30 June 2008

The Lloyds and Lloyds Head

Canute-like, Telford and Wrekin Council is attempting to prevent geological subsidence at the Lloyds in Ironbridge. This year’s scheme is a much more ambitious project than last year’s, although along the same 150-metre stretch of the 10 kilometre Ironbridge Gorge.

Last year, several million pounds were spent sinking a series of piles into the geology to try and stop the road slipping into the river. The life-expectancy of this work was 30 years, but the current works supposedly will last 100 years. Quite what happens when this short stretch of riverside stays where it is, and the rest of the gorge quietly slips into the river, is not clear.

This is an impressive bit of engineering work, involving 30-metre piles on both sides of the river. These go down into the underlying bedrock, such as it is, and thus retain the overburden which is suffering from rotational slippage exacerbated by 500 years of mining and other industrial activity. The main beneficiaries of this seem to be the ‘Black Swan’ pub and a few other houses, plus of course the roads themselves. This view is from the Lloyds side, looking across to Lloyds Head (‘Black Swan’ on the far right on the opposite bank).

We did a special visit last week with some Museum and Institute colleagues, with a very interesting presentation by Neal Rushton, the Council’s chief engineer on the project. Here is Roger White with the rapidly subsiding Lloyds Cottage in the background.

The cottage itself was compulsorily purchased by the Council a couple of years ago. There is an idea afoot to convert it into a visitor centre, but many of the project team would be quite happy to see it disappear, it would seem. The problem for engineers is that historic structures like this aren’t built of mega reinforced concrete and so they move naturally with the landscape, which is not at all in accordance with modern building regulations.

Here is one of the piling rigs.

These alone weigh 90 tons, and so a great deal of temporary reinforcement of the river bank has been needed just to allow the work to proceed! The current project is costing tens of millions of pounds. One wonders whether this scheme would actually be undertaken if this was not a high-value property area in a World Heritage Site. As someone who is prone to consider whether even relatively ordinary conservation of some historic structures is worthwhile, I have to seriously question these attempts – however noble – to try and arrest what is, after all, a natural geological process. Moreoever these natural processes are what made the Gorge in the first place. I am sure that people affected by equally unstoppable coastal erosion in other parts of the country might have something to say. Proposals are afoot for further work in the future.

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