Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Leicester's Bowstring Bridge Saga

I was interested to see that ongoing saga of Leicester's Bowstring Bridge, has finally made it into the national media.

Sadly it appears that Jonathan Glancey's article is an attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted, as when I drove past yesterday, the steelwork was all but gone.

I'm not really enough of an expert to tell you how significant the loss of the bridge is. I've seen similar bridges in other parts of the country, and couldn't tell you what would make a Victorian bridge particularly worthy of preservation. I guess that's why I've not commented on the issue before. However, I do recognise that the Bowstring Bridge is an important Leicester landmark, and I'm amazed that the Council are going to such trouble to get rid of it.

The more I've read about this, the more ridiculous the situation appears. As I understand, the Council is spending just under £500,000 of it's own money removing the bridge, before selling the land to De Montfort University for just £1. Apparently DMU have plans to build a new swimming pool on the site, but this is currently all we know, as they haven't released any further information about it (no drawings, no plans, zip!). However, they have repeatedly said that it is 'vital' that they have the Bridge land for the project to be feasible.

Considerable local opposition has been met by a very hard line from Leicester City Council , who's attitude seems to be 'we're knocking it down and that's that'.The wider story of this has been covered in pretty exhaustive detail by Leicester Mercury Editor, Keith Perch, on his blog. For those interested in the matter, I've put the links in below:

Personally, I'm less interested in the aleged underhand actions of a local authority (although I'm more than happy to open this up to a wider audience), than why they have chosen to treat an important feature of Leicesters heritage, as a problem. Someone must have pointed out that the bridge was a valuable heritage feature, but the decision was made to ignore this. I suspect this sort of treatment of heritage features happens every day, up and down the country, if perhaps not quite so blatantly.

Jonathan Glancy isn't the first person to suggest alternative uses for the bridge, but those who hold the power have been adamant they're knocking it down. I would have liked to seen it developed as a linear park, similar to New York's, High Line, as I think the photo below hints at this potential.

I also think it would be wrong to finish this article without also mentioning the loss of the Pump and Tap, which is due to be demolished as part of this development. It may not be the finest Victorian building in England, but it is a good old-fashioned pub, of the sort that is fast disappearing from our cities. I suspect if it was a village pub being demolished there would be more sympathy (loss to the community etc), but people often forget that urban areas have communities that can be damaged by the loss of facilities too.

The whole thing is a sorry story, and everyone involved from Leicester City Council to De Montfort University, should be ashamed.


  1. Sorry, but this is a shoddy review of what itself was a very ill-informed article.

    The failure to spell correctly the name of the university involved (De Montfort University) is a clear indication of the review's lack of quality.

    I've lived in Leicester for over 40 years. The bridge, like its "cousin" a mile to the north(demolished in 1981), is NOT considered by most city residents to be an irreplaceable piece of our heritage, whatever the small group of its advocates may suggest.

    If Glancey had bothered to do the slightest bit of research, he would have discovered that the railway has been removed in both directions, so attempts to restore the bridge to its original use simply aren't feasible.

  2. Thanks for your spelling advice, Anonymous. We make a bit of pair really, because you don’t appear to have actually read what I’ve written!

    My blog post was NOT a review of Jonathan Glancey’s article.

    I’m also interested by your quote, “The bridge… is NOT considered by most city residents to be an irreplaceable piece of our heritage.” Is this how we should judge the significance of our historical features? I suspect that most Leicester residents wouldn’t be particularly arsed if we turned Town Hall Square into a car park, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. Likewise I would suggest that whatever you think about the merits of the bridge, it IS irreplaceable. Or do you think it feasible that a generation of Victorian engineers will come back from the dead to replace it?

    For what it’s worth, I do think that Jonathan Glancey scored something of an own goal by suggesting the bridge could be used for steam trains. Yes, sections of the track leading up to Central Station have been redeveloped, which would make it’s reinstatement potentially difficult. However with the political will, I think much more is achievable than people seem to expect.

    Fundamentally, my argument isn’t that the bridge is necessarily an outstanding historical feature. But what I think is so disappointing is that our Council have gone so much trouble to get rid of it, without considering the positive opportunities for it’s retention. There is also no guarantee that De Montfort University will build a pool on the site, and I do wonder why the Council is spending circa £500,000 on enabling works for it, if this facility won’t be a municipal facility?

    I guess that to a certain extent, this is all irrelevant now. The bridge has been demolished, DMU get’s it’s land and Leicester has missed another opportunity to make a feature of it’s rich, but fast diminishing history.

    Big hugs,


  3. How can the case be made for demolishing the bridge to use the site for a swimming pool? Are they going to suspend it over the road? They must be clever at de Montfart University.