The whole length of the viaduct.

The Ouse Valley or Balcombe Viaduct (1839-42; first line opened 12 July 1841) was designed by David Mocatta (1806-1882), architect, and John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856), engineer. "One of England's most impressive railway viaducts" (Nairn and Pevsner 402), it is built of red brick with Caen limestone for the parapets and end pavilions, and is 1,475 feet in length all told, with 37 arches. Each of these longitudinal arches — along the run of the railway — is conventional: tall-piered and round-headed. What distinguishes this viaduct is the inverted arch at the bottom of the void within each pier, as shown in the photographs below. The function of this deign is to spread the ground loading of the superincumbent mass (if the piers were solid, that would increase the total weight to be carried). Compare this to Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Wharncliffe Viaduct, which has rectangular voids and works on a similar principle.

The viaduct from another angle.

Over 90 feet at its highest point, the viaduct spans the valley of the River Ouse between the village of Balcombe and the town of Haywards Heath in Sussex. It carries two tracks of the busy London-Brighton railway line on the direct route originally proposed by Sir John Rennie (1794-1874). It been Grade II* listed since 1983, and was restored from 1996-99, at enormous cost.

Left: A train passing over the viaduct. Right: The pavilions at one end.

Left: The base of the piers. Right: Looking through the piers, with their astonishing symmetry.

Longitudally, the viaduct's semicircular red brick arches span thirty feet, and are seven and a half feet wide at the base, according to the Railway Magazine (illustration caption, p. 11). The voids or openings are perfectly aligned, despite the sloping ground, and give the viaduct grace and lightness, even though it is, in fact, a massive work of engineering —

The structure contains some eleven million bricks, apparently mostly imported from Holland, though some were made locally. The Caen stone was shipped from Normandy to Newhaven. Bricks, stone and other construction materials were transported to site in barges on the River Ouse navigation. ["Ouse Valley, Balcombe."]

Restoration has entailed some changes — the use of different but matching materials and so on. But the viaduct still looks very much as it did in mid-Victorian times. Celebrated for its elegance, it is one of the very few remaining testimonies to David Mocatta's fine draughtsmanship, eye for detail, and breadth of vision.

Text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee, with much help from Colin Price, who also took the photographs. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Dixon, Roger, and Stefan Muthesius. Victorian Architecture. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

"Illustrated Interview, No. 7 — Sir Allen Sarle" {Outgoing General manager of the line]. Railway Magazine, Vol. 2 (January 1898): 1-16. Google Books. Free EBook. Web. 10 June 2018.

Nairn, Ian, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Sussex. London: Penguin, 1965.

"Ouse Valley, Balcombe." Engineering Timelines. Web. 10 June 2018.

Created 10 June 2018