Today's object of the week is the haunting remains of a viaduct which once dominated a North East landscape.

TWO images, taken at roughly the same spot about 120 years apart, illustrate the dramatic transformation at what is now a County Durham beauty spot.

Take a walk through Cockfield Fell today and you’d be forgiven for not realising it was once a hive of industry.

Read more: How did two gigantic and magnificent trees end up in a Darlington park?

But there are clues to its industrial past dotted around the landscape, the most visible of which is the ruins of the Lands Viaduct – the subject of today’s Object of the Week

Described by one local historian as “like a giant’s plaything”, what’s left of the viaduct are the most spectacular of all the remains that lie on Cockfield Fell – the largest ancient monument in the North.

See how the landscape has changed with our interactive 'slider' below: 

The viaduct, designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, stood for more than 100 years - unlike the far more famous bridge designed by Sir Thomas, which collapsed in what is still regarded as the worst engineering failure ever seen in the British Isles.

Bouch's work on a project linking Bishop Auckland to Barnard Castle involved a viaduct spanning the River Gaunless and the Haggerleases branch line at a place on the edge of Cockfield Fell called Lands.

The viaduct was 640ft long and was 93ft above the Gaunless. It cost £15,422 to build and opened, with the rest of the line, which included another Bouch-built bridge at Langleydale, on August 1, 1863.

The Northern Echo: A passenger train pictured passing over Lands Viaduct at Cockfield Fell, before 1899A passenger train pictured passing over Lands Viaduct at Cockfield Fell, before 1899

Then Bouch was off to Scotland to build more bridges, where his reputation eventually collapsed - just like the bridge which sealed his fate.

For years, he advocated spanning the huge River Tay, near Dundee, and in 1873 the Tay Bridge Company, under his direction, started work on what would become the longest bridge in the world.

The workmen immediately ran into difficulty sinking the piers, which caused the price of the bridge to rise from £217,000 to £320,000. Nevertheless, it successfully opened on June 1, 1878, with its 85 spans 88ft above high water and running for nearly two miles.

But the Tay Bridge soon started showing signs of wear. It swayed when trains steamed over it and bolts were working loose.

Then came a severe winter. In the cold some of the iron started to crack and some of the lugs began to sheer off. But the speed limit on the bridge - which safety inspectors had set at 25mph - was increased to 40mph.

On December 28, 1879, a storm, force ten, buffeted the bridge. Winds gusted up to 70mph. The storm was at its height at 7.14pm, when the evening train - 225ft long, weighing 114 tons, with six carriages and carrying 75 passengers and crew - approached.

The centre of the bridge collapsed, and the train poured off the rails into the icy water. There were no survivors.

Sir Thomas’ reputation collapsed. He was pulled off the Forth Bridge project and as the inquiry unfolded he bore the blame.

Sir Thomas fell ill and died on October 30, 1880, physically and mentally a ruined man. His fall had been as dramatic as his bridge’s.

Back on Cockfield Fell, Sir Thomas Bouch’s work was holding up much better - but not perfectly.

Sir Thomas had designed Lands Viaduct wide enough to take a double track, even though he had installed a single one.

The Northern Echo: Replacing the steelwork on the Lands Viaduct over the river Gaunless and Haggerleases branch line, between 1899 and 1905Replacing the steelwork on the Lands Viaduct over the river Gaunless and Haggerleases branch line, between 1899 and 1905

In 1899, engineers thought it would be simple to add another track. But when they got up there, they discovered the steelwork had decayed so badly that it all had to be replaced. The operation took six years.

In its heyday, there were six passenger trains a day in both directions. The first one called at Cockfield at 7.17am; the last one at 8.56pm.

But far more important than passengers was the freight line carrying County Durham coke westwards to the industries of Cumbria - iron ore for the steelworks of Spennymoor and Teesside came eastwards. Between 1900 and 1918, half-a-million tons of minerals were transported on the line.

Like the Haggerleases beneath it, there were private colliery lines connecting on to it. The longest went from the east end of Lands Viaduct and followed the contours of the land for five miles as it climbed to Woodland Colliery, which once produced enough coal to fire 196 coke ovens. But its private line closed in 1921 and was dismantled in 1923 - although you can still follow its scar across the fell.

The Northern Echo: The only Lands Viaduct column still standingThe only Lands Viaduct column still standing

This was the beginning of the end of the line from Bishop Auckland to Barnard Castle. In the winter of 1955, the six passenger trains were cut to two.

On October 14, 1957, Evenwood station was closed. On September 15, 1958, Cockfield Fell station was closed. Non-stopping passenger trains continued to traverse the fell until June 12, 1962, when the Bishop Auckland to Barnard Castle service was withdrawn.

The girders and platform of Lands Viaduct were removed in 1964 and a couple of years later, dynamite was applied to its central column, which collapsed dramatically across the fell.

The Northern Echo: Part of the remains of Lands ViaductPart of the remains of Lands Viaduct

What remains is a haunting reminder of the industrial activity which once dominated the fell - now largely returned to nature.

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