How architect Aslin bridged design gap
EXETER Bridge across the Derwent in Derby is really rather a distinguished structure, although it very nearly wasn't.
The original bridge was a timber structure built for their own convenience by lead smelters Saxelby and Co., put in place between 1815 and 1826.
At that time, the Market Place was much more enclosed than it is now, with the south-eastern angle – the present gap between the Assembly Rooms box office and Quad – filled with a large Jacobean town house built by Sir Simon Every, of Egginton.
Only a footpath, widened in the 1820s, passed from the Market Place along the edge of the grounds of 1 Full Street, otherwise Exeter House, and crossed to Canary Island via this wooden footbridge.
In 1850, newly-appointed borough surveyor Samuel Harpur widened Der-went Street and pitched Derwent Street East on the opposite bank of the Derwent.
To connect them, Staffordshire architect Richard Trubshaw designed a fine stone bridge to a conservative design which harked back to the 18th century.
This bridge took the ever-increasing burden of traffic, including the laying of tramlines and the opening of an electric tram route to Chaddesden, across it in 1908.
But after the First WorldWar, the council began to develop a plan to sweep away the industry which crowded the banks of the Derwent in the town centre and replace it with what today's planners would call a municipal quarter: council HQ, police and fire station, magistrates' courts, market and bus station.
The first version of this plan of 1928 was drawn up by borough surveyor C. A. Clews and included replacing Exeter Bridge with a wider, better-aligned structure capable of taking a heavier traffic load.
Clews designed the new bridge, on which work began in 1928-29, after his retirement. His replacement was Herbert Aslin, the first borough architect, who was a far more accomplished architect. He had a real vision for the architectural possibilities of the improvement plan, which he redesigned extensively and republished in 1931.
One thing Aslin did was to re-design Exeter Bridge. By the time he had taken over, the basic arch was already in position, a crude openwork structure in reinforced concrete.
What Aslin did was to redesign the upper portions. His new scheme also took account of something woefully neglected after his time – Derby's important river frontages.
This included new river gardens and the walkway in front of the new magistrates' courts, and these he incorporated into the bridge design, with impressive angled steps from river bank to the bridge.
To do this, he dispensed with concrete and used the finest-quality local millstone grit, with carved balustrading.
The four ends of the bridge he marked with "pylons" which he embellished with bronze twin-armed electric lampions and bronze plaques.
Almost three weeks ago, some bone-headed vandal damaged one of the plaques in trying to prise it off. This worried me for I am not sure whether the original drawings exist so that the plaques could be replaced should another barbarian succeed.
The plaques depict Erasmus Darwin, John Lombe, Herbert Spencer and William Hutton as oval medallions in bas relief with basic information on a tablet.
I have failed to discover the name of the artist but I suspect it was F. W. Hounsell, the Art College principal. The designs were turned into plaques courtesy of "Brassy" Smith's Cotton Lane brass foundry.
I have discovered two photographs of the William Hutton plaque when new and fixed to its pylon.
These may be all that the council has to go on if one of them is ever stolen.