Victoria Street Bridge, Leamington

Victoria Street, Cambridge

  • Victoria Street Bridge.
    Copyright: Waipa District Council.
  • .
    Copyright: Waipa District Council.
  • .
    Copyright: Waipa District Council.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4159 Date Entered 21st September 1989


City/District Council

Waipa District


Waikato Region

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

As the main link between Cambridge and Cambridge West for most of this century, the Cambridge High Level Bridge is of great local importance. Originally the only connection between the two places was by punt. Then the first bridge was built in 1870/71 at a cost of £1,500. It was built near the river level, and piers to support it were placed in the river. The flood of 17 November 1875 destroyed it, and it was replaced with a second bridge built in 1876. This was a wooden truss girder bridge, 143 feet (43.6m) long and 14ft (4.26m) wide, costing £2345 to build. It was placed at a higher level and was known as 'The Red Bridge'. Both these early bridges were built on the site of the present Fergusson bridge which is upstream of the Cambridge 'High Level' Bridge (Wilkinson: 37). The scheme for a new bridge placed at yet a higher level, was first mooted at a meeting held in Cambridge West in 1899, and a government engineer, C W Hursthouse was commissioned to investigate possible sites. In June 1901, Mr James Keeley of Cambridge West convened a meeting chaired by the Mayor of Cambridge, W F Buckland, and a committee was formed which eventually decided upon the Victoria Street site. But the major catalyst for the construction of the bridge was the visit of Sir Joseph Ward, an important member of Richard Seddon's Liberal Party Government. Ward visited Cambridge in December 1903 to open the Sanitorium at Maungakawa, and councillors took the opportunity to extract a reaffirmation of a previous promise made by Ward when he was Colonial Treasurer to grant £3000 to the people of Cambridge for the purpose of erecting a high level bridge. At this stage the old Red Bridge was showing signs of well-advanced deterioration (Cambridge Borough Council Minute Books; 57), yet negotiations dragged on, with a feasibility report done on the rebuilding of the bridge on the same site. The scheme for the Victoria Street site was not reinvestigated until Mr Buckland regained the mayoralty. With characteristic vigour he had the engineer, James Fulton, appointed and the contract was let to G M Fraser for £5692 while materials costing £5078 were ordered from the United States (correspondence: np). Building commenced in May 1907 and the bridge was finished and officially opened by the Governor General, Lord Plunket, on 21 December 1907. The total cost amounted to £13,000 and was shared by the contributing bodies: the Cambridge Borough Council paid for 30%, the Pukekura Road Board 30%, Waipa County Council 15% and Waikato County Council, 10% (Minute Books: 23). The bridge is therefore the result of considerable collaboration and co-operation between local and regional authorities.


Although it is not 'the first braced arch bridge in Australasia' (Parker: 23) because that distinction belongs to the Trevalyn Bridge at Launceston, Australia (completed 1904) (O'Connor: 39) - it is the first New Zealand example of this rare method of bridge construction (Progress: 119). Particularly in its use of modern engineering technology and cantilevering, it is a pioneering structure. During the process of cantilevering, the operation only differed from that in the construction of bridges of more conventional design in that anchor I bars took the place of the anchor arm. The junction of the west arm, or half arch, was made after the erection of steel end posts began, and at that time 300 tons (305 tonnes) of steel were placed in position. The floor system of the bridge is composed of an alternating arrangement of deep and shallow I beam stringers, the deep beams spanning a panel unsupported, the intermediate or shallow stringer being supported at mid-panel length by intercostal or secondary floor beams attached to deep stringers. The floor system bears on plate girder floor beams or transoms at every panel post, and is stiffened throughout by a simple arrangement at intersecting angle-bar wind bracing in every panel. The spandrel members of the chords consist of vertical posts and diagonal braces, each of two-rolled channel section laced apart. The intersection of these members with the chords is covered with gusset plates, forming rigidly connected riveted joints. The shore ends of the 42 foot (12.8 metre) approach and the 65 foot (19.8 metre) flank spans are carried on concrete abutments which, during the erection of the arch, acted as anchors for the half arches, or cantilever arms. The thrusts of the ends of the arch is taken on skewback piers extending some 15 feet (4.9 metres) into the river banks, thus having a footing on a solid sandstone formation.

The total cost of the bridge was £13,000; the materials alone cost £5078 and were ordered from the United States along with the paint used to protect the bridge against corrosive deterioration, known as 'carbonising coating' (Correspondence: np). From an engineering history point of view the structure is an example of very advanced bridge design and construction practice for its time.


Shortly after its opening, the Cambridge High Level Bridge was described as 'a landmark for miles around the excellent agricultural districts it unites' (Progress: 119) and comment was also made that the span of the arch, and the contour of the bridge made the structure appear both 'imposing' and 'graceful'. Its placement at the end of Victoria Street makes it clearly visible from the Cambridge town centre as well as from Leamington on the other side of the river, and it appears on picture postcards of Cambridge as a prominent feature of the town.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fulton, James Edward

Fulton (1854-1928) was one of New Zealand's most prominent engineers. Born in Dunedin in 1854 he worked for a short time as an engineer in flax mill. He was then appointed cadet in the Public Works Department. In 1875 he was transferred to Napier where in 1878 he was promoted to Assistant Engineer in 1878. In 1880 he entered private practice. In 1882 he was Resident Engineer for the Palmerston-Waikanae section of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway, and in 1889 he became manager and locomotive superintendent of the railway.

From 1897 he designed and built the Kelburn Cable Tramway, the original Kelburn Viaduct across Tinakori Gully and numerous bridges, including the Ballance Bridge over the Manawatu River, and the Otaki, Ohau, Rangitikei, Lower Shotover Bridges. He designed and built railways for timber companies in the Central North Island. In 1906 he visited the United States, Great Britain, and Europe to study advances in bridge and railway engineering. He worked on the Leamington Bridge on his return. He was an active member of professional engineering bodies in New Zealand and is now commemorated by the Fulton Bequest for the present day Institution of Professional Engineers in New Zealand.

Waddell, John Alexander Low

John Alexander Low Waddell, the consultant for the Cambridge High Level Bridge was a prominent engineer throughout the United States and in the Orient. Continuously from 1886 he was in the active practice of bridge engineering as consultant, first in Kansas City until 1920, and then in New York City until his death. He designed many large and important structures over the Mississippi, Missouri and Hudson rivers, others in the New York Metropolitan district, and a number in Canada, Mexico and Europe. In particular he is known for the development at the modern lift bridge, of which he was the originator. The last of this type of bridge to be built under his direction was the Marine Parkway Lift Bridge, a 165.6m (540ft) bridge over Rockaway Inlet, in New York City. He was held in high esteem by the engineering fraternity and was honoured not only in his own country but by the governments of Japan, Russia, China and Italy. He held five honorary doctorates, including one from Japan, one from Canada, and one from Puerto Rico. Continuously throughout his life he wrote engineering books and monographs. His many and varied accomplishments were given added recognition when in 1936 he was elected Honorary Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


James Edward Fulton (1854-1928) with G M Fraser (contractor for erection) and S W Jones (resident assistant engineer) and with consultancy by the American Bridge Company of New York (1906) which had in 1905 been called Messrs Waddell and Headrick and was based in Kansas City. The principal of this company was John Alexander Low Waddell (1854-1928) and it is he who was largely responsible for the design of the Cambridge High Level Bridge.


The Cambridge High level Bridge belongs to what is known as the three-hinged braced arch type. It comprises a trussed three-pinned arch of 88m span with spandrel stanchions varying from 5m to 21m in height, each panel being braced to resist non-uniform loads on the arch. It comprises one arch span of 290 feet (88.4 m) between skewbacks and two 65 feet (19.8 m) plate girder flanking spans and one 42 feet (12.8 m) plate girder approach span. The total length of the bridge is 462 feet (140.8 m) between abutments, with a height of 126 feet (35.4 m) to the handrail - above the ordinary water level of the Waikato River, while the width of the deck is 17 feet (5.2m) between the railings. The arch springs from pin connections on the concrete skewback piers 50 feet (15.2 m) above water level with a rise of 52 feet (15.8 m) to the crown pins at the centre. The crown and skewback pins lie in an arch of 228 feet (69.5 m) radius. This arch extends the full width of the river and was effected by cantilevering "to avoid the necessity of staying and false work and all possible inconvenience due to floods" (Progress: 119). A double cancellation system of laced angle bars extends between the up- and down-stream arches (or 'bottom chords') in twelve panels (or 'bays').


Because the Fergusson bridge was built upstream of the Cambridge 'High Level' Bridge, this structure has not been altered to accommodate heavy traffic. The original bridge design called for 150mm soft wood decking but this was replaced in 1925 with a heavier hardwood deck and footpaths were added together with water mains and other services. In the early 1960s the existing timber decking had reached the stage that replacement was required and the Consulting Engineers, North, Swarbrick, Mills and Westwood prepared proposals for the construction of a reinforced concrete deck. At about this time extensive sandblasting and repainting works were carried out. The repainting and construction of a new concrete deck were completed in 1963.

Following the construction of the heavier concrete deck, the present loading restrictions were imposed. These restrictions relate both to weight, width and types of vehicles permitted together with some dispensation for emergency vehicles including fire-engines and power board vehicles carrying out maintenance of electrical fittings. Repairs were carried out in 1978, costing $392,000 (Wilkinson: 24) and the deck surface has been re-laid with asphalt.

Notable Features

The anchor I bars and laced angle bars in the arch of the Cambridge High Level Bridge are its special features.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1907 -

Construction Details

Steel and concrete, with a braced steel arch and beams.

Information Sources

Furkert, 1953

Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953

Gibbons, 1977

P.J. Gibbons, Astride the River: A History of Hamilton, Christchurch, 1977

Kellaway, 1989

W J Kellaway, Leamington School 100 Years 1880 - 1980. Hamilton 1989

O'Connor, 1985

C O'Connor, How to Look at Bridges (for the Australian Heritage Commission), Barton ACT, 1985

Parker, 1986

S K Parker, Cambridge: An Illustrated History 1886-1986: The Centenary of Local Government in Cambridge, Cambridge 1986

New Zealand Society of Civic Engineers Inc (NZSOCE)

The New Zealand Society of Civic Engineers Inc.

Proceedings 1918-1919, Volume No 5, 1919

Cambridge Society

Cambridge Society

R Wilkinson, The Industrial Development of Carter's Flat (for the Cambridge Historical Society) Cambridge, 1972

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.