A HISTORY OF THE TYNE BRIDGES c1250 to 1876
When the wooden built Norman bridge was destroyed by fire in the year 1248, it was essential that it was replaced as quickly as possible. The Officials of Newcastle Corporation and the Bishop of Durham reached agreement on the financial arrangement. The Corporation had taken the view that the Southern side of the river needed a bridge just as much as the Northern side. It was agreed that they were to pay the Northern contribution of two thirds, the Bishop of Durham paying the remainder.
Around the year 1250 the new bridge was built, this was of stone and expected to stand for centuries. It was an enormous structure, about 711ft. long and 15ft. wide. with eight arches. Shops and houses were built on it, along with a Chapel to Thomas a Beckett the Martyr. There also stood a Prison Tower, probably because escape from it would have been very difficult, standing above the water as it did. It was very picturesque and always a hive of activity, with its own houses and forming their own community.
In the year 1339 disaster struck, floods crashed into the structure of the bridge itself causing great damage, the bridge was not yet ninety years old. More than one hundred people were drowned in and near Pandon Dene, one hundred and forty houses were totally destroyed. Thankfully the bridge survived and was repairable, it was to last for a number of centuries yet. Unfortunately in 1370 due to erosion the Bridge once more required large scale repairs. Following those repairs the bridge stood upon twelve arches, although in later years three of those arches were turned into cellars at the building of the Quays, this left nine arches.
As one would expect, many famous people were to cross this 'gateway to the north'. In 1503, Margaret, the daughter of King Henry V11, passed over it, on her way North to marry James 1V of Scotland. It was a political marriage, designed to end the hostility between the two countries. It was to lead to the unification of the Crowns one hundred years later when James V1 of Scotland, became James 1 of England, he also crossed the bridge on his way to the English throne.
In 1771 the bridge was destined to be battered by floods far worse than those of 1339 (pictured above on the left), this time however it would lead to its final destruction. During the night between Saturday 16th November and Sunday 17th November, the river rose to over nine feet above the high water spring tides, filling most of the arches of the bridge. The Close, Sandhill, and Quayside were deep under water, ships floated clear of their mooring and onto the Quayside
The shores on both sides of the river were submerged under water, a graveyard was swamped to the extent that some bodies were exhumed and went floating off down the river. Early on the Sunday morning the middle arch of the bridge crashed down, in the afternoon a second and third arch were so badly damaged that they too eventually fell. With the bridge so damaged, the surging tides caused more and more havoc, erosion took place at an unbelievable rate. It was eventually beyond repair and totally demolished.
The floods of 1771 were disastrous, further up river the only bridge to survive was that at Corbridge. There was again the obvious need to raise yet another bridge across the river between Newcastle and Gateshead. A temporary wooden bridge was designed and erected by one John Stevenson, at the same time a ferry carried stagecoaches and other heavy loads across the river. In about 1773 a stone bridge (pictured above on the right) with nine great arches was built on the same site as that of the ill fated Roman and Medieval Bridges. The span of the arches varied from 27ft. to 57ft. and the bridge itself was 21ft. wide, later increased to 35ft.
It was completed in 1779, and a toll charge was levied to pay for its upkeep, in 1801 it was widened by David Stephenson. In approximately 1819 gas lamps appeared on the bridge, gas having first been used in Newcastle to light Mosely Street
in 1818. This Bridge stood for only 95yrs before being replaced by the new hydraulic Swing Bridge in 1876.
THE NEW TYNE BRIDGE
Due to the large numbers of industries built on the edge of the Tyne, the river and road traffic increased enormously. The High Level Bridge had been altered to take double track tramways. This coupled with the Swing Bridge often open for shipping, but closed to road traffic, was causing serious road congestion.In 1922 a young Civil Engineer from Corbridge, Thomas Webster, was already campaigning for a further bridge over the Tyne. The Corporations of Newcastle and Gateshead were made aware of the traffic problems, they were no doubt also aware that this situation could only get worse as the years passed. At that time, the early 1920's, unemployment across the country was absolutely catastrophic, nowhere more so than in the North East of England.
The Corporations decided to act, building a new bridge would at some stage have to be done, why not immediately? This would not only alleviate traffic problems, but also create much needed employment. The Corporations resolved to build, an entirely road bridge, to link Gateshead and Newcastle and formed a joint committee. The committee was Chaired by the then Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Alderman Stephen Easten and the first decision made was to name the bridge " The New Tyne ". The enterprise was put out to tender and the successful bidder was a Middlesborough Company, Dorman, Long & Co Ltd. They were awarded the construction contract in August 1925, the designers were to be Mott, Hay, & Anderson, M.M.Inst.C.E., of London and the cost would be £571,225, an enormous sum in those days. Dorman's were also chasing the contract for Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge. They confessed at a later date that the building of the New Tyne Bridge had been a " trial run "
The bridge would weigh an estimated 7,000 tons and be capable of carrying not only a high density of vehicles, but also individual loads of up to 100 tons on four wheels. The idea was to fling a giant steel arch from one bank of the Tyne to the other with no intermediate support. The arch shape is known as a ' parabola ' and mathematicians had calculated that this shape was best suited for bearing excessively heavy loads with the minimum of stress.
Each side of the river arch is supported at the base by two 12" in diameter solid steel hinge pins which rest in horizontal half bearings on the massive pier. The pins have to bear between them, the weight of the 3,500 ton arch. The roadway is suspended from the centre by steel tie rods and to the base of these, cross girders. The arch varies slightly to allow for seasonal temperature changes. In the summer due to excess heat, the top most point of the arch will expand to 7" higher. The end piers rest on solid rock and are 84.05ft. long by 28ft. wide and sunk 75ft. below quay level. There are now electric lifts on the Newcastle side of the bridge.
Total length (including approaches) 1,275 ft. Length of main arch span (pier to pier) 531 ft.
Rise of Arch (above pins) 180 ft. Clear height (above high water level) 84 ft.
Total height (above high water level) 193 ft. Width (bridge) 56 ft.
Width (approaches) 80 ft. Total weight of steelwork (arch only) 3,500 tons.
Total weight of steelwork (incl. approaches) 7,000 tons.
The last section of the Bridge was lowered into place on the 22nd February 1928. Unfortunately the huge towers on the Gateshead side of the river were not completed on time. The towers were to be five floors high, each floor to be used as a warehouse. The final cost of the greatest steel bridge ever to be built in Europe exceeded £1,200,000, a great deal more than the tendered price of £571,225. With cannons firing and flags waving it was opened on October 10th 1928 by King George V and Queen Mary. Despite the official opening ceremony being held on that date, the Bridge was not finally completed until the 27th March 1929. To date 2001, the Bridge has been awarded Grade 2 listed building status, it is of national architectural importance.
THE SWING BRIDGE
The River Tyne became more and more active as the gateway to so many varied industries. Ships of all sizes required access to either off load raw materials, or to pick up finished products including coal. It was recognised that the existing stone arched bridge which was built in 1773 was outdated. Large ships, especially ships with tall masts were denied access to the Tyne. The arches of the current bridge were far too low. One of the key industries at that time was the armaments factory at Scotswood owned by Lord W.G.Armstrong, he in particular had a vested interest in creating access for larger vessels to pick up huge weaponry and the like.
He designed and financed a new hydraulic swing bridge, it would provide for the needs of all transport, by land as well as by river. Although its original concept was Armstrongs it was the Tyne improvement Commission who actually built it, with Armstrong & Co as contractors
A temporary Tyne Bridge (pictured above on the left) was built to carry traffic until the Swing Bridge opened. The old stone bridge was removed and the Swing Bridge was built on the site between the years 1866 to 1876. It is 560ft.long and 47ft.wide. The weight of the swinging portion of the bridge is about 1,500 tons, the length 281ft. About 900 tons of this weight floats on a centre water press 62 inches in diameter with a hydraulic pressure on this press of 700lbs. per square inch. The machinery for turning the bridge is on the centre pier and is in duplicate, it turns ninety degrees clockwise to open and of course ninety degrees anti-clockwise to close.
The bridge is turned by hydraulics engine working at 700lbs. per square inch. The hydraulic power was generated by steam power and used about one ton of coal per week, it was eventually converted to operate on electricity. The cost of the bridge was £240,000.
It was the first hydraulic bridge of its kind anywhere in the world and opened up to all shipping the upper reaches of the Tyne. Extensive dredging made it possible to form a harbour at nearby Dunston, from there millions of tons of coal were shipped annually. Although at this moment in time, the Tyne is no longer so busy with shipping, the Swing Bridge is still carrying out a necessary function. Its main use is for road and pedestrian traffic, although there are still many occasions when it needs to open for river traffic. In 1995, the Bridge was been scheduled as an ancient monument.
TOMMY ON THE BRIDGE
Thomas Ferens was born in 1841 at a residence in The Close Newcastle, ( The Close ran parallel with the River Tyne ).
In his infancy, his Father was tragically killed underground at Oakwellgate Colliery in Gateshead. Reduced to poverty by the tragedy, a further trauma was to beset Tommy and his Mother, he became blind and developed a severely crippled hand.
Mother and child moved across the old stone Tyne bridge to the terrible slums of Hillgate, near St Mary's Church. Tommy was to spend the rest of his life here, when his Mother died he moved into lodgings in Cannon Street.
Unable to work because of his disabilities, he turned to begging and was such a regular sight on the Tyne bridge, that he earned the title, " Tommy on the bridge ". His usual spotwas by the 'blue stone', which marked the boundaries of the Cities of Newcastle and Gateshead.
He became a 'pain in the side' of the two City Councils, who discouraged begging. Tommy was arrested for begging on many occasions, but to him it was a way of life. He was small in stature and reputed to be uncouth as well as argumentative. Small boys would put buttons in Tommy's tin, though blind, Tommy knew by the sound of it, it wasn't money. He would then unleash a string of oaths and threats, much to the delight of the young perpetrators.
As time went on he became very much a 'tourist attraction'. Rich people and local Dignitaries came to the bridge, just to have their photograph taken standing beside Tommy. Songs and poems were written about him.
In the 1870's the old bridge was demolished and replaced with the Swing Bridge. It was financed by Lord Armstrong to allow ships to go back and forth to his Armaments Factory at Scotswood. As soon as the Swing Bridge was in place, Tommy moved back onto his pitch. Local people, especially the poor and working classes, loved Tommy for thumbing his nose at power and authority. A rich and powerful man had built a modern Swing Bridge as a gateway to his 'Empire', and a small blind beggar was using it to earn his living.
Tommy actually considered suing Newcastle Corporation and Armstrong, on the basis that when the bridge opened to let ships pass, he had to stop begging. Friends and contemporaries of Tommy were fellow 'eccentrics', Sawdust Jack and Coffee Johnny. To the ordinary people of that era, they illuminated their lives. Life in the nineteenth century was harsh, people died of poverty, families were wiped out by diseases such as cholera. Poor people lived cheerless grey lives and had little recourse to justice, through characters like Tommy, they had if you like, champions.
Tommy collapsed on or near the Swing Bridge on New Years Eve, 31st December 1906, he was taken to the Workhouse Hospital at Bensham, but died on New Years day 1907, at 9.30pm, he was 65yrs of age. According to the Coroner he died of 'apoplexy' accelerated by exposure to the cold, it was also commented by the Coroner, " I have never heard of Tommy injuring anyone, he will be sadly missed ". Although buried in a paupers grave, thousands of townsfolk turned out for the funeral, it was a fitting homage for one of their own.
Tommy overcame adversity, with his severe disabilities, he could have gone to an Institution for the blind, or the Workhouse, but in those places people lost their identity, they also lost their dignity and independence. Tommy didn't want that, but he couldn't work, so he begged. Initially he was a problem for the Authorities, but he became accepted and even a tourist attraction. Having said this, he was neither thief, villain or criminal. Just a little blind beggar who provided the man and woman in the street, with an almost ongoing entertainment, a kind of free entry Music Hall act, available for all.
THE KING EDWARD BRIDGE
There was an ever increasing number of trains seeking passage across the Tyne. There was also the need to create a direct railway link between London and the North. Therefore it was decided to build a Bridge a little further up river from the High Level Bridge, its purpose to carry rail traffic only. It was built in 1906 and named The King Edward. The Bridge was designed by Mr Charles Harrison of the North East Railway Company and carried four railway tracks. It was built by the Cleveland Bridge & Construction Company Ltd. at a cost of £500,000.
The two centre spans are 300ft each, the girders being of lattice type and 28ft in depth. Two steel spans were originally intended with arches supporting the approaches. But the discovery of old mine workings necessitated a considerable portion of the arches being abandoned, and an additional span of steelwork being substituted at each side of the river. The piers were founded by means of caissons ( large water filled chests ) being sunk under pneumatic pressure to solid rock, the maximum depth being 69ft below high water level. To erect the Bridge in a straight forward manner it was allowable to close half the river at a time to traffic, and construct timber trestling on which the steel-work was assembled.
The Bridge was opened by King Edward V11 and Queen Alexandra on July 10th 1906.
THE HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE
By 1839 Newcastle was linked by rail to Carlisle and the first railway bridge was built at Scotswood. In 1844 Gateshead at Redheugh was connected by rail with Darlington, whilst another line joined Newcastle with Berwick. Unfortunately, connection between these lines had to be made in an awkward roundabout journey via Scotswood. It was obvious that a railway link between Gateshead and Newcastle was needed as a matter of urgency.
The concept of a high level bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead was originally the idea of a Master Mason of Newcastle, Mr Edward Hutchinson. He had suggested it to the Corporation following the total demolition of the Old Tyne Bridge in 1771, unfortunately no action was taken. An alternative idea had been brought forward in 1833 for an elevated suspension bridge by a Civil Engineer Mr B.R.Dodd. In 1839 John and Benjamin Green aided by Richard Grainger made alternative suggestions. But a local eccentric, William Martin was the first to think of a road and rail bridge combined. His idea was eventually to be accepted, albeit a few years later, but Martin was never credited with his original idea by the Authorities. It was John Dobson, the famous Newcastle Architect who put forward a comprehensive plan for a road and rail bridge. Probably because of his fame, the plan received serious consideration by the Directors of the Newcastle Carlisle Railway Company. They accepted the design and engaged the services of the great Engineer Robert Stephenson, (son of George). Stephenson was to carry the scheme into fruition, Dobson was to be the Designer.
Construction began in 1846 and ended in 1849. Stephenson was ably assisted by fellow Engineer Thomas Eliot Harrison. The bridge consists of six cast iron arches of 125ft. each supported on piers of masonry. To reduce the weight as much as possible, the tall stone piers were built hollow from just above high water mark. The total length of the bridge is 1,337ft. and the height from high water to the carriageway is 85ft. Approximately 5,000 tons of cast and wrought iron were supplied by Hawks, Crawshaw and Co. of Gateshead, and Losh Wilson and Bell of Walker. The difference between the two metals being that cast iron is used in that condition, as cast, whilst wrought iron is rolled to establish a grain. The first ' test train ' weighing 200 tons passed over the Bridge in August 1849, the lower road deck was opened to pedestrians in February 1850. The whole project had cost almost half a million pounds. It was hailed as one of the Engineering wonders of the world.
The Bridge was officially opened by Queen Victoria on the 28th September 1849.
THE REDHEUGH BRIDGES
There have been three Redheugh Bridges, the first in 1867 was designed by Thomas Bouch, he had designed the ill fated Tay Bridge. It is perhaps a mystery that Bouch was selected to design any other bridge when his first effort collapsed.The Tay (railway) Bridge was two miles long and opened in 1878. On December 28th 1879 more than half a mile of the bridge, with a train on it, was blown down in a violent gale, seventy people lost their lives. An official inquiry revealed that the wind pressure was in excess of 40lb per sq. ft., but the bridge was designed to cope with only 12lb.
The First Redheugh Bridge Opened For Traffic in May 1871
Three river piers were founded on iron cylinders sunk pneumatically on to gravel 60ft below high water and filled with concrete. Stone pillars supported cast iron bed plates, which in turn carried four columns braced with horizontal and diagonal bracing. Clear spans of 240ft in the centre openings and 160ft side openings were bridged with trussed girders, the top member on each side of which was a 27in. diameter iron tube. The main trough girders carried two water mains and the top members carried town gas. *
An interesting feature of Bouch's design was the provision at each pier position of a pair of 64ft high towers from which suspension bars extended to the third points of each main river span and for a similar distance along each shore span. Although Bouch's intention is not clear the bridge had the form of a modern cable stayed structure. It was designed to a uniformly distributed live load of 100 lb/square foot.
In 1889 Sir John Fowler was asked to report on Bouch's bridge and his partner, Benjamin Baker, made a personal examination of the structure. He detailed the condition of the fenders, masonry piers, and iron superstructure. Apart from the need for remedial work to the piers, Baker had given a favourable report, noting that the superstructure had sufficient strength to support the highway deck, which had grown from an inch of stone grouted with asphalt to nearly six inches of tar paving.
Four years later, in November 1893, Mr J.Watt Sandemann was appointed Engineer to the Redheugh Bridge Company, and with his partner Moncrieff, he reported to the Company that the cross girders needed repairs, that the iron piers were inadequately braced against wind loads, and the safe loads for vehicular traffic were 6 tons on four wheels or one and a half tons per wheel until the cross girders were repaired. In its present condition additional water mains required, could only be located on the footways. Estimated costs for repairing the bridge, piers, and installing new water pipes amounted to £22,815.
The report was submitted for the views of an eminent Civil Engineer, Mr Barlow. Sir Alex Rendel and Professor Fowler were mentioned but for some reason Sir Benjamin Baker was specifically excluded. In the event the opinion obtained was from J. Wolfe Barry and Company, who recommended that a new bridge should be built. The existing bridge failed completely to meet the stringent requirements of the Board of Trade. The Board went back to Sir Benjamin Baker, they reminded him that in 1889 he had made a joint report with Sir John Fowler, certifying that the bridge was in good order. Consultations between Baker and Barry followed and a further site inspection took place.
Baker then confirmed, that both the original construction and the effects of poor maintenance were much worse than appeared from his previous inspection. The Board of Trade Officials were now more conscious of the unsatisfactory standard of safety in general. It may be that the Tay Bridge disaster which took place in 1875 had caused alarm in Government circles. The report of J. Wolfe Barry and Company was accepted, the decision was taken to replace the existing bridge.
The Second Redheugh Bridge
Sandemann and Moncrieff of Newcastle upon Tyne designed a replacement bridge (pictured above) with two channel spans of 248ft and two shore spans of 148ft. The carriageway was 20ft wide with two 7ft wide footpaths. Construction completed in 1901, took place without cessation of pedestrian traffic and a minimum interruption to vehicles. The new foundation cylinders 8ft in diameter were sunk under compressed air with the use of external kentledge, near to the old cylinders, but to a much greater depth. with gas and water pipes at deck level.
The girders were built parallel to the old bridge girders, and above them, allowing traffic to continue until the old bridge spans were removed and the new ones lowered by hydraulic jacks on to their bearers and then slid laterally into position. The new bridge works cost £82,000. Shortly after completion of the bridge, settlement on the south bank, where Bouch's bridge had also shown movement, led to measures being taken to strengthen the masonry piers. These were tied together but their longitudinal stability remained suspect, a factor of importance as traffic changed from horses and carts to heavy lorries with increasing braking capacity. On May 10th 1937 the bridge passed into the joint ownership of the two County Boroughs of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead at a cost of £115,000.
In 1951 woodblock paving on the main spans was replaced by asphalt and in 1965 the stone setts of the approach span road were also replaced by asphalt. In 1964 welding repairs to the ends of the kerb stringers and to deck cross girders were carried out. However, an inspection in 1968 caused great concern and indicated a very short life expectancy. By 1973 corrosion of both the main bridge and the northern approach was again causing concern. At this time the fatigue life of various members was first considered. An estimate of the major loading cycles from 1901 to the first firm records in 1965 was projected forward into the future and gave indications of stringer failure at the fixed ends in 1980. Tyne and Wear County Council, which had inherited responsibility for highway and bridge maintenance in April 1974, carried out further repairs in 1974/75.
In an attempt to extend fatigue life until 1995, heavy loads were reduced in July 1976 by banning all vehicles over 3 tons gross weight except for buses, police, and emergency vehicles.
A further inspection by Tyne and Wear Engineers in March 1978 showed increasing corrosion damage extending into the buckle plates between the stringers. The road lacked positive drainage and road salt was having its inevitable effect upon a structure which also spanned sea water. It appeared that the life of stringers could not be prolonged beyond 1983, redecking would be expensive and would require closure of the bridge for 18 months.
The bridges over the Tyne in the central zone ( Newcastle and Gateshead ) provided only five traffic lanes in each direction, and the temporary loss of a single lane causes traffic jamming at peak hours. Additionally the inability of the existing Redheugh Bridge route to carry double-deck buses and other high vehicles severely limited flexibility in the re-routeing of traffic to meet emergencies on the other bridges. The total closure of Redheugh Bridge for 18 months was difficult to contemplate, even if an element of relief could be expected when the Queen Elizabeth 2nd Bridge was carrying passengers by Metro.
Only by removing the vehicles which now contribute most to the fatigue damage, the single-deck buses, could the life of the bridge be extended to the point at which a replacement could be ready. The decision was difficult, because as a matter of public policy bus transport was to take priority over the private car. No real relief would be given if the bridge became a 'bus only' facility, as the High Level, Tyne and low level bridges would flow better if the buses instead of cars were transferred to them.
A new Redheugh Bridge had been contemplated for a long time, but transport investment was restricted due to lack of funds and it appeared that the County Council would be unable to carry out any significant capital works for some time. However, the problem of a bridge reaching an irreparable state, the impossibility of cross-river traffic flow brought on by having to remove all but the lightest vehicles from the failing bridge, created such pressure that finance to permit the construction of a replacement bridge was made available.
The Third Redheugh Bridge
The designers were Mott Hay & Anderson, the bridge was built by Nuttall - HBM, the tendered cost was £10,729,669,79p and the contract commenced 28th April 1980.
The bridge has a span of 160 metres with viaduct approaches totalling 314 metres. It is constructed with pre-stressed concrete of twin cell box, to carry an abnormal load of 400 tonnes. There are two main piers 36 metres high by 9.4 metres long, the total weight of the bridge is 11,500 tonnes. The actual cost was substantially higher than that tendered, it had risen to £15,350,000.
The Third Redheugh Bridge was opened by Diana the Princess of Wales, on Wednesday 18th May 1983.
It is a fact that whilst this new Bridge has often closed during high winds, or at least high sided vehicles have been detoured. The previous Redheugh Bridges never closed because of the elements.
When the first bridge at Redheugh was built an agreement had been reached that cast iron pipes carrying water and gas would be fitted to the structure, so enabling these utilities to cross the river without hindrance to shipping. When the bridge was re-built the pipes were replaced by steel ones. Similarly in 1899 water came over in a pipe via Newburn Bridge and continued on to the Tees pumping station via a purpose built bridge at Swalwell. Brymers Ferry between Dunston and Elswick was one of the ferries which kept going after the Redheugh was built. In 1912 eighty seven workmen travelled daily using this boat.
The Scotswood Railway Bridge (pictured above on the left)
There was a general consensus of opinion that a Railway bridge was needed, although why specifically at Scotswood is a mystery. It was actually planned in 1829 but was put on hold for some ten years. Building began in c1839, the original bridge was mainly of a wooden superstructure and timber piers. There were eleven openings each spanning 60ft, the height was 30ft above the low water mark. Unfortunately within 21yrs the bridge was burnt down, ironically, whilst it was being inspected for safety by the Board of Trade officials. From 1860 until 1871 the railway was carried on a single line bridge, followed that same year by a wrought iron bridge which was erected with side and centre hog backed girders spanning 127ft each, and cross iron girders supporting the lines. The piers were cast iron cylinders sunk into shale at a maximum average depth of 50ft below high water.
Scotswood Suspension Bridge (pictured above on the right)
The architect was John Green of Newcastle and after two years in building was completed. on 16th April, 1831. The two piers were built in the Norman style of architecture. The distance between the points of suspension were 370 feet, with two half arcs of 130 feet each, making the total length of the bridge 670 feet. There were four suspending chains, each consisting of four fiat bars, in ten-feet lengths (four inches by one inch) coupled together with five plates, eight inches broad and one inch thick, with strong connecting bolts. The total cost was £15,000. The Newcastle Corporation purchased the bridge in 1905 for £36,300 and part of the cost being paid by the two county councils and Gateshead Corporation it was freed from tolls.
The New Scotswood Bridge
By 1921 it was obvious that the old Suspension Bridge was becoming less able to cope with the inevitable increase in traffic volume, especially the motor car. Due to lack of finance the construction of a new bridge was delayed for almost twelve years. By 1933 the economic climate had improved and the Newcastle & Durham Bridge Committee agreed that a new bridge was needed. Unfortunately the Committee could not agree upon the siting of the bridge, so there was once more a long delay. In 1960 with differences resolved the go ahead was given for the building of a new, road and pedestrian bridge, just 100yds West of the old bridge.
The building of the new Bridge
The design was of the 'tied arch' or 'bowstring girder' type, with arches reaching 64ft above road level. The navigable span on the river was 300ft and provision was made for six carriageways, the total cost of the bridge, £2,250,000. Work commenced on the bridge in September 1964, it was completed well ahead of target in December 1967. The bridge was officially opened at 11-30am 20th March 1967 by Alderman Peter Renwick, the Chairman of the Scotswood Bridge Joint Committee. Sadly the old Suspension Bridge was closed that same day for demolition. The new bridge had problems from the outset. In 1973 work had to carried out to strengthen the structure, this because comparable bridges were recording high accident rates. For a prolonged period in 1973 the bridge was reduced to single lane traffic. The New Bridge is certainly seen as far inferior to the old Suspension Bridge, not least in appearance. Like all bridges the day will come when it has outlived its usefulness and will also vanish from the landscape.
The Newburn Bridge
This Bridge consisted of four 100ft spans in lattice steel, each pier consisted of a pair of 5ft diameter cylinders of wrought iron plating filled with concrete. The maximum depth to which they were sunk was 71ft below high water, or 97ft below roadway level where rock was reached. It is because of the depth of its foundations that it is an unusual Bridge. The Bridge was completed in 1893.
The Queen Elizabeth 2nd Metro Railway Bridge
A bridge was needed to carry Metro passengers from one side of the river to the other. Until the Metro bridge was built there were despite the number of existing bridges, still bottlenecks as travellers tried to cross the Tyne. But, with Metro trains running every three minutes, the crossing would be quicker than ever.
Metro’s bridge, designed and engineered by Ove Arup and Partners, is the longest across the river, its construction taking a little over two years and was completed in 1978. The main span is 164.5m long, half as much again as that of the Tyne Bridge.
The total length of the bridge is 352.5m and it carries Metro cars 25 metres above the high water mark. As its construction contains 4,000 tons of steel, the bridge expands and contracts with the ever changing weather and to allow this to happen utilises a special method of construction.
Only the Gateshead end is anchored to the river bank, via large, concrete block, with the main body of the bridge resting on bearings on its two piers and another, sliding bearing at the Newcastle end. This allows the bridge to expand and contract freely with in temperature and the structure can change its length as much as 12 inches.
Obviously, if the bridge expands and contracts then the track carrying the Metro trains must do the same and, to this end, a large, expansion joint is also incorporated into the rails at the Newcastle side. This huge advance required a Royal presence and Queen Elizabeth II offered to do the honours by opening the £5 million bridge, which was to take her name, in November 6th 1981. Until then, from its inception and right through the design and building stages, it had been known, quite simply, as Number 106.
The Gateshead Millenium Bridge
Few structures can stand as a monument to mans ability, to his understanding of the river and to his vision, as well as the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
At the cost of £22 million and with a revolutionary design that enables it to convey pedestrians and cycles, yet to ‘flip over’ to allow ships to pass up the river, it became the focus of world-wide attention from the moment of its conception. Its image appeared on stamps, every scrap of information about it was eagerly digested by those who live here, those who left and those who’ve never even been, but who wanted to follow the progress of the latest of the Tyne’s famous bridges
Several times its procession up river and into position was postponed due to the bad weather. Water levels, currents and an increase in the wind speed above 25mph made all the difference and speculation abounded as to whether the steel construction, which weighs more than 850 tonnes, has a span of 413ft (126m), and rises 164ft (50m) above river level, would ever reach its resting place. Then, on Monday November 20th 2000, engineers decided conditions were perfect for the bridge to make the six-mile journey from the Amec yard in Wallsend to the Gateshead Quays. Crowds lined the river on both sides to watch as the Asian Hercules II crane, which had a deck the size of a football pitch and lifting legs which projected more than 350ft into the air inched its way up river.
In a manoeuvre in which a millimetre was as significant as a mile, they held their breath to see if the Millennium Bridge would span the Tyne in the manner of so many before it. To see it slide smoothly into place was to watch history in the making. It is 100 years since the last opening bridge was placed across the Tyne and we are unlikely to see such a sight again in our lifetimes. In years to come we who were there, who read about it or saw it, will tell our children and their children about the day the ‘‘blinking eye” bridge, with the world’s first tilting mechanism, threw its graceful arc over the river from which we Tynesiders take our name. And long after we are gone it will, God willing, stand at the entrance to our river.
In years to come the Gateshead Millenium Bridge will become as famous a landmark as the Tyne Bridge. Already, in fact, just days after the 850-plus-tonne structure was moved into place on the Tyne, it is being talked about globally. When it is launched next summer it will be the first bridge in the world to open the way it does - pivoting upwards, like an eyelid blinking. The pedestrian and cycleway construction has cost a staggering £22million and contains enough steel to make 64 double-decker buses or 16 Chieftain tanks. And the overriding opinion of locals is that it is money well spent. But what you see isn’t necessarily all you get. Try visualising this: it sits on 19,000 tonnes of concrete - that is the equivalent of 600,000 paving stones (180 miles) and there are also 650 tonnes of steel reinforcement.
Rising 50 metres above the water, its foundations go 30 metres under the Tyne. But there’s so much more to it than even that. In April last year local transport minister Glenda Jackson issued an order under the Transport and Works Act granting Gateshead Council the powers to build the bridge. Harbour and General was given the contract after a rigorous selection process, taking into account technical capabilities and the ability to work co-operatively.
GATESHEAD Council was keen on a partnering approach to project manage the scheme and, therefore a representative from each group - client, engineer, architect and contractor - would meet regularly on a monthly basis to keep progress smooth. Over the past year and half, the project has involved dredging a section of the Tyne, building two reinforced concrete abutments in a tidal river and the fabrication and installation of the fully operational bridge. So, when it does eventually open, how will it be done? Well, a couple of concrete piers on each side of the river hide the pivots, hydraulics and motors, which operate the structure.
Huge hydraulic rams will open the bridge, powered by eight electric motors totalling 440 kilowatts - using enough power to light 2,200 100-watt light bulbs. Bad for the environment? Not when you consider it is so energy efficient it will actually only cost just £3.60 for each opening - the whole process taking just four minutes. And its stature will change depending on the time of day - in daylight it’s a pale chalk blue, but in darkness, its reflection lights the Tyne. It is also instrumental in the regeneration of Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides.
cORBRIDGE - ROMAN BRIDGE
LELAND (1540) recorded that "The Stone Bridge that now is at Corbridge over Tine is larg, but it is set somewhat lower apon Tine than the old Bridge was. There be evident Tokens yet seene where the old Bridg was and thereaboute cummith downe a praty Broke on the same side that the Town is on." He is clearly referring to the Roman bridge which carried the road to Corstopitum.
In dry summers the south abutment and two of the ten piers are still visible. The piers were 15 feet wide and 29 feet long, pointed on the upstream and flat on the downstream face, the roadway was in wood. The stones of the piers were removed in 1840 to build the water mill at Dilston.
The Roman Bridge above Corbridge (pictured above on the left) was over 300 feet in length and had probably 10 stone piers, it disappeared during the Middle Ages and the ford across the river was a quarter of a mile below the present bridge. The ford was approached from the north by a lane leading from the Newcastle road at the east end of Main Street. In 1235 a new bridge was built and this medieval structure was the predecessor of the bridge we see today. In 1674 it was replaced by a seven arched bridge (pictured above on the right) which was the only one to survive the great Tyne flood of 1771.Tradition says that a man called Johnson was the builder and that during its erection one man had a penny a day more than the other workmen, his duty consisted in filling every crevice and opening with hot running lime, so that the whole became one solid mass. In 1881 the bridge was widened by three feet, but its appearance was not spoilt. It consists of seven arches with outlets at every pillar. At one time an ugly temporary bridge ran parallel with it.
We hope you found this series of our Tyne Bridges enjoyable, interesting and educational. To ex-pats everywhere, we are certain that our most famous landmarks, the ‘Tyne Bridges’ will rekindle fond memories of home, our beloved Geordie Land.