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The Bridges of Newcastle Gateshead

Tyne and Wear

Engineering / Construction, Bridges, Regeneration

The four bridges that link the centres of Gateshead and Newcastle across the gorge of the River Tyne would each justify a place in this list in their own right. Together they mark an unprecedented set of engineering firsts from the end of the 1800s to the start of the 21st century.

The High Level Bridge is the first main example of a wrought iron tied arch bridge, and was designed by Robert Stephenson. Opened by Queen Victoria in 1849, it is a double decked bridge, with Railway on top and road below. It is now hard to imagine the effect it must have had when first opened, allowing traffic to cross between Gateshead and Newcastle without having to first descend/ascend the steep banks of the Tyne itself. Although, the tolls may have taken some of the shine from this!

The Swing Bridge was built by the River Tyne Commission, following the Tyne Improvement Act of 1861. This formed part of an overall plan to improve navigation and expand trade by opening the upper reaches of the river to larger vessels and to enable larger ships to move upstream to William Armstrong's works. Before this innovation bridges had frequently made the river impassable to larger ships. Built by William Armstrong in 1876 the bridge is still in perfect working order. Maintained by the Port of Tyne it is swung on request from river traffic. The swinging portion rotates on its central pier through 90 degrees, operated hydraulically by two electric pumps, which replaced the original steam pumps in 1959. With approximately 900 tonnes of the total 1,300 tonnes of moving parts being supported on the central pier, it is the largest swing bridge of this form in the world.

First proposed in 1921 the Tyne Bridge opened to traffic in 1928. Built by Middlesbrough firm, Dorman Long, who were also building the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the time, it was the largest single span bridge in Britain when built. It provided much needed additional crossing capacity as the age of the automobile came into being. Today, over 90 years later, the bridge is still THE potent symbol of Tyneside.

Opened in 2001, the Millennium Bridge (or winking eye pedestrian bridge) is claimed as the world’s first (and only) tilting bridge. Its elegant design fits perfectly with the Tyne riverscape, matching the curved arches of the Tyne, High Level and Swing bridges. It was instantly beloved by Tynesiders who turned out in their thousands to watch its installation and its spectacular journey upriver from its assembly site by Asian Hercules, one of the largest floating cranes in the world. Its architects, Wilkinson Eyre, won the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize.


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