Friends of Alton Station
Restoring 1892 Footbridge
Restoring the 1892 Footbridge at Alton Station
This bridge was, until 2013, the only way to cross the tracks at Alton Station to get to platforms 2 and 3. Network Rail spent £1.7million in 2013 to build a new bridge with lifts to provide access for all, making a big difference to the many wheelchair users in the area. The problem for Alton was that the assumption was that the original historic bridge would be removed for preservation elsewhere. A group of local residents felt that something should be done to retain the bridge and this led to the formation of Friends of Alton Station as a steering group.
Our argument for keeping the bridge is:
- It is a authentic structure that leads people to and from the Mid-Hants Railway / Watercress Line. The steam railway is one of several tourist attractions in the area that bring people into Alton, so it essentially plays a part in our local economy.
- Alton station is the start of the line to London and Guildford, and the bridge offers covered access between platforms and out of the station building.
- The bridge is part of Alton's heritage and is the only surviving example of this type of footbridge. Originally an open bridge, it was first roofed and then fully enclosed, making it unique.
This project has been long and slow to progress, requiring a lot of patience and staying power. Initially things looked bright; Network Rail agreed to keep the bridge in situ and then commissioned a visual survey to establish what work needed doing in the short term to enable the bridge to remain in use. The report was issued in April 2015 (see report below) and having agreed the funding, Network Rail started work on renovation in July 2015. Within a short while it was clear to the workmen that there were many more underlying structural faults than the visual survey had identified - so serious that they decided that the bridge had to be closed. This was a real setback.
A second survey was commissioned by Network Rail, this time looking behind panels and literally digging into the wood to find out where the rot and deterioration was located. The report was issued on 17th September 2015 (see report below), the day that we launched Friends of Alton Station (FAS) as a membership organisation.
Once the 2nd survey had been issued there was internal discussion within Network Rail to agree the funding within their budgets and again the contractors were given the green light to continue with the repairs. On 30th November 2015 scaffolding appeared and we soon heard that the contractors (Osborne) had sent off for Canadian Spruce to enable them to make the structural repairs. The wood arrived, but no work was undertaken because they had found even more structural problems and all works stopped.
Finally, after a long and ominous silence, on 30th April 2016 we received a copy of an internal Network Rail memo. They offered a projected cost of £750k for the repairs to the footbridge, whilst suggesting a budget of up to £250k for removal and the provision of a new platform canopy to lead up to the new footbridge. The case for removal is obvious in financial terms, so the engineers had therefore concluded that the bridge should be removed.
Naturally FAS was greatly concerned and eventually our Chairman had a call from the Wessex Route Asset Manager who was talking about resolving the issue within six months. We eventually met two representatives of Network Rail on 15th June 2016 and somewhat reluctantly agreed that by 31st December 2016 we would attempt to offer proof that we could source funds to repair/restore the footbridge. They were saying that if we failed in this task, then the bridge removal will go ahead as planned. In order to start the process, we decided that we needed to do three things: we applied to get the footbridge listed, we started an online petition (two in the end) and we commissioned a structural engineering report. More of this below.
These are the links to the online petitions which we invite you to sign:
These petitions are unlikely to change the minds of Network Rail alone, but it will demonstrate to NR and potential funding bodies that there are a good number of people locally, nationally and internationally who value the heritage footbridge.
We have tried to get the footbridge listed on two separate occasions. The first time, in 2014, the application was made by Nick Carey-Thomas (Alton Society) and he was encouraged by English Heritage to list the whole station - it was turned down. In 2016 Nigel Welbourn tried again on our behalf, this time limiting the listing to just the footbridge, but again it was turned down. We have appealed this latter determination and await the answer. In both cases it would appear that Historic England and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) are desperate not to list the footbridge. If you read their reasons for turning down the application, they are not offering a coherent argument for their decision. On top of this, we have discovered that the appeal process does not involve an independent arbitrator or ombudsman, so the chances of getting the determination overturned are slim. Both of the listing 'determination' documents are below for you to read.
In November 2016, local historian Jane Hurst found two letters published in the Alton Gazette of 1894 corroborating the story about the ladies of Alton who petitioned the LSWR to have the footbridge covered. This may prove significant, as part of the 2nd listing application argued that this formed part of the social history of the women's rights movement. The listing determination dismisses this as an unsupported fact, but now we have the proof. The full text of the letter is on the the Footbridge History page of this website.
We realised that if we are going to seek donations and grants from funding bodies, we need to fully assess the condition of the footbridge. We commissioned our own structural engineering analysis from a company called Integral Engineering Design (IED) to get a fuller picture about the practicalities of repairing the bridge. This part of the project was led by committee member Paul Ebbutt who just happens to be a retired railway and structural engineer. We also have specialist carpenter Gary Appleton on our team - he is currently working on repairs to HMS Victory. IED sent an engineer to look at the bridge inside and out, and this was followed by a report. Paul Ebbutt then wrote his own professional report, including the IED report as an appendix, to look at the wider considerations for the footbridge. This can be downloaded directly HERE or from the link at the bottom of the page. What remains to be done is to get the work identified in the report costed by a quantity surveyor. The IED engineering report was funded by membership subscriptions, donations (including Waitrose and the Alton Society) and grants from East Hampshire District Council. Our thanks go to all those who have provided financial support.
We met a representative of Network Rail in February 2017 and the result of that was that Network Rail decided that our lack of funding at that stage meant that, in their eyes, we had failed. Shortly after the meeting we received a substantial donation pledge, buoying our spirits, and we relayed this to Network Rail. Despite this good news, we received a letter in March 2017 from Network Rail to say that they plan to remove the footbridge in April 2018, giving us a year to take action. Strangely this did not dent our enthusiasm - it simply made us more determined to succeed.
It was about this time that we were contacted by a very experienced and well-known retired bridge engineer Alan Hayward. His practical input has helped us to see that the seemingly impossible is possible. We are also about to establish ourselves as a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) in readiness for taking ownership of the footbridge. The charitable status will also allow us to claim back gift aid from people making donations. Once the new charity is up and running, we will push ahead with a national campaign to raise funds. We are adamant that we will succeed, so we look to Network Rail to help us achieve our goal.
For historic information about the bridge, see the 'Footbridge History' page.