20 August, 2015

...Like son

My previous post highlighted the achievements of Leigh Shire engineer, Charles Anthony Corbett Wilson, however he was not the only engineer in his large family. One of his younger sons - Frederick - was appointed Meredith Shire engineer in 1893, but it was his eldest son Charles Corbett Powell Wilson who arguably went on to have the biggest impact on the infrastructure of the district.
CCP Wilson, was born in Geelong around 1857 and learnt his trade working with his father. Between them, father and son were responsible for the design and construction of dozens of bridges, roads, public buildings and civic facilities across the Western Districts of Victoria in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them involving the Barwon River and its tributaries.
Charles Corbett Powell Wilson, shire engineer to Leigh,
Meredith and Buninyong Shires
By the time he arrived in the Barwon catchment region, CCP Wilson already had significant experience in civil engineering, having served as engineer to the Portland Shire from 1889 until 1908. Upon leaving Portland, Wilson was appointed as engineer to the Shires of Buninyong and Meredith and then, two years later upon the retirement of his father in 1910, he also took up the position of Leigh Shire engineer.
Whilst much of the work undertaken by Wilson involved the maintenance of existing roads and bridges, like his father, he too was responsible for the design of a significant number of bridges and other civil structures, a number of which are still standing to this day. Building on the pioneering work of his father, he was a huge supporter of the use of reinforced concrete as a cheap, durable and low-maintenance building product and there are several bridges still standing today as testament to the validity of his thinking.
One of his earliest and most significant projects was of course, the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge about which I have written in detail in previous posts and which dates to 1910. Located at the boundary of the three shires he served, it is a fitting testament to his many contributions.
Leigh Grand Junction Bridge, August, 2015
At about the same time, Wilson was also responsible for the design of at least two other bridges in the region which were substantially similar in design and appearance. The first was what is now known as Cooper's Bridge over the Moorabool River on the Meredith-Steiglitz Road. By July, 1911 the Meredith Shire Council was calling for quotes to rebuild the timber bridge which stood at that time. Wilson's bridge was the fourth to stand on the site. Whilst attending the official celebrations held after the opening of his new bridge in May, 1913 the engineer noted that there had been a bridge on the site for 35 years and that it was his father who had been responsible for building the initial structure, including the bluestone abutments upon which the new bridge stood. (This latter, despite a recommendation by Wilson that a new location for the bridge should be chosen to allow for a less torturous alignment, a point echoed by the Minister For Public Works in his speech at the opening event.)
Wilson then went on to note that 17 years earlier, his brother had drawn up plans to have the second bridge replaced with a steel structure, however this was deemed too expensive by council who decreed that a timber structure should be built instead - a decision which undoubtedly resulted in the construction of the bridge which still stands today.
Cooper's Bridge aka the Moorabool Bridge, August, 2015
The bridge designed by Wilson was built from steel-reinforced concrete, using the original bluestone abutments from the first bridge. It was supported between the abutments by two concrete piers which were 39 ft deep, 16 ft wide and 1 ft thick. The piers were reinforced with 1 inch mild steel (a strong, flexible steel often used for bridge construction) whilst the 9 in concrete beams they supported were reinforced with recycled steel cable from the Melbourne tramways - a measure of economy which Wilson also used to good effect on the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge. This structure was over-topped by a 6 in concrete deck. The guard rails were constructed from water pipe and panels of cyclone fencing.
Whilst the guard rails have today been replaced with modern edging, the rest of the structure appears to remain much as described in 1913. In total, the new bridge cost a grand sum of  £763, of which £68 was the cost involved in removing the previous structure. The original bridge had cost the shire £700.
Not too far away and also dating to a similar era is the bridge at Sharp's Crossing on the Moorabool River near Sheoaks. The first bridge on the site was built in 1882 after a successful campaign by locals  who complained that the existing ford (possibly pre-dating the 1870s) became impassable each time the river flooded. Once completed, it was noted that the new bridge was not of the highest quality, but would do the job - and this was true as far as it went. Like most wooden bridges however, it had an effective working life of around ten years before it required on-going repair, and council reports show that from 1893 onward, Sharp's Crossing required re-decking, repairing or the installation of new planks on an almost annual basis.
By 1904 it was reported that the centre bearers of the western span of the bridge were completely rotten and it was recommended that this part of the bridge be removed and replaced with an embankment. There is no suggestion that this plan was adopted and the repairs continued until the end of 1914 when construction finally began on a new concrete bridge, designed by CCP Wilson. The project was completed by February the following year, however with increasing wartime austerity, it was deemed that the money required for a grand opening would be better spent on other road works and so the bridge was opened quietly, without the pomp and ceremony which accompanied the opening of the Grand Junction and Moorabool bridges. It was remarked none-the-less, that the bridge was the most handsome, strong and best-looking bridge on river.
Sharp's Crossing Bridge over the Moorabool River, November, 2011 with the
trademark pipe and wire handrails of a CCP Wilson design, still intact
And so it continued year after year. The newspapers of the day - which dutifully reported all council proceedings - are filled with the reports and recommendations of Engineer Wilson. In addition to major projects, there were culverts, drains, small bridges, roads and an array of civic projects and the shire engineer was expected to design them, supervise construction and maintain them all.
He is indicated as having "erected a new concrete bridge over the Moorabool River below Egerton" early in 1914, however I suspect his contribution was to re-deck the existing Blue Bridge (now heritage listed) which was originally constructed in 1870 with a timber deck atop a bluestone pier and abutments. Wilson's changes typically introduced a concrete deck, reinforced and braced with steel rails.
Section of the Blue Bridge on the Yendon-Egerton Road
Some of the smaller projects undertaken by CCP Wilson included bridges across Lal Lal Creek, the Yarrowee River on Whitehorse Road at Buninyong and another small bridge near Clarendon, to name just a few. This latter bridge which still stands on Hopgoods Road was - as far as I can tell - built in mid-1914.
Small concrete bridge on Hopgood's Road, Clarendon
It is an interesting illustration of the techniques used by Wilson in his work with pre-stressed concrete. Today, part of the bridge corner post has fallen away, revealing the steel within the structure. The cable steel he sourced secondhand from the Melbourne tramways and the gravel for the concrete came from local deposits often on the Leigh river. Everything was constructed onsite.
Detail showing both cable steel and bars of mild steel used in the construction
Another surviving example of a bridge designed by Wilson and which is still in use today, is a somewhat larger bridge on the Scotchman's Lead Road south of Ballarat, known as Franklin's Bridge. Completed in early 1914, it is over 100 ft in length and 16 ft wide and at the time of its opening, the Ballarat Star newspaper proudly declared that it was the finest bridge in the shire. The deck is supported by two concrete piers between concrete abutments and in typical CCP Wilson style, in its original form included pipe and cyclone wire hand rails. Today these have been replaced by a more modern metal equivalent. The bridge was completed using "day labour" and cost around £800.
Franklin's Bridge on the Scotchman's Lead-Napoleon's Road
In addition to these road projects, Wilson also designed numerous other public facilities, some of which still stand today. He was for instance, responsible for the installation of concrete swings, fences and a significant concrete swimming pool along with other features, in the Buninyong Botanic Gardens. The pool is now empty but is still standing and has been converted into an attractive sunken garden which blends nicely with its surroundings.
Sunken gardens in the old concrete swimming pool at the Buninyong
Botanic Gardens
Inside the garden
A view of the gardens from above
Following World War 1 Wilson was particularly keen to support ex-servicemen and to commemorate their sacrifice. Buninyong's World War 1 memorial was his design as were the soldiers' memorial halls at Dereel and Shelford, built in 1920. He also designed an extension to the Buninyong town hall, dating to around the 1920s.
And so it continued with CCP Wilson serving as shire engineer of Meredith until the merger of that shire with neighbouring Bannockburn Shire in 1915, after which he continued to hold joint positions with Leigh and Buninyong until the time of his death on the 8th January, 1938 at the age of 80. Despite ill health for some time prior, he had continued to perform his role as engineer to both shires as well as holding the role of shire secretary to the Buninyong Shire from the mid 1920s.
Today, despite nearly 80 years having passed since the death of this revolutionary engineer, his legacy remains in the form of the many structures he designed all those decades ago which continue to stand - perhaps much longer than CCP himself could ever have imagined.

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