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Wool Old Bridge

Following a 10 month restoration by Dorset Council, Wool Bridge has now been removed from Historic England’s At Risk Register.

Dorset Highways work to save the bridge has been recognised by the Institute of Civil Engineers, being awarded the under £3m Re-Engineered Project Award and the People’s Choice Award which was voted for by the public. 

The bridge features in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles and is an important historic feature of Dorset.

The project employed specialist equipment and professional expertise from the public and private sector to ensure a sympathetic and long-lasting repair to the Grade II Listed structure.

David Clegg, Service Manager for Network Operations, said: “The team at Wool Old Bridge had to strike a careful balance between restoration and repair. This was made possible by accessing the very best skills and experience within the public and private sector.

“I know the team felt incredibly privileged to have contributed to the history of the area in the rebuilding of this historic structure.

“The South West Institute of Civil Engineers has recognised the passion and commitment required to deliver this scheme by awarding the team the Under £3 million Re-Engineered Project of the year and People Choice Award."

Did you know?

  1. During the Second World War, the end arches and the north and south approach of Wool Old Bridge were widened and the parapets removed for the passage of tanks and other large military vehicles for the D-day assault
  2. The recovered ashlar stone was supplemented with stone sourced from the same Purbeck-Portland bed on the Isle of Purbeck as originally used to build the bridge
  3. Over 1.1 million litres of water were pumped out of the working area over the 20-week construction

What happened?

Following stormy weather, on Wednesday 10 January 2018 Dorset Highways was notified of a potential problem with the bridge, and an engineer went out that afternoon to investigate.

After assessing the large crack in the surface and wading into the river to probe the base of the bridge wall, it was evident that the natural flow of the river had eroded the riverbed beneath the foundation of the wall.

This inspection – above and below the waterline – was repeated the following day. There was no evidence of further movement, and pins were hammered into the bridge surface to be able to monitor movement.

Between this time and middle of the day on Monday 15 January 2018 there was 6mm movement then – later the same day – it was reported that the wall had slipped into the river.

On Tuesday 16 January 2018 part of the arch at the Wool end of the bridge fell into the river, as it was left unsupported by the earlier slip.

Forty bags of gabion stone were lifted into place to support the collapsed section of the bridge and protect it from further damage.

With the bridge safe for the time-being, engineers sought the necessary consent from Historic England and the Environment Agency for the permanent repair work.

The work involved

Work started in the summer, when low water levels made it possible to safely access the site and allow engineers to sympathetically repair the Grade II* listed structure. 

On Monday 2 July 2018 Dorset Highways started on site to clear vegetation, erect a temporary scaffold footbridge on the downstream side and install a dam to drain water away from the area of bridge in need of repair.

The bridge has been significantly enhanced structurally using modern materials, which have then been clad in stone recovered from the river and new stone sourced from the same rock-bed used to build the bridge 500 years ago.

Many residents and visitors used the temporary footbridge, in place throughout the works, to watch as the bridge was carefully reconstructed.

Unusually, the wall failed with little warning or signs of deterioration, so the team on site had no recent photographs to help them piece the bridge back together. What a great job they did! 

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