The Severn Railway Bridge was a railway bridge in Gloucestershire that used to cross the tidal River Severn from Sharpness to Lydney. It was originally constructed by the Severn Bridge Railway company in the 1870s as part of the Severn and Wye Railway to allow coal to be transported from the Forest of Dean. Work began in 1875 and was completed in 1879. The bridge was 4,162 foot (1,268 m) long; and it was 70 foot (21.3 m) above high water. The bridge had a swinging section where it passed over the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.
The bridge was used as a diversionary route for the Severn Tunnel when this was closed for engineering work. The east-to-north curves at Westerleigh junction were used for this route and closed when the bridge was abandoned – as was the south-to-west curve at Berkeley.
In Spring 1943 a flight of three Spitfires were being delivered by ATA pilots, including one woman, Ann Wood, from their Castle Bromwich factory to Whitchurch. As it was low tide, the lead pilot Johnnie Jordan decided to fly under the bridge. Some time later, Ann Wood repeated this underflying – without realising that this time it was high tide and there was 30′ less headroom. This wasn”t the only instance of pilots buzzing the bridge, it was seemingly so common at one time that a local policeman was tasked with recording serial numbers.
On 25 October 1960, two barges carrying petroleum collided with one of the columns of the bridge in heavy fog, causing two spans of the twenty-two span steel and cast iron bridge to collapse. Part of the structure hit the barges, setting fire to them. Five people died in the incident; more damage occurred in February 1961. The bridge was considered at the time to be damaged beyond economic repair. Following the damage, schoolchildren who had used the bridge daily were taken 40 miles via Gloucester.
The bridge was eventually dismantled in 1970, although several of the stone piers remain. Most notable is that between the canal and river, a large circular pier that formed the base of the swinging section. Some piers are mere foundations, only visible at low tide, as is the wreck of the petrol barge.
A video from the demolition of the Bridge