Stroud Town Council ask the Civic Society to chose the annual winners of the Town Design Award. For 2012 we choose the new canal bridge at Merrywalks in Stroud:
Words by Tim Mars, Design pictures courtesy of Gloucestershire CC. Design drawings by Graham Bailey. Click pictures to enlarge them.
The new Stroud Brewery Bridge makes an impressive entrance to Stroud and opens up new and enticing views of the canal and its archæology through the railings. The red brick piers with their stone caps relate well to the Stroud & Swindon Building, No 1 Cheapside and the Bell Hotel.
This is not by any stretch of the imagination a beautiful bridge but then it’s not technically a bridge at all. It is a workmanlike solution to a difficult engineering problem. A box-section concrete culvert was constructed to reopen the line of the canal through the infilled section where the A419 crosses from Bath Road/Dr Newton’s Way to join Merrywalks. This culvert also has to admit Slad Brook and funnel it into the canal. And to avoid it being too much of a humpback bridge, the headroom had to be restricted, requiring the towpath to run below the level of the canal.
This culvert has been made to look like a ‘proper’ bridge by the brick cladding of the portals and abutments at either end. The red brick chosen references the vernacular of traditional bridges on the canal and relates well to the nearby buildings—the Stroud & Swindon Building, No 1 Cheapside and the Bell Hotel. The tubular steel arches which spring from one abutment to the other are a brave attempt to give what is essentially the entrance to a concrete culvert some élan, but they would perhaps be better painted black to match the railings along the bridge. This, at least, is something that can easily be remedied.
The carriageway has increased the capacity by one lane from the previous provision. However, the central carriageway-divide seems unnecessarily wide. The absence of galvanized pedestrian barriers and ‘sheep-pens’ is very welcome
In the visualizations on display at the Canal Visitor Centre, the walls adjoining the brick piers are shown in stone. Some have been executed in red brick. This is a pity as it detracts from the impact of the redbrick piers and railings on the bridge and fails to make a clear distinction between the bridge and its approaches.
These criticisms notwithstanding, Stroud Brewery Bridge is a considerable achievement and all those involved deserve congratulation. It is a milestone in the reöpening of the canal, a statement of confidence in the future at a time when that is in scarce supply and an addition to the townscape of which Stroud can be justly proud.