The Bridges of the Tees
Some bridges take you across a river, others tell a story of the times in which they were built and the people whose lives they transformed. The Tees is blessed with bridges steeped in our ancient, medieval, ecclesiastical and industrial history.
Barnard Castle Bridge in the snow
Barnard Castle Bridge
There is no definitive answer as to when Barnard Castle Bridge was built. It is accepted that much of the Gothic-arched crossing we see today was built in 1569, but parts of the structure may in fact be older.
The date of 1569 coincides with the siege of the castle during the 'Rising of the North', when the walls in the outer ward of Barnard Castle itself were breached, meaning any bridge there would also have been in need of serious restoration.
Certainly, by 1569, Barnard Castle had been a major market town for centuries and had served as an important crossing point over the Tees since Roman times, when a road was built at a ford in the river nearby.
Piercebridge in winter
About ten miles downriver from Barnard Castle is Piercebridge and while the bridge that crosses the Tees here is impressive in its own right, the real interest has always been in a bridge long gone, but whose ancient foundations are still visible today.
Piercebridge was home to a Roman Fort and bridge spanning the Tees and their remains are still important historical monuments today.
Croft Bridge is where, historically, each new Bishop of Durham was greeted by the master of nearby Sockburn Manor (since the preferred spot, Neasham Ford, was so often flooded) and ceremonially handed the sword supposedly used by Conyers to slay the legendary Sockburn worm.
Dating from 1356, the bridge marks the boundary between the counties of Durham and Yorkshire. It is also overlooked by the rectory where the Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll grew up and which it is thought he gained the inspiration for many of his characters.
Yarm Viaduct (background)
Built in 1848 without the aid of mechanical excavators or cranes, Yarm viaduct was still completed within four years. Blocks were hauled into position by teams of horses and lifted using a horse-drawn pulley.
More than seven and a half million bricks went into building it. Designed by Thomas Grainger and John Bourne of Edinburgh, the viaduct was opened in May 1852 at the height of the rail revolution.
Infinity Bridge during construction
The newest crossing over the Tees, Infinity Bridge instantly changed the skyline over Stockton. The arches of Infinity Bridge, which links Teesdale in Thornaby with Stockton’s still unbuilt North Shore development, were lifted into place in 2008.
This key piece of the plan to regenerate Teesside at the start of the New Millennium was being constructed amid the desperate panic of the financial crisis that marked the end of the mass credit era.
The tees Barrage
The Tees Barrage
When it opened in 1995, The Tees Barrage had taken four years to build and required 650 tonnes of steel, when its four massive flood gates (each weighing fifty tonnes) and the hydraulic pistons that operate them were taken into account.
In November 2001, the £1.5m River Tees Watersports Centre opened next to the Barrage, using the different water levels either side of the gates to operate a whitewater course.
This bridge is seen by many as the visible reminder of Margaret Thatcher's plans to regenerate the Tees following the industrial decline of the 1980s and her famous 'walk in the wilderness' through the wasteland of derelict industrial sites that lined the river.
A19 Tees Flyover
The Tees Flyover
Opening in 1975, this mass of steel and concrete carries the A19 over the River Tees and the A66.
Since it was built, the viaduct has suffered terribly from corrosion and has been under an almost constant programme of maintenance since the 1980s.
The bridge marks the crossing point of the two roads that changed Teesside forever, the A66 and the A19, and its structural problems are perhaps a monument to the era of industrial conflict and the three day working week during which it was built.
Newport Bridge at night
The downstream bridges over the Tees are defined by the river’s industrial heritage and unusually low banks. When, in 1925 a new bridge was needed upstream of the Transporter, it had to be able to carry the heaviest vehicles, and allow ships heading to Stockton underneath.
As a result, when Newport Bridge opened in 1934, it was the first vertical lift bridge in Britain, and the heaviest of its type in the world. When river traffic ended, an Act of Parliament was needed to allow the council to stop staffing the Grade II listed bridge, which has not been lifted since 1990.
Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge
Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge
Again, because of the need to get large vessels down the river, when Port Clarence on the north bank of the Tees was linked with the young town of Middlesbrough on the south bank in 1911, it was done by a river level gondola, suspended from above.
The bridge that carries it dominates the Teesside skyline and has become the defining icon of the region. The transporter bridge still runs today and has been featured on the US news channel NBC, when one of the channel's news anchors bungee jumped from the top live on American Television.
It was also the centrepiece of the return series of the hit British comedy, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which told the fictional story of a group of builders contracted to dismantle the bridge and reconstruct it in the USA.
last updated: 16/01/2009 at 11:01
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