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Tyne Bridges and Victoria Tunnel Blog

Tyne Bridges and Victoria Tunnel Blog

Thu 12th November 2015

Remembrance Sunday 8th November 2015

It was good to see some “old friends” arrive for the walk starting from the Cycle Hub on the Quayside.  Alan even booked his place on the walk from his apartment, mansion or estate on Tenerife.  That has to be a first.  It was a really chilly morning down on the riverside and the blustery wind made it feel even cooler once we got up onto the bridges.  We couldn’t take our time on this section of the walk as we were booked to enter the Victoria Tunnel at 1.00 pm and we had to fit lunch into the time to, not to mention elevenses.

The solution was to “do” the four bridges, Tyne, High Level, Swing and Millennium with a brief stop adjacent to the castle in Castle Garth for morning coffee but not dallying too much along the way.  That way we stayed relatively warm and didn’t get too damp in the drizzle either.  We even found a quiet spot on the High Level for the two minutes silence at eleven o’clock.  The downside was that everyone (thankfully you may say) didn’t get the usual information along the way.  We’d agreed beforehand that I’d abandon the usual blog format and substitute a summary of the bridges information below.  The Victoria Tunnel material was presented by the guides underground so I hope everyone was listening.  It is amazing what you can glean in two hours, in the dark, in an essentially straight tunnel devoid of fixtures and fittings!   The bridge information appears below, excuse the abbreviations in my “pace notes” – get it?  Or as Frankie Howard used to say “Oh forget it.”

Tyne Bridges Walk

Pre-existing Historical Bridge

Roman Bridge: earliest known bridge between present day Newcastle & Gateshead, lowest bridging point of the R Tyne (Roman Tinea) at Pons Aelius.  Constructed AD 122, wooden decks with possibly stone piers occupied the same site as the present Swing Bridge, the Roman piers were discovered in 1872 when the stone piers and abutments of the new swing bridge were built by the Tyne Improvement Commissioners.

Medieval Bridge: it isn’t known how long the Roman bridge remained in-situ but the first stone Tyne bridge is thought to date from the 12C.  Typically medieval with towers, houses and commercial premises throughout its length.  Much consequent rebuilding (e.g. stone bridge washed away by flooding in 1339) and restoration but finally completely destroyed in the 1771 Great Tyne Flood which destroyed many Tyne crossings upstream too.

The 1339 flood event was probably even more significant than the much publicised 1771 Great Flood.  In 1339 the population of Newcastle was approx 4,000 (3970 in 1377) yet Newcastle was the 12th largest city in the kingdom and between 120 and 180 people drowned when 6 perches (approx 30m) section of the city wall collapsed, approx 1 in 25 of the whole population.  Took place at or near Wallknow a hillock on the E side of the Pandon Burn near Manors.  Probably due to scour of the soft alluvium beneath the town walls.

Georgian Bridge: Temporary bridge built 1771 to replace the medieval one destroyed by the Great Flood of 1771, demolished 1781 by which time a new stone built Tyne Bridge (Designer Robert Mylne) on the same alignment of the medieval bridge was open to traffic.  Consisted of 9 low arches which had an impact on the use of the river.  Low arches prevented large sailing vessels moving upstream hence the need to break the bulk into smaller vessels for transport up river as it became increasingly industrialised.  Coal had to be moved downriver by keel boats for loading onto larger vessels for export etc.  The stone bridge deck had to be widened in 1801 because of the increasing amount of cross-river traffic – capacity problems existed then too.  Bridge was demolished in 1868 when a temporary wooden bridge was built for use during the construction of the new Swing bridge completed in 1876 making this part of the river navigable to larger vessels once more.  Not as simple as that, Tyne Improvement Commissioners (1850), dredging, deepening, river improvements etc.   The Georgian bridge was replaced when the High Level Bridge was completed in 1849.

The Seven (7) Tyne Bridges in Newcastle-Gateshead from East to West 
Millennium  –  Opened 7th May 2002    
Tyne  –  Opened  Oct 1928        
Swing  –  Opened  1876    
High Level  –  Opened  Sept 1849              
QE II Metro  –  Opened   Nov 1981
KEB  -  Opened July 1906      
Redheugh - Opened  May 1983      

Tyne Bridge:

- Why Required? Combination of increasing cross-river traffic and high toll charges on the High Level Bridge led to proposals for a new crossing.  Discussion between N’cle & Gateshead local authorities for 40 years before the N’cle & G’head Corporations Act (1924) enabled the building to go ahead.

- Design & Construction: Based on the design of Sydney Harbour Bridge by Mott, Hay & Anderson.  Dorman Long (Middlesbrough) appointed as the contractor with Sir Ralph Freeman as the Consulting Engineer

- Construction began 1925 form both sides and joined in the middle in Feb/March 1928.  N.B. The much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge wasn’t completed until 1932 but it was not the model for the latter as often quoted.

- Size 398m long including the approaches, width 17m

- Opened: 10th Oct 1928 by King George V & Queen Mary when it officially became part of the A1

High Level Bridge

Prior to the opening of the rail deck in 1849 rail passengers leaving the train at G’head and wanting to go to N’cle had to detrain and go via the Georgian Tyne Bridge (demolished 1868) or via rowing boat across the Tyne.

- The oldest existing bridge

- Upper rail deck, opened 28th Sept 1849 by QV see below

- Lower road deck, opened 5th Feb 1850 (after official opening of rail deck by Queen Victoria)

- Designed by Robert Stephenson.  Thomas Harrison responsible for the technical drawings and supervised the construction work

- Dimensions 425.6m long and had a clearance of 36.5m above the river at low water

- Opened by Queen Victoria from a train on 28th Sept 1849

- Remedial work on piers in 1919.  Major restoration between 2001 – 2008
Queen Elizabeth ll Metro Bridge (painted blue)

- Dedicated Tyne crossing for the Metro rapid transit system, trains exit and enter tunnels at either end of the bridge.

- Built between 1976 – 80, opened Nov 1981 by Queen Elizabeth

- Designers W A Fairhurst & Partners who also supervised its construction

- Contractors Cementation Construction Ltd and Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd

- Illuminated at night by LED lights changing colours artwork called Nocturne (Nayan Kulkani, 2007)

King Edward Vll Bridge (Known to generations of railmen as the KEB)

- Necessary due to the increasingly high volume of rail traffic

- Trains arriving via the High Level Bridge had to reverse into Newcastle Station before this bridge was built.  The construction of this bridge facilitated a direct through-line – time saving and much more efficient

- Built 1902 – 1906, opened 10th July 1906 by King Edward Vll

- Designer Charles Harrison Chief Civil Engineer of NE Railways

- Contractor Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd

- Grade 2 Listed

Redheugh Bridge

- Third bridge on the current  site:

- First a toll bridge, opened 1871

- Second toll bridge opened 1901, Consulting engineer Sir William Arrol & Co who’s previous work included the forth Road Bridge and Tower Bridge, London.  Bridge purchased by N’cle & G’head Corporations 1937 and tolls abolished.

- Current bridge.  Designed by Mott, Hay & Anderson (who were responsible for the Tyne Bridge).  Architects Holfords Associates.  Main contractors were Edmund Nuttall Ltd & its Dutch parent company HBM.  Located 25m downstream form its predecessor.  Opened 18th May 1983 by Princess of Wales.  Exposed position makes it necessary to impose speed restrictions during high winds.

Swing Bridge

- Built as a replacement for and n the same line as the earlier Georgian and Roman bridges.  The formers low arches prevented navigation upstream.

- Stone piers and abutments built by the Tyne Improvement Commissioners

- W G Armstrong (Rothbury) designed the bridge, installed the iron superstructure and hydraulic machinery which were all manufactured at the firms Elswick works

- When it opened in 1876 it was the world’s largest swing bridge.

- Since opening over 300,000 ships have passed through.  Busiest year 1924 with an average of 20 swings per day.  Rarely used today.

- Steam powered pumps replaced 1959 by electric ones but the original Armstrong machinery produces the swing.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge

- Latest addition and the world’s first tilting bridge (blinking-eye bridge).

- Designers Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Gifford Structural Engineers

- Pedestrian and cycle crossing on the N’cle / G’head Quayside

- Iconic tourist attraction, has won several prestigious awards.

- 20th Nov 2000 the steel deck transported upriver from Wallsend where it was assembled by one of the world’s largest floating cranes and lowered onto its concrete foundations

- Official opening by Queen on 7th May 2002 but open to public beforehand since 17th Sept 2001.

- Tilts to allow larger vessels upstream.

- Floodlit rainbow effect at night.

Thanks to everyone for a really interesting, and different, day out and thank your lucky stars that I haven’t provided the full text version, a sure cure for insomnia.  If you have made it this far congratulations.  

I hope to see you again soon.

Richard and Paul

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