Heritage Locations

Union Chain Bridge

The world's longest suspension bridge when constructed.


Period of construction:
1800 - 1849

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Chain Bridge, Horncliffe, Berwick on Tweed TD15 2XT

TD15 2XT

Nearest Town:
Berwick on Tweed

Heritage Centre:

The Union Chain Bridge is a suspended-deck suspension bridge that spans the River Tweed between Horncliffe, Northumberland, and Fishwick in Scotland. When it opened in 1820 it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world with a span of 137 m (449 ft), and the first vehicular bridge of its type in the United Kingdom. Although work started on the Menai Suspension Bridge first, Union Bridge was completed earlier. Today it is the world's oldest suspension bridge still carrying road traffic. (See also entry for Gattonside Suspension Bridge).

The bridge has been maintained by the Tweed Bridges Trust, since the abolition of turnpike tolls in 1883.
Its longevity may owe something to the fact that it was designed by a Royal Navy officer, Captain Samuel Brown. Brown's first design for the bridge was prepared in 1817, and reviewed by the eminent civil engineer John Rennie. Brown had built an experimental suspension bridge with a span of 110 ft, which impressed Rennie. Nonetheless, Rennie asked for changes to the design of the stone abutments and towers.

Brown would have been familiar with the fact that a wooden sailing ship is not totally rigid and designed the bridge on the same basis. Originally the deck was supported by three chains of iron bar links on each side. In 1902 a pair of wire rope cables was added. The decking is of timber and the whole structure is designed to flex slightly under load. Standing on it when a vehicle crosses is reminiscent of being on a ship. For this reason, traffic is now limited to one vehicle on the bridge at any one time.

The bridge proposal, received consent in July 1819 using an Act of Parliament that had been passed in 1802, and construction began 2 August 1819. It opened on 26 July the following year, with an opening ceremony attended by Robert Stephenson among others. Captain Brown tested the bridge in a curricle towing twelve carts, before a crowd of about 700 spectators crossed. The final cost was £6,449.

In addition to the 1902 addition of cables, the bridge has been strengthened and refurbishment on many occasions. The bridge deck was substantially renewed in 1871, and again in 1974, with the chains reinforced at intervals throughout its life. It is aGrade I Listed Building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It lies on Sustrans Route 1 and the Pennine Cycleway.


Drewry, C.S., A Memoir of Suspension Bridges: Comprising a History of their Origin, BiblioBazaar, ISBN -10 05547 25657 (2008)

Melan, Josef, Theory of Arches and Suspension Bridges (1913, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN-10: 1437437125 (2008)

Paxton, R. and Ruddock, T., A Heritage of Bridges Between Edinburgh, Kelso and Berwick , Institution of Civil Engineers, Edinburgh and East of Scotland Association, ASIN: B001OPGJZ0, (1980)

Peters, Tom, Transitions in Engineering: Guillaume Henri Dufour and the Early 19th Century Cable Suspension Bridges, Birkhauser, ISBN-10: 3764319291 (1987)

Steinman, David, A Practical Treatise on Suspension Bridges: Their Design, Construction and Erection (1922), Kessinger Publishing, ISBN-10: 1436606446 (2008)

Steinman, David, Suspension Bridges and Cantilevers, BiblioBazaar, ISBN-10: 0559673132 (2008) 

Opening Times:
Permanently open.

How To Find:
By road: Off A698 at Horncliffe, west of Berwick on Tweed. 


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