If you walk along Rewley Road in Oxford and cross Sheepwash Channel, stop for a moment and look west, toward a railway bridge across the waterway. There, you’ll see a swing bridge, which is supported by one vertical pin, or pivot, and can rotate 90 degrees, allowing trains to cross the waterway. The Rewley Road Swing Bridge, as this one is called, has been fixed at the open position since 1984.
For more than 130 years, the bridge carried rail traffic to a terminal in Oxford. Toward the end of 1850, a new railway from Bletchley to the northern outskirts of Oxford was opened by the Buckinghamshire Railway, and the company wanted to join the existing Oxford to Banbury line owned by GWR, but GWR refused. The solution was to build a parallel line into the city, complete with its own terminus, which opened in 1851.
The rail line across the swing bridge, which carried passengers from Oxford to as far as Cambridge, was closed to passenger traffic in 1951 and to freight in 1984. All trains were rerouted to the GWR line.
The Rewley Road swing bridge itself was designed by Robert Stephenson, the only son of George Stephenson, inventor of the railroad locomotive. It had to be turned by two men. The hand-cranked mechanism transferred motion through shafts to cog wheels, which turned the entire apparatus.
Although today the bridge is in poor shape, there are hopes it can be restored. A partnership including the Oxford City Council and Railway Heritage Trust and Network Rail (who still own the bridge) is, as of September 2019, developing a plan to conserve the structure.
Know Before You Go
The old bridge is a five-minute walk from the Oxford rail station via Stable Close and Rewley Road.