Projects > Rewley Road (LMS) Swing Bridge

Oxford Swing Bridge
Images: LMS locomotive 8106 reversing, into 'Shipley' Siding, over the fixed span 4 May 1942: R H G Simpson (left); The LMS Swing Bridge today (right)
The Rewley Road Swing Bridge
Sitting in an ‘open’ position on either side of the Sheepwash Channel, fenced off from the towpath for safety, the LMS Swing Bridge lies seemingly forgotten and forlorn, the final relic of a now absent railway line.
This scheduled monument has, however, got an extraordinary tale to tell. One that it is easy to overlook at first glance but which focuses  not only on Oxford and its first Railway, but also the 1851 ‘Great Exhibition’, the development of the railway across Britain and the eventual decline of Brunel’s broad gauge railway.

General Oxford Railway History

In the mid 19th Century, privately run railways operated across the country and rival bidders, keen to expand, vied to be the one to provide a rail link to Oxford because of its strategic location in the heart of the country.   This rivalry led to the territory between Oxford and the Midlands becoming the scene of an epic battle between the broad-gauge Great Western Railway (east-west) and the standard-gauge London (Euston) and Birmingham Railway (LBR) (north-south), with the battle for Oxford becoming one of the seminal events of mid 19th Century railway politics. 
LBR sought to block the Great Western Railways northern expansion, and was, indeed, partially successful. This led to the amalgamation of the LBR and a number of other concerns in 1847 forming the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) the largest railway company in Britain and the largest joint stock company in the world. It also provided an opportunity to prevent the further expansion of Brunel’s broad-gauge railway, which, in part, led to the eventual demise of Brunel’s broad-gauge railway in 1892.
The LNWR was amalgamated into the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) as part of the 1922 railway grouping and in turn passed into the London Midland Region of British Railways upon nationalisation (1st January 1948).
Until 1999, Oxford’s two rival railway stations could still be seen standing side by side, a potent visual reminder of railway history.  Many local people will remember the station, which utilised the same modular construction and architects as Crystal Palace, and therefore has direct links to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Today the station can be seen at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton to where it was moved piece by piece and reconstructed.
 
The LMS Swing Bridge and its History
The LMS / LNWR Swing Bridge is one of only two scheduled Swing Bridges in England and is the last significant hand –operated main-line rail Swing Bridge in existence in Britain. This scheduled monument sits on either side of the short length of the Sheepwash Channel, which links into the Oxford Canal, and is today within the Rewley Park residential development and close to the high-level railway bridge.
The Bridge was originally constructed to designs by Robert Stephenson in 1850-1, and appears to be the earliest moving-element railway bridge in Britain to retain its original mechanism and the only one designed by Stephenson to retain the majority of its original structure. It connected the LNWR passenger and goods station to the south (now at Quainton) with the LNWR locomotive depot and lines to Bicester and Bletchley, to its north, and once fulfilled an integral role of enabling this line to cross the Sheepwash Channel without compromising the continuing navigation of the waterway which was so important to industry in Oxford at that time.
Around 1890 the bridge was substantially reconstructed in steel and the majority of the surviving structure visible today dates from this period. Further modifications to the north and midstream abutments were made in 1941. From October 1951 all former LNWR passenger trains were diverted into the GWR Station, following the failure to implement a new lift bridge in 1944 and the Swing Bridge fell out of use. 
In 1984 the goods depot closed and the remaining rails on the Swingbridge and its approaches were removed soon after. At this time the approaches to the north and south were given over to the Rewley Park residential development and the bridge permanently fixed in its ‘open’ position, allowing navigation of the Channel.
The Swingbridge is owned by Network Rail and is now in a very poor state of repair as is highlighted by its inclusion in the English Heritage ‘Heritage At Risk’ Register 2011.  There is no doubt that this bridge has an interesting story to tell and represents an important piece of Oxford’s industrial heritage.  Today Oxford Preservation Trust is working with key partners including Network Rail, Chiltern Railways, the Railway Heritage Trust, English Heritage and the City Council to try to ensure the protection of this monument and improve its interpretation.  The monument may be included in the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ Register 2011 but with the work of the Trust, and others, we have every intention of seeing it removed in the coming months and years.