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 Inside Out - North East & Cumbria: Monday June 30, 2003


Tyne Bridge
The bridge has a perfect structural shape of a parabolic arch

It's the bridge that Geordies come home for. The Tyne Bridge celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. We turn back time and recall the building of this famous Tyneside icon.

The Tyne Bridge is one of the greatest symbols of Tyneside’s industrial pride and engineering prowess.

Built in 1928, the Tyne Bridge was a major engineering triumph in its day and remains a miracle of modern design 75 years on.

Built from steel and granite, the bridge has come to symbolise all that is best about the Tyneside industrial tradition and its history of engineering and innovation.

Spanning the Tyne

It was back in the late 19th century that the city fathers started talking about building a new Tyne Bridge to ease traffic congestion and provide a splendid new river crossing.

Span of the Tyne Bridge
The Tyne Bridge starts to take shape in 1928

But it wasn’t until 1924 that plans to build today's bridge started to take shape.

Work began in August 1925 and it took just three years to complete the giant structure.

The bridge was built like a ship, using shipbuilding techniques with rivets and panels which were welded together.

As the bridge arches started to appear, it was clear that this was a grand feat of engineering prowess.

'Spidermen' on the bridge

The bridge builders risked their lives high above the waters of the Tyne, scaling heights and structures with the agility of Spiderman.

Tyne Bridge under construction
The bridge was a single span structure so it did not obstruct river traffic

Perched over 80 feet above the river, the men worked without the benefit of safety harnesses and ropes. Their agility and ability to work at great heights was second to none.

Despite the dangers of the building work, only one worker died in what was to prove a mammoth task.

Nathaniel Collins was a scaffold erector, a very dangerous job. He fell a hundred feet from the bridge and hit the water, fracturing his skull.

His family remembers that he had worked as a ship's plater and then served in the First World War. "He was a man who knew no fear."

Tall tales

Workers building the Tyne Bridge
The bridge was built by an army of riveters

As far as we know none of the men who built the bridge are alive today but we do have the testament of their relatives.

Julie Fox's grandfather and father built the bridge - they called her dad 'Spider Wilson'.

She recalls how he walked along the skeletal frame of the bridge without any fear of the height or falling if he made one false move.

Health and safety issues weren't high on the agenda.

"I think it was very, very scary because they had no harnesses and they just used to walk along the big steel cables and everything," says Julie.

Newcastle versus Sydney


The total cost of the bridge was £1,200,000.

Built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough.

The road deck is 84 feet above the water.

The bridge has a 531 feet span.

The weight of the bridge is 7,112 metric tonnes.

The Tyne Bridge’s towers were built of Cornish granite and were designed as warehouses with five storeys.

Passenger and goods lifts were built in the towers to provide access to the Quayside. These are still in use today.

Buildings demolished to make way for the bridge -
the Goat Inn, the Earl of Durham, the Ridley Arms, the Steamboat Inn, Ray's lodging house, a powder mill, a pickle factory and a bank.

The bridge was originally painted green with special paint made by J. Dampney Co. of Gateshead. The same colours were used to paint the bridge for its Millennium year.

There's been much talk about who was first to complete this engineering feat with both Newcastle and Sydney vying for the honour of having 'the first Tyne Bridge'.

In reality Sydney was first to start work on its bridge and provided the template for the Tyne Bridge.

The Tyne Bridge was designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson who based their design on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

This in turn was derived its design from the Hell Gate Bridge in New York.

It’s long been thought that the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia was based on the Tyne Bridge.

This is not the case and a quick look at the dates proves the case.

Work started on the Sydney Bridge before building began on the Tyne Bridge.

The confusion arises because the Sydney Harbour Bridge took longer to complete due to its larger size.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge finally opened in 1932, three years after the Tyne Bridge.

Celebrating the Tyne Bridge

The bridge was completed and opened in 1928 by King George V and the Queen who were the first to use the roadway travelling in their Ascot landau.

Hundreds of people lined the quaysides to see the new modern marvel of the age and to cheer the royal opening party.

It was a day that was remembered for a very long time by those lucky enough to be there.

Workers on bridge span
Workers on the top span of the
Tyne Bridge

Today's bridge

Today the Tyne Bridge is renowned around the world, and rivals its counterpart - the Sydney Harbour Bridge - as one of the great bridges of the world.

It's even been celebrated in miniature form by the artist Chris Burden who designed an exact replica for the opening exhibition at the BALTIC in Gateshead in 2002.

It's a measure of the Tyne Bridge's lasting legacy that it still elicits so much passion, pride and power amongst Geordies and outsiders alike.

Happy birthday Tyne Bridge!

See also ...

BBC: Nation on Film
BBC Tyne: Tyne Bridge webcam

On the rest of the web
Tyne Bridge
Gateshead Council - Tyne Bridge history
Newcastle City Council

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