85 years of the Tyne Bridge: Blueprint for a North landmark
25 Febrary 2013
The fragile plan, drawn in the mid-1920s, shows the design for the river crossing we know now as the Tyne Bridge.
It has lain gathering dust for the past 85 years but today, as the bridge celebrates its anniversary, we shed light on it once again. And we also uncover the designs which the architects shunned.
“The idea was to connect High Street in Gateshead and Pilgrim Street in Newcastle,” explained John Clayson, keeper of science and technology at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The High Level bridge was privately owned so you had to pay to cross it, and the river was so busy that the Swing Bridge was often open.
“Traffic over the crossing was very congested. The Government was backing unemployment relief schemes and it was realised there might be opportunities to receive funding for a bridge.”
“The design was very much governed by the need to keep the river open.”
The firm had also designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge – and contrary to popular belief, that bridge was already being built by the time the foundations went in for the Tyne Bridge. On April 29, 1924, Newcastle and Gateshead approved the plans, and the Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead (Corporations) Bridge Act was passed on August 7 that year.
Teesside-based bridgebuilders Dorman Long started work in August 1925, employing local labour where possible. “It was really a bridge built in the North East,” said John. “The metals were mined around Teesside and formed into steel in a Teesside factory.”
The bridge was officially opened in October 1928 by King George V and Queen Mary.
It had cost an enormous £1.2m in total, or some £64m in today’s money, but despite the dangers of the building project only one worker, Nathaniel Collins, of South Shields, lost his life during construction.
It was a triumph of engineering, allowing traffic into the city without having to negotiate the steep Quayside hills.
“It was really designed for the modern age of the motor vehicle,” John said. “And it also catered for public transport, as it carried tramlines. It was strong enough to be used by heavy industry, such as the steel turbines being made in Heaton, so potentially you could have someone riding to work in the tram on the same bridge that saw the products his factory made transported away.”