Barrmill’s famous Giffen Viaduct, a much loved local feature and imposing backdrop to this once thriving industrial village, constructed by navvy labour 121 years ago, was last week razed to the ground.
The project engineers have spent a week preparing roadways, making excavations and moving in heavy machinery to quickly and safely demolish this once proud viaduct, which carried rail traffic for a relatively short period of 65 years.
In 1885 the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway, later incorporated into the Caledonian Railway, was extending its reaches into Ayrshire and began the construction of a branch line from Lugton to Ardrossan passing through Barrmill, Giffen, Auchenmade and Kilwinning in order to gain a share of the lucrative Ardrossan Harbour traffic.
In order to do this they had to build a seven arch viaduct on the eastern approach to Barrmill. The principal contractor was Mr Robert McAlpine, of the world-famous engineering company and the project engineer was Formans and McCall. Whilst the construction began in 1885 it was 1888 before the line from Giffen to Ardrossan was actually opened.
Giffen Viaduct under construction in 1895 with the famous engineer, Robert McAlpine (with beard) seated with other engineers on this remarkable project. (Photo: Courtesy of Sir Robert McAlpine, Hemmil Hempstead)
A report of the opening in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald states that the length of the line is 20 miles and involved 1,500 navvies at the height of construction; 12 locomotives; 50 cranes; 300 wagons. The amount of contracted work carried out by McAlpine was estimated at £200,000. Surprisingly, Giffen viaduct was constructed entirely of concrete blocks of varying sizes, cast at the site from countless wood shuttering templates.
There was a large workforce engaged on this vital part of the project, and some of them lived in wooden huts adjoining the site. It is remarkable to recall that this large engineering project was completed using entirely navvy labour, many of them Irish. Large circular wooden arches were created and the concrete blocks placed over them using block and tackle supported on large wooden lifting apparatus, gradually lifting the heavy blocks into place and building the main supporting arches of the viaduct, under which passes the Dusk Water.
Giffen Viaduct, as seen on Friday September 15 with only two arches left standing.
(Photo: Donald L Reid)
The branch line from Giffen to Glengarnock High was closed on December 1 1930 whilst the line from Giffen Station to Kilwinning eventually closed on 30 March 1953, whilst in the latter years it was used almost entirely for goods traffic. The stretch of line running from Lugton into RNAD Depot was in occasional use for armament traffic to and from the depot until around 1996. Although the line is still extant, it is in very poor condition and no train could now traverse this section of the line without major engineering and track renewal taking place.
Effectively this line is now closed. Interestingly, a fine mansion, Nettlehirst House, was located near to Giffen Station on high. In July 1932 Nettlehirst House burned down as a result of what was believed an electrical fire. Alex Sanderson, a greatly respected Barrmillian, recalled that the dramatic fire created quite a stir as it coincided with the return from South Beach by special train of Barrmill Sunday School trip on the Caley Line from Ardrossan to Giffen Station, just outside Barrmill.
All the children were greatly excited to see the fierce fire from the train and it was a talking point in the village for weeks. The mansion was never restored and shortly afterwards the dangerous ruin was rased to the ground. In 1996 British Railways Board planned to demolish the viaduct and obtained the requisite planning permission. For reasons unknown, the demolition did not take place, and this brought a sigh of relief from many of the older villagers who have a special fondness for the village’s best-known landmark.
However 10 years later, in 2006 further demolition permission was sought and approved and this finely built viaduct was sadly rased the ground. Older Barrmillians such as Harry Young (82), recalls, with a special twinkle in his eye, happy days playing with Vale of Dusk, in the shadow of the famed seven-arched viaduct. Learning of its fate was sad, but also brought many happy memories flooding back. He said: “Giffen Viaduct was a great place for us to play as boys. We seemed to spend our days playing football on the field beside the viaduct and adjacent to the Dusk Water.
The Giffen viaduct snapped around a week before the demolition team arrived.
I am sad that this old friend is to be pulled down. It was part of the character of the village and it will be sadly missed,but fondly remembered.” Jean Gilbert, chair of the village community association said: “Many of the older villages are quite annoyed that we are losing the viaduct. I know that it was crumbling away and was thought dangerous, but I think a little money could have been spent on making it safe and leaving this remarkable structure for future generations. It was part of our village history.” Sadly, Giffen Viaduct, which stood so proudly above the Dusk Water for 121 years, a tribute to the resourceful engineers of yesteryear, is no more and only a memory to older residents who can now only dream of those special days of yesteryear, playing around its halcyon arches.