone will forever remain a mystery.
Northern Soul: Lovely, if surreal, to be talking to you Stockport Viaduct. That’s a bit of a mouthful, though. Can I call SV for short?
Stockport Viaduct: Well, if you’d like to, I don’t see why not. Truth be told, it’s quite a new thing for me to be engaging in conversation with people. I’m much more comfortable with buildings. In fact, I’ve been having a right shouting match with Regent House next door for nearly 45 years. Bloody carbuncle. It’s been blocking my view since 1975. I like the Stockport Pyramid and The Plaza Cinema, though. Like me, they’ve got a bit of style.
NS: So, what prompted you to engage with the online world?
SV: I’ve only just heard about Twitter. It can take up to 20 years or so for me to become aware of new things and make up my mind about them. Like the Redrock Cinema by the M60. They only finished building that in 2017, so come back to me in 2027 and I’ll tell you if I like it or not. I’m still not sure about Twitter, to be honest. There seems to be a lot of angry people on it, though everybody has been nice to me so far. Being a viaduct is a bit of a vocation. It’s all about serving the public, so if I can put a smile on people’s faces with a tweet every now and then, so much the better.
NS: Would you encourage other structures to take to social media?
SV: Definitely. It’s given me a whole new lease of life. I’ve been around since 1840, so anything that adds another dimension to life in the Mersey Valley is to be welcomed. Except Regent House, of course. That can shut its face.
NS: Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is the difference between a viaduct and a plain old bridge?
SV: Would you believe I’m not actually an expert? All I know is that I’m definitely a viaduct. Some people say it’s down to the number of arches. I have 27. The distinction is usually whether it takes you over or across something. A bridge is usually built to carry people over something like a river. A viaduct will usually take you across from one side of a valley to another. In the Mersey Valley below, there are lots of bridges that will help you cross the river. But what I do is help trains cross from one side of the valley to the other without having to go down to where the river is and climb up again.
SV: Not at all. I like bridges. I don’t look down on them just because I’m bigger. Well, I do but that’s only because I can’t help it on account of my size. I’m not being stuck up.
NS: You are 180-years-old. What’s your earliest memory?
SV: Fresh air and lots of men swearing. So much of the work was done by manual labour back in those days. Some 600 men working shifts in all weathers weren’t always in a good mood. It does mean that I’ve always been hard to offend. I pretty much heard it all back in the early days.
NS: You’re very photogenic. Have you had any work done?
SV: Why, thank you. My biggest alteration was between 1887 and 1889 when Francis Stephenson widened me so I could carry four tracks instead of two. My Heaton Lane arch was altered in 1929 and, in the early 60s, they electrified the railway and attached the overhead power cables to me. That was a bit of a shock, I can tell you.
The last time I got a proper spring clean was back in 1989. That was also when I started being lit up at night which was a bit of a surprise at the time, but I’m used to being in the public eye now. Nobody seems to be able to tell when I’m awake or asleep and I’d like it to stay that way.
NS: You’re a bit of a pin-up in the viaduct world, aren’t you?
SV: Well, I don’t like to brag but L.S. Lowry was very taken with me and used to draw me a lot. The railway people also made a lovely poster of me quite recently. I was chuffed to be made a Grade II listed building in 1975, although they were building Regent House next to me at the time so that took the edge off it a bit.
NS: Eleven million bricks must take a lot of maintenance. Any aches and pains these days?
SV: Who doesn’t? I’ve got some limescale stains and a few plants growing out of me and those buddleia shrubs are particularly itchy, I can tell you. I was given a bit of a wash and brush-up three years ago, but I could do with a full scale spruce-up if I’m honest. The trouble is the work that I had done in 1989 cost £3 million and they reckon that at today’s prices it’ll be about £20 million to do it again. I could be waiting another 10 years, apparently.
SV: Never. Once you’ve got a head for heights it’s hard to imagine being low to the ground. I’ve been battered by storms quite often over the last 180 years, Ciara and Dennis being the latest, but you get used to it after a while. Sometimes I’ve wondered about having a go at being an aqueduct, though there was so much rain at the beginning of February that nearly happened anyway.
My brother up at Marple, who carries the trains across the Goyt Valley, lives next door to an aqueduct and that’s got a Welsh cousin, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal. She’s a little older than me, but she’s a bit of a looker.
NS: Perhaps a long-distance romance is on the cards?
SV: I play the field. I’m currently trying to learn French because it’d be nice to be pen pals with the Millau Viaduct in the South of France. She’s amazing and higher than the Eiffel Tower. Probably a bit too sophisticated for an old viaduct like me, but you never know.
SV: All the railway viaducts are connected by the rails so we can talk to each other already, although it takes a long time for a message to get through from the furthest away. My younger sister, the Tame Viaduct over at Reddish, is quite chatty. I’ve also got a Scottish cousin in Glenfinnan who’s quite famous. He was in the Harry Potter films and was recently in the news because a stag ran across him in front of a train. I can’t compete with that kind of thing, although I did have a visit from an adventurous cat seven years ago.
NS: What would you do to improve things if you were in control of the entire rail network?
SV: Obviously, I’d build more viaducts. I’d also bring back the orange Manchester trains. I used to love them.
NS: I’d better let you get back to doing your thing. It’s been lovely chatting to you SV. Thank you for your time.
SV: It’s been a pleasure.
Main image courtesy of @every_station
You can follow The Stockport Viaduct’s at @StockprtViaduct