Crumlin Viaduct, Ebbw Vale
Designer: T.W. Kennard (1853-1857)
Photograph: Eric de Mare (1954)
RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection
Wales is known as a land of castles. It is also a land of bridges and viaducts, for its mountainous terrain demands masterful design and engineering, and at Crumlin, near Ebbw Vale, a particularly fine example once stood. In the heart of industrial South Wales, in the valleys of the coal and steel masters, this was a wonder of Victorian ingenuity.
Built between 1853-7, the Crumlin viaduct carrying the Newport, Abergavenny and Herefordshire railway was unusually graceful. Constructed of steel, its criss-cross piers stretched up to 62 metres high. These seemed to effortlessly support the great girders, each spanning 46 metres across. Together, this web of steel carried the railway a third of a mile over the valley. How different this is to the ponderous, plodding brick of the Newcastle viaduct. Here, arches were dispensed with: this was an economical, modern and immensely dramatic design.
Appearing like a leap of faith, it was no doubt this daring nature that Eric de Mare wanted to capture in this photograph. And he chose the perfect moment: a train in the valley bottom was passing underneath, its trail of smoke unbroken. The net-like piers seem almost transparent, the smoke rising up and through its steel structure. What a tragedy, then, that this remarkable sight was demolished a decade after this photograph was taken.