TIME FOR A CHANGE
‘… from the 11th century almost up to the year 1800, the town, together with most other inland towns, must in spite of its weekly market and any other trading, have remained a very self contained community, supplying most of its own wants and using mainly local materials.With the commencement in 1791, and the opening in 1795, of the canal known as the Leicester to Melton Navigation, which in 1803 was further extended to Oakham, rapid industrial changes took place. The wharf or basin as it was called in Burton End, became the commercial centre of the town. This canal brought many blessings to Melton, one of the principal of which was the carrying of coals much more cheaply and quickly, resulting in great increase of trade in the area. Many barges must have used this waterway, although facts and figures of this trade are very difficult to obtain. We do, however, have one small illustration from the census of 1841, when we are told the population of the town of Melton included 14 occupants of barges, who were literally floating members of the community.The first detailed County Directory to be published was Whites compiled in the year 1846 and it gives us a good deal of information on trade and transport in the county, among which the Melton entries are very enlightening. At this date, the railway had not reached the town, although it was on the way, but Melton was, nevertheless , not so isolated in 1846 as one would imagine. …’
‘Railway companies arrived in the area in November 1844. When they were approached by the Midland Railway company about proposals for the Syston and Peterborough Railway, the shareholders recommended negotiation. A deal was struck, with the Midland Railway paying £26,000 and 200 fully paid up £40 shares for the canal. In 1844, the canal had carried 31,182 tons of goods upwards, with around 72 per cent of it being coal, and grain and wool amounting to 4,120 tons had passed down the canal. The lack of a proper water supply had resulted in the canal being closed for nearly five months during the dry summer of 1844. The construction of the railway was authorised by Parliament and a second act to allow the canal to be sold and abandoned was obtained on 27 July 1846.The railway from Syston to Melton Mowbray opened on 1 September 1846. It would be more than a year before the sale of the canal was finally completed, on 29 October 1847, but just six months after that, the line from Melton Mowbray to Oakham opened on 1 May 1848. The purchase price enabled a final distribution of £44.35 to be made on each of the original shares.’
In The Meantime …
The Town Estate intervenes.
6th June 1877Moved by Mr Shouler and seconded by Mr Large that the Townwardens be empowered to take possession of the piece of land adjoining the Play Close as soon as at liberty and do so much of asphalting a path round it as they may deem prudent until the future occupation of the Old Canal is decided.Melton Mowbray – 14th January 1880A Meeting of the Inhabitants was held, in the Town Hall, on Friday 14th January, in accordance with a memorial “to consider and determine as to the Expediency of memorialising the Crossing at Burton End, to substitute another in lieu of their pile Bridge and to improve the waterway bounding their property in the Parish. And in the event of Directors not complying with the Memorial – if adopted – then to authorize steps to bring all, or any one or more of the matters specified under the notice of the Board of Trade”The Chairman having opened the meeting, Mr John Gee, Honorary Secretary of the Flood Committee, read the following, as the suggested memorial to be sent to the Midland Directors:-To the Directors of the Midland Railway Company:The Memorial of the inhabitants of Melton Mowbray, adopted at a Town Meeting, held on 7th January 1881, sheweth:-That the level crossing over your Railway at Burton-end, in this town, has been, for several years, a source of danger to life, and a great interruption to traffic, and that such danger to life and interruption to traffic has become intensified since the opening of your new route to the North and South, via Melton Mowbray; and the passing of many express trains, daily, over such level crossing.That your pile bridge, spanning the only waterway through Melton Mowbray, is a great obstruction to the flow of storm waters, and one of the principal, if not the main cause of Burton-end and other low-lying portions of the town being inundated; thereby causing destruction to life and property, with loss of trade, sickness and misery as attendant evils.That the waterway forming the boundary of your property requires to be widened and deepened, to facilitate the passage of the floods, inasmuch as in its present state it is contributory to the inundations and disastrous effects mentioned in the last paragraph.Your memorialists therefore pray that you will take the matters brought to your notice into your serious consideration, with the view of erecting such structural appliances as will obviate the necessity of the public using the level crossing. That you will substitute another for the pile bridge; and that you will widen and deepen the waterway forming the boundary of your property in Melton Mowbray; And your memorialists will ever pray.Lord Grey-de-Wilton moved the adoption of the memorial, which was seconded by Mr T Large, and carried unanimously.Signed John DickensonChairman22nd June 1886…the following resolution were passed
- That the Feoffees and rate-paying inhabitants in meeting duly convened hereby authorize the Townwardens to accept the offer made by the Trustees of Court George and Dragon to sell the South portion of the old Canal now partly filled with soil for the sum of £30 in order to secure a Frontage to the Play Close and to the Canal purchased a few years ago for the sum of £650, conditionally upon the consent of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice being obtained to the application towards such purchase of the funds at present in hand of the Paymaster General.
- That the best thanks of this meeting be given to Herbert B. Praed Esq. for the interest he has manifested in the welfare of the town by securing funds for and otherwise aiding the carrying out the projected improvement in the Play Close.22 March 1887Business The Road to the Play CloseMoved by Mr Fitton and seconded by Mr Weaver that the offer of the Court George and Dragon of the Ancient Order of Foresters, to devolve a piece of land belonging to them to the widening and straightening of the Road from Burton Street to the Play Close for the sum of Five Pounds be accepted. Carried unanimously.
“In answer to your letter of the 5th inst., I have now had this matter looked into, and find that to make this bridge 30 feet wide throughout would increase the cost considerably, making it £13,000 exclusive of land. I should like to know whether you would like me to lay the matter before the directors next week, or make any further remarks.” – Mr. March, one of the deputation, said there was a meeting of the directors on the following day, and he thought it best that the Council should hear the letter before he replied, and to know whether they had anything to say before the matter went before the directors. It struck him that the letter was tantamount to saying that “I will lay the recommendation before the directors, but you will hear nothing more of it if I do.” He pointed out that in the first instance the plan showed the bridge and approaches to be 25 ft. wide throughout, but at the request of the Council they agreed to make the approaches 30ft., and leave the bridge 30ft., and the engineer amended his plan accordingly, and at the same time adopted a suggestion by the County Council relating to the gradient on the Burton-road side of the bridge. But now the Council had asked for something further, and he had no doubt that if they persisted in that the matter would fall through. The Council appeared to be unanimous in their opinion that it would be better to adhere to the former plan, and on the motion of Mr. Gill, seconded by Mr. Manchester, a resolution was passed to that effect.”
(This account went on to report further, that the drains of a property at the west end of Victoria-street were in a very unsatisfactory condition!)
I am desperately seeking information or documents which relate to the actual construction of the large railway bridge, which must have been a massive project for the town. Much of the infrastructure of the area was to change drastically and the railway company involved were to pay out much money in compensation for structures in their path which were in turn demolished. A classic example being the Railway Hotel which had served the station almost from its inception in 1947, the site of which nestles exactly underneath the existing bridge at a point which would have been at the top end of the station driveway. As the illustrating maps suggest, the entrance to Ankle Hill was much extended and the Burton Road was diverted also when the whole route was moved some 20 to 30 metres to the east. The road outside Craven Lodge was scraped out and the and the resultant fill was pushed forward to assist in developing the newly raised approaches to the bridge from both of these roads. Aesthetically and architecturally incongruous but typical of the many thousands of its late Victorian era, it is constructed almost solely of blue engineering bricks and utilises 5 semi-circular arches either side of the main span which is supported by massive steel girders. Above a swollen River Eye which should now have comfortably flowed – famous or infamous as it was for flooding the town on occasions – the job was completed in 1899 with little or none of the fanfare usually related to the opening of a new bridge. Indeed there was said to be little money left in the Council coffers when the invoice finally arrived from the builders and it is recorded in the town records as a matter of fact and with some chagrin in various quarters, that due to this shortage of funds the payment of the bill was delayed for many months and almost became a matter of legal pursuit. As a matter of passing interest the job is said to have cost about £15/18,000.
Having displayed the earlier map of the area pre-railway, I have attempted to show by superimposition, a combined map of pre and post structure of the bridge which should assist in explaining just about all that occurred during those few years of change.
Of course, not everyone was pleased with the wholesale disruption brought about by the railway companies, but these were as big and powerful as anything that had ever happened in the country. The Members of Parliament spent a great majority of their time dealing with the thousands of statutes appearing before them each day during the boom years and most were considered to be rubber-stamped with little problem. Objectors and protesters were frequently given short shrift in response to any complaint they might harbour in connection with what was akin to an epidemic, with the wealth and the power being maintained and exerted by authority in getting the tracks laid as quickly as possible. But at the very end of 1900, the big blue bridge at Melton Mowbray was soon to be put to the test.
The Great Flood of 1901
On Friday, the 29th day of December 1900, within 12 months of the completion of the works, the good people of Melton were almost certainly looking forward to and planning festivities relating to the arrival of another new year and as they retired to their beds for the night, most would have been aware that heavy rain was beginning to fall on the town. Not a particularly significant matter at that time but substantial rain did in fact fall throughout the Saturday and Sunday though apparently, most people thought little of this and as the River Eye downstream filled its banks and stretched its girths, it began to overflow them into the adjacent fields where farmers especially attuned to such situations warned of heavy flooding being imminent. During the early morning of Monday, the final day of 1900, the townsfolk were horrified to discover that their town had finally succumbed to the relentless rains and that many properties, if not already under water, were rapidly becoming overwhelmed by an out-of-control body of water. A detailed account of the deluge and its aftermath was duly reported in the Grantham Journal of Saturday, January 5th which was to touch upon upon the part which the new bridge might have played. I hope to bring you more of this in a later blog.