WIDNES IN CHESHIRE is across the River Mersey from the town of Runcorn. In the past, both places were important industrial centres. Currently, they are linked by two impressive road bridges (the Mersey Gateway, opened in 2017; and the Silver Jubilee Bridge, opened in 1961 and given its present name in 1977) and a Victorian railway viaduct. The Silver Jubilee Bridge (‘SJB’) begins cross in the Mersey from Widnes near to St Mary’s church and the Victoria Gardens.
A few feet downstream from the SJB, there is what looks like a short jetty projecting a little way over the Mersey. On one side of this, there a small building with two separate slate roofs. The wide jetty-like structure looks disused. And so, it is. The structure is all that remains on the Widnes riverbank of the Widnes–Runcorn Transporter Bridge. Until 1905, when it was constructed, the only bridge across the Mersey at Widnes was the railway bridge (variously named as The Runcorn Railway Bridge, Ethelfleda Bridge, and Britannia Bridge), which was opened in 1868.
Between 1901 and 1905, when it was opened, the transporter bridge was under construction. It was the first of its kind in Britain. At each end of the bridge there was a 180 feet high steel tower. Suspended from them and spanning the length between them was a 1000-foot-long girder along which ran a continuous loop of cable. A transporter car was attached to the cable. The loop of cable was wound around a wheel attached to a winch on an engine housed in a building: the one which can be seen on the jetty-like structure at Widnes. As the wheel rotated, the cable moved, and the car attached to it moved across the river and high above it. The crossing took about 2 ½ minutes in favourable weather.
When it was built, the transporter bridge was cheaper to construct than a conventional bridge such as the one that replaced it in 1961 (i.e., the SJB). The transporter bridge, which was deemed inadequate for modern traffic volumes, was closed on the day that the SJB was opened, and it was demolished soon after. All that remains in Widnes is what can be seen at the end of Mersey Road next to the start of the SJB and Victoria Gardens. Although we did not visit Runcorn, I have read that the approach to the transporter bridge can be seen on that side of the river.
When we came across the remains of the transporter bridge, we had no idea what we were looking at. We asked several young people nearby, and they were unsure of its purpose. Older people whom we met in the nearby friendly pub (The Mersey), whose garden provides not only a pleasant place to drink but also a fine view of the SJB and the railway viaduct, were able to inform us about the bridge which is no more.
THERE IS A FASCINATING pair of railway viaducts at Chapel Milton, near Chapel-en-Frith in the Peak District. Constructed in about 1860 and then 1890, the viaducts support a place where two railway lines diverge. The viaducts, which join each other at a bifurcation were built at different times as the dates suggest. One of the arcades consists of 13 arches and the other of 13.
Allow Wikipedia to explain:”The Midland Railway opened a new line via Chapel-en-le-Frith Central and Great Rocks Dale, linking the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, in 1867, giving it an express through route for the first time between Manchester and London … The eastern section, essentially a second, mirror-image viaduct in an identical style, was added in 1890 to allow trains to travel between Sheffield and the south via Buxton and the Midland’s own line.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapel_Milton_Viaduct)
THE SMALL CORNISH village of Luxulyan has a fine old parish church, which is dedicated to Saints Ciricius and Julitta, both of whom are new to me. This edifice was built in the 15th century and restored in the 19th (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1158407). The northern aisle of the church was filled with used books for sale when we visited it. A weathered Cornish cross stands close to the west end of the church. During the 19th century, this was brought to its present location from Three Stiles (near Consence). The church and its churchyard, along with the tiny village are charming, but what caught my eye and raised my curiosity was a building bearing the name ‘Captain TC Agar-Robartes Memorial.’
The name Agar-Robartes intrigued me. My interest in it increased when I saw a small stone memorial near the River Fowey in Lostwithiel. It bore the words:
“Royal British Legion, Lostwithiel Branch, 1932-1997. Opened by Lady Robartes.”
Things became clearer after visiting the magnificent Lanhydrock House, originally constructed in the 17th century, and reconstructed quite faithfully after a huge fire in 1881. The house was created by John Robartes (1606-1685), 2nd Baron Robartes of Truro, 1st Viscount of Bodmin, and 1st Earl of Radnor. One of his many descendants, Anna Maria Hunt (1771-1861) married Charles Bagenal-Agar (1769-1811). One of their three sons, Thomas James Agar-Robartes (1808-1882), assumed the surname ‘Robartes’ in 1822 and tacked it on to his Agar surname. One of his ten grandchildren was Thomas Charles Reginald Agar-Robartes (1880-1915), the ‘TCR Agar-Robartes’, whose name is on the building in Luxulyan.
Thomas was educated at Eton and Christ Church College, Oxford. He was elected to represent the South-East Cornwall constituency as its MP in 1906. However, he was unseated a month after the election because of infringing some electoral regulations. He had been found guilty of bribery and other offences. Nevertheless, he was re-elected in 1908. His election campaign was based on support of free trade and reform of temperance laws. In August 1914, Thomas signed up as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Bucks Hussars, and then in 1915, wanting to see action on the battlefront, he left for France as an officer in the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. In June 1915, he was promoted to become a captain. During the Battle of Loos in September 1915, he was shot in no-mans-land and never recovered.
The building, a working man’s institute and reading room in Luxulyan, which bears Thomas’s name, was first conceived in 1913, but only began to be used as such in 1924, when the edifice was completed. Naming it after Thomas is explained on a website page about the building (www.luxulyanpc.co.uk/Luxulyan_Memorial_Institute_32056.aspx): “ Tragically, as we know, young Tommy Robartes of Lanhydrock died after receiving wounds rescuing a comrade from one of those fields of battle. He had been well known and liked in the village, often coming to visit, accompanying the land agent dealing with tenants. The village picked up its interrupted thoughts on the Institute and Reading Room idea; whether the idea of a Memorial to Tommy, or just asking the Lanhydrock estate for a piece of land came first, is not clear, but it was agreed that a piece of land from the estate for a Memorial Institute was acceptable to all.”
Having already offered £50 towards building the Memorial institute, Dr Nathaniel T Coulson then offered a further £100 on condition that Thomas Agar-Robartes’s name was on the hall. Dr Coulson, who is described in the website, interested me because of his profession:
“He was born in Penzance in April 1853, abandoned by his drunken father at the age of 10 years and bound over to the farmer at Penquite Farm, Lostwithiel. He then spent some years in the British Navy and first arrived in San Francisco in 1875. For a while he worked for a stock-broking firm and wrote for several daily newspapers. In 1884 at the age of 30, he became a student at the dental department of the University of California, where he graduated after two years, receiving his degree as a Doctor of Dental Surgery. He was a member of several fraternal organisations, and generous with donations to many worthy causes. Among others in England, he helped finance the establishment of Coulson Park, Lostwithiel, in 1907. He travelled back here on several occasions, also visiting India after his retirement…”
So, that explains the hall that we saw in Luxulyan. I am not at all sure which ‘Lady Robartes’ is the one whose name appears on the British Legion monument in Lostwithiel, which bears the words “Opened by Lady Robartes”. If a Lady Robartes opened the branch in 1932, who was she? Only one of Thomas’s brothers married, Arthur (1887-1974). His wife, Patience Mary Basset, whom he married in 1920 might have been the ‘Lady Robartes’. Alternatively, she might have been one of Thomas’s sisters: Mary Vere (1879-1946) or Julia (1880-1969) or Edith (1888-1965) or Constance (1890-1936). If on the other hand the words refer to the inauguration of the monument in 1997, then I cannot offer any suggestions.
Luxulyan is worth visiting not only to see the things I have already mentioned, but also the impressive, massive, granite combined aqueduct and viaduct near to the village. It carries water and a railway track over the River Par. Known as the Treffry Viaduct, it was completed in 1844 and designed by the engineer and mining entrepreneur Joseph Treffry (1782-1850).
Until we visited Luxulyan, I had never heard of the Agar-Robartes family. Once again, visiting Cornwall has resulted in finding places and persons of great interest. The more I see, the more I want to know.