After more than six years of planning and fund-raising Schoolhouse Bridge is taking shape. On 8th August contractors craned the bridge sections into place and there is once more a Bridge 86 over the Montgomery Canal.
Schoolhouse Bridge was the last highway blockage on the Shropshire section of the Montgomery Canal. It is believed that in the 1950s or 1960s the highway authority demolished the old bridge replacing it with an embankment of earth and stone.
As restoration progressed towards Shropshire’s border with the Welsh county of Powys, volunteers of the three local waterway charities got together to promote the Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal. A retired engineer from the Inland Waterways Association designed a bridge which could be built with much of the work carried out by volunteers, but with delays from Covid and other difficulties it was ultimately necessary for contractors to be brought in for the main project work. After a ceremony in April when Cllr Vince Hunt, Chairman of Shropshire Council, turned the first sod, contactors Beaver Bridges of Shrewsbury made rapid progress.
Installing the bridge arches is the most significant part of the project. The arches were in six sections produced by Macrete, based in Country Antrim, and were delivered to the site by a convoy of flat-bed lorries. Each section was made of connected segments which formed an arch shape when lifted by a 250-ton crane to be lowered onto carefully positioned cills on the reinforced concrete abutments.
While a spectacular process, the organisers were not able to publicise the date beforehand as the site could not accommodate a large number of viewers, or their cars. However a number of local residents and supporters and the Chairman of the local parish council were able to watch the proceedings.
The whole process was completed in a matter of hours, with the six arch sections and spandrels in place by mid-afternoon.
Michael Limbrey, Chairman of the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust said, “This has been a most exciting day! It is six years since we resolved to reconstruct Schoolhouse Bridge. If we could do it, it would be a significant contribution to opening up the canal to the Welsh border at Llanymynech. Now we can see a bridge for the first time for more than sixty years.”
Richard Hinckley, Sales Director of Beaver Bridges, said, “We are extremely proud to be engaged with the design and installation of the new bridge as part of a larger plan to revive the Montgomery Canal and playing our part in rebuilding history and leaving a legacy on the canal for future generations to enjoy. I very much look forward to seeing the first narrow boat go under the bridge.”
Michael Limbrey explained that the project is part of a larger plan to revive the Montgomery Canal, described by its owners the Canal & River Trust as “high-quality natural and built heritage, a gem of our waterway network”. This means safeguarding the valued plants and wildlife and the canal-age locks, bridges and other structures, so they do not become overgrown, decay and lose all value.
He added, “The restored canal can bring so many economic, social and environmental benefits which other restored waterways have already achieved. It is that boost to the area that brought the UK Government funding for work in Powys. In Shropshire there are now just a couple of miles of dry canal to be restored. Our experienced volunteers are at work to rewater the next section and we have launched a new Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal to raise funds to provide them with equipment and materials. Supporters, both local and further afield, have generously donated for the bridge and are now supporting this next phase of the restoration. We are always pleased to receive donations at https://localgiving.org/appeal/MontgomeryCanal .”