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1840: Building the Ouse Viaduct

Balcombe Viaduct, West Sussex date 1999, by Michael Codd (b.1938)

Michael Codd, a well known, Hampshire book illustrator, was commissioned by West Sussex County Council to create a painting depicting the construction of the Ouse Viaduct. It is now part of the Council's art collection in Chichseter.

Codd was born in Wembley in 1938. The artist's illustrations have graced a number of publications, from 'The Children's Illustrated Bible' to 'Mayfair' magazine, and the covers for the first Modesty Blaise hardcover run. He has two children and lives in Alresford, Hampshire.

Much thought and imagination has gone into this well crafted illustration and gives us a good idea of what it was probably like. We would have perhaps expected the barges to navigate the canal to a point directly under the viaduct so materials could be directly lifted from the barges. Although most of the materials handling is over at this point. It would have needed the tow path along one side to take you that far. We might have expected to see some brick clamps to be smoking in the areas below as we know the clay beneath the bridge is good quality brick clay. It's likely that there would have been more construction activity at several points on the viaduct - due to the haste of the construction. The road, with horses in evidence towing carts, would have been used for haulage of materials. The date would have been just after May 1840 after the last arch had been keyed (see below for an article on this).

While bricks were made near or at the site, others may have come from Newhaven and Piddinghoe where they had more than one kiln. Due to the tight timescale and volume of bricks and need for quality bricks they were most probably shipped in from The Netherlands, where there was a surplus..

Cement may have come from South Heighton, and stone for the balustrades and pavilions was shipped from Caen in Normandy.

The construction was completed in an extraordinary 18 months. In a report in the Brighton Gazette in December 1840 announcing the 'keying' of the last arch we read: 'The first stone was laid in the middle of May last year, so that this stupendous undertaking has been completed in about 18 months. Most satisfactory accounts continue to reach us of the progress of the works throughout the line.' 1840: Viaduct - keying the last arch

Notes on the painting

Balcombe Viaduct, West Sussex Date 1999, by Michael Codd (b.1938)

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The Grange, County Hall Tower Street, The Grange, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1QT.

Medium: acrylic on board. H 50 x W 90 cm

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details

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