Derby Telegraph has an interesting piece on the history of the Friar Gate railway bridge and local disruption caused when the railway came to Derby 140 years ago.
Imagine the outcry today if anyone suggested the demolition of Friar Gate railway bridge. It would be at least as vociferous as that which erupted when the bridge was built 140 years earlier.
Not only were our Victorian forebears horrified at the prospect of one of Derby's most historic thoroughfares being defaced, they were also so terrified by the imminent arrival of hundreds of what were regarded as uncivilised, uneducated navvies that plans were laid for missionaries to visit the itinerant population.
As ever, vested interests were decisive and the local council easily brought on board.
The railway, which needed the approval of the town council to proceed, had conveniently commissioned a local man, George Thompson, to survey the line. Thompson ran his own practice, but also served as borough surveyor. The GNR also acted wisely in its choice of solicitor – Samuel Leech, Liberal town councillor and Mayor of Derby.
The Mercury also pointed out that the support of the rest of the council – half of whom had industrial businesses that were nearer the proposed GNR route than the existing Midland line, and many of whom owned the land on which the railway would be built – was hardly surprising.
It was, perhaps, little wonder, too, that the Chamber of Commerce, which shared many members with the town council, also put forward its enthusiastic support.
While the middle classes were concerned about a huge influx of navvies, poorer people had more pressing problems - the demolition of their homes.
In total around 265 houses were destroyed, making homeless around 1,500 people. Most of these were poor labourers and the like, almost all of whom had rented low-cost housing, of which there had already been a shortage.
The GNR was under no obligation to replace the lost homes, and it was difficult to persuade property speculators to build homes that could earn only a tiny sum in rent.
Some compensation was offered to the displaced, but this was a matter of shillings and was of little help.