Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Tyne Bridge - 85 Years ago...

85 years of the Tyne Bridge: Blueprint for a North landmark
Joanne Butcher
Evening Chronicle
25 Febrary 2013

HIDDEN in the archives for decades, this is the blueprint for Tyneside’s most famous icon.

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.
Archive pictures of the building of Newcastle's Tyne Bridge
The Tyne Bridge’s famous sweeping arch was completed on February 25, 1928.Archive pictures of the building of Newcastle's Tyne Bridge
City leaders had been talking about building a new bridge for most of the second half of the 19th century, but in the 1920s, the Government was keen to back large-scale projects which boosted jobs and trade.

“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.”

Archive pictures of the building of Newcastle's Tyne Bridge
Various designs had been put forward over the years – in the 1880s, planners favoured a cantilever structure similar to the Forth Bridge in Scotland, while archives also show a sketch of a structure similar to the current King Edward VII railway bridge. But as technology developed, a new type of bridge was able to be built. “One of the criteria put forward by the Tyne Improvement Commission was that the river must not be obstructed,” explained John. “That meant they couldn’t put up heavy scaffolding or use a design with a central pier in the river, like the High Level Bridge.

“The design was very much governed by the need to keep the river open.”
Archive pictures of the building of Newcastle's Tyne Bridge
The bridge we have come to know – and which is shown in the blueprint – was drawn up by London firm Mott, Hay and Anderson, based on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York.

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.
The royal opening of the Tyne Bridge in 1928. White horses pull a carriage
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.
Archive pictures of the building of Newcastle's Tyne Bridge
“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.”

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