Brilliant bridges – UK engineering


If someone asked you to pick your favourite bridge in the world which one would you pick? The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia or maybe you would pick something a little closer to home?

Companies throughout the UK have been producing stunning, technologically advanced bridges for hundreds of years, from The Iron Bridge in Coalsbrookedale, to more modern constructions such as the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Infact, you could say that the UK has been a leader in bridge construction and design since the Victorian era.

The High Level Bridge in the North East of England spans the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead. It might not be the most visually attractive structure but it was the first major example of a tiered, wrought iron tied-arch or bow-string girder bridge.

Designed by Robert Stephenson and built between 1847 and 1849, the High Level Bridge was once an integral part of the London to Edinburgh railway that is known today as the East Coast Mainline. It was officially opened on 27 September 1849 by Queen Victoria.

The High Level Bridge with the Swing Bridge below.

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The High Level Bridge spans 408m of the river valley, with 156m of the structure over the river itself. It is made in six 38m spans. Each span is crossed by four arched ribs with horizontal tie bars. The railway crosses the upper deck of the bridge, which rests on the arches of the ribs 34m above the high water mark. The lower deck is suspended from the ribs on wrought iron rods and has a roadway and a pedestrian walkway.

Some 70 years later, after decades of debate over the price of tolls on the High Level Bridge, the Tyne Bridge was opened by King George V. At the time of its construction, the Tyne Bridge was the longest single span bridge in the world, reaching 162m just 26m above the river level.

Tyne Bridge with views of the High Level Bridge and the Swing Bridge.

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The Tyne Bridge was designed by the engineering firm Mott, Hay and Anderson, who traded until 1989 before becoming part of Mott MacDonald. The through arch design was based on the Hell’s Gate Bridge in New York. It was built by Dorman Long and Co. of Middlesbrough who later constructed Sydney Harbour Bridge based on the same design.

Mott, Hay and Anderson went on to design another structurally advanced bridge, The Forth Road Bridge, which was opened in 1964, spanning the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and South Queensferry.

The Forth Road Bridge, Scotland.

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At 2,512m in length, the Forth Road Bridge was the longest suspension bridge outside the United States, and the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its construction. In 2001 the bridge was awarded Historic Scotland’s Category A listed structure status and in 2002 it carried its 250 millionth vehicle. Plans are currently underway for a new Forth Road Bridge after investigations into the structural integrity of the bridge showed it may need to be closed by 2020 if the current rates of deterioration continue.

A more recent example of the UK’s prowess in bridge construction is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge or the “Winking Eye.” Designed by architects Wilkinson Eyre and structural engineers Gifford, the Eye is a tilt bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

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The bridge design was picked from over 150 proposals and craned into place in November 2000. It opened to the public in September 2001 and has since become yet another landmark on the riverscape of the North East. The bridge can be tilted on large bearings by six hydraulic rams to allow boats and river traffic up to 25m tall to pass through.

It won the architects, Wilkinson Eyre, the 2002 RIBA Stirling Prize. It also won structural engineers Gifford the 2003 IStructE Supreme Award.

These are my favourite examples of brilliant bridges in the UK because they show off the engineering skills of our companies that have been passed down over centuries. I’ll leave you with a few other examples of great engineering but I’d love to see some of your favourites if I’ve missed any?

Tower Bridge, London at night.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct was one of the largest constructions undertaken using concrete without reinforcement. Picture by Paddy Patterson. Wiki Commons.

Galton Bridge was the highest iron bridge in the world at the time of its construction. Picture from Wiki Commons, User Oosoom.

The Iron Bridge in Coalbrookedale was the first arch bridge in the world to be made from cast iron.

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Tees Newport Bridge, was the first vertical lift bridge in Britain and the largest of its type in the world at the time of its construction. Photo by John Yeadon, Wiki commons.

Forthside footbridge in Stirling was designed by Wilkinson Eyre and engineered by Gifford. Picture by Bill Harrison.

Fun trivia fact: the Forthside footbridge was opened with the help of six William Wallaces’.


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2 Responses to “Brilliant bridges – UK engineering”

  1. playlearninglife Says:

    I adore bridges – seen Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate bridges in the last 10 months. But nothing holds a candle to the bridges over the Tyne in Newcastle Gateshead, in my opinion. Combination of beauty, innovation, culture and proximity make these a truly stunning riverscape.

  2. Emma Garrell Says:

    Hi, thanks for your comment. I’m very jealous that you’ve seen the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate bridge. As you might have guessed from the running theme in the blog I love the bridges over the Tyne river as well! I only wish I’d had the time to include the Swing bridge too. Out of interest, how did you find our blog?
    All the best,

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