Two medieval archways on a bridge in Oxfordshire, England, are to be restored in a joint effort by Banbury Town Council, Banbury Civic Society and Network Rail.
The archways, now a section of the railway bridge, were part of the original road bridge over the River Cherwell built hundreds of years before the railway was constructed. The road was raised by the arches above the low-laying riverside land as a protection against flooding.
The medieval bridge was built in the 13th century by the Bishop of Lincoln, who controlled Banbury at that time.
The bridge remained in place until Brunel designed the first railway bridge in 1850 – a project that destroyed much of the medieval structure. The brickwork that covers the surviving medieval arches is thought to be all that remains of Brunel’s bridge.
The archways are already ‘listed’ features and have to be maintained and preserved.
Current maintenance work in the river channel beneath the railway bridge, being carried out by Network Rail, has provided an opportunity for restoration work – mainly removing saplings that have taken root in the ancient stonework.
Kieron Mallon, leader of the town council, explained, “The archways are a hidden gem – part of Banbury’s medieval history that few people know about. The council owns Bridge Street Park and is looking at ways to highlight the archways and make them a feature of the park.
“This preservation work is being done free-of-charge by Network Rail as part of their maintenance work on the railway bridge. Removing the vegetation that is slowly destroying the archways will make sure they are preserved for future generations. Banbury Town Council is pleased to be part of a project that protects the town’s history, and this is an ideal opportunity to be involved in something that preserves Banbury’s distant past.”
Rob Kinchin-Smith, of the Civic Society, added, “There were seven arches in the original toll road – the two that remain crossed the mill stream of Banbury Mill, and there were five further arches over the river. The two groups were connected by a stone causeway. Brunel diverted the river to build the railway and in doing so demolished five of the medieval archways.
“The two that remain are very important – there is very little left from Banbury’s medieval period .”
Describing the archways as a lost treasure, he said, “The Civic Society has been pressing Network Rail since 2011 to do something about trees growing from the archways. We are delighted that work is now being carried out and we look forward to seeing the finished job.
“When the project is complete we plan to work with the town council to ensure the archways become a focal point of Bridge Street Park. The archways have been hidden for too long. They deserve to be cared for and celebrated.”
MP Sir Tony Baldry, who played a significant part in the project by writing to Network Rail asking for the work to be done, said: “There is practically nothing left of Banbury’s medieval history. The castle was blown up, the medieval church was torn down rather than being repaired, and one of the very few remnants of medieval Banbury are the arches under the railway bridge.
“It’s good news that Banbury Civic Society and Banbury Town Council are ensuring that these arches are restored and repaired and that people are able to recognise their heritage value.”
David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “We have already removed a sycamore tree that was damaging the bridge’s central pier. Scaffolding will be used to remove other vegatation and carry out further repair work.”
Source: Banbury Town Council