is one of five viaducts (Glaze, Bittaford, Ivybridge, Blatchford and Slade) situated between Totnes and Plymouth, all of which were originally designed by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859). The Ivybridge Viaduct was the highest of the five at just over 104 feet with eleven bays covering a distance of 252 yards. The piers were originally built from local surface granite with a timber superstructure which was strengthened with wrought iron girders 20 years after construction.
Due to the conversion of the line from broad (7ft ¼ins) to standard gauge (4ft 8½ins), the original Brunel viaduct was replaced.
In 1893 Sir James Inglis, the General Manager and Consulting Engineer of the Great Western Railway, designed a second viaduct for the South Devon Railway built of rock-faced granite and blue engineering bricks which allowed the two separate double-track sections to be joined up.
When the line between Rattery and Hemerdon was doubled, the Great Western Railway Company and its contractors needed to build 100,000 cubic yards of masonry and required nearly 4,000,000 bricks for the five viaducts, twenty-four bridges, one short tunnel and associated earthworks for the whole ten mile length.
Messrs S Pearson and Sons of Victoria St, Westminster were contracted by Great Western Railway to undertake the practical reconstruction and doubling of the main line between Rattery and Hemerdon. At this time the stonecutters in the Plymouth district were on strike and so 19 Dublin stonecutters came to Ivybridge in 1891 to construct the new railway viaduct.
The task of building the viaduct in Ivybridge was both labour intensive and hazardous. The name for workmen constructing the railway network across Britain was “navvies”. The word is derived from the word ‘navigator’, a description of the men who built the first navigation canals in the eighteenth century. Many at the time were fleeing famine in Ireland and travelled from job to job often living in appalling conditions in so-called shanty towns located alongside the bridges, tunnel and cuttings they built. However, as railways were a vital component of the Industrial Revolution, the work of these men was considered crucial and so they were well paid, at least compared to factory workers. Unfortunately they had a reputation of hard living, fighting and drinking heavily, which for respectable Victorians, brought considerable concern, with many towns fearing the arrival of the navvies!
Newspaper reports at the time estimated that there were around 400 men engaged locally in the double tracking of The Great Western railway during the early 1890s (within an area of 10 miles). This large influx of navvies prompted the local clergy to provide a ‘Navvy Mission Room’ to cater for their moral and spiritual welfare. Due to the very nature of their work these men were regarded as an isolated class so having a meeting place was beneficial. Church services were regularly provided as well as temperance meetings (which encouraged the consumption of alcohol in moderation or total abstinence) and other activities which focussed on the general welfare of the men and their families. The Navvy Mission Room in Ivybridge was located opposite the parish church and during the Great Blizzard of 1891 suffered extensive damage to the roof which was later repaired thanks to the generosity of the contractors of the railway. This mission room was later rebuilt as the first church hall in 1905.
The new Ivybridge viaduct was brought into use in 1894. It was on a different alignment which forced the construction of a new westbound (down) platform further back from the old line. The eastbound (up) platform was widened and this left the building set back at an odd angle to the track. Six of the surviving granite piers of the earlier Brunel viaduct can still be seen.
The present Inglis Viaduct and the remaining six adjacent piers of the original Brunel construction were Grade II listed in 1984.