Newcastle Swing Bridge
The world's largest swing bridge of its type
Period of construction:
1850 - 1899
Transport Trust plaque:
Bridge Street, Newcastle NE1 8BS
The first bridge across the River Tyne at this site was constructed of wood and stone in c. 120 AD by the Emperor Hadrian. It was known as Pons Aelii, Aelius being the atronymic of the Emperor. This bridge stood until 1248 when it was destroyed by a fire that consumed much of the town. The second or Mediaeval Bridge was of stone construction and stood from 1320 until 1771 when a section was washed away in the great flood of 1771. The remaining portions had to be removed and the third bridge, constructed of stone with nine arches, was completed in 1781. This third bridge prevented sizeable vessels from reaching the W G Armstrong & Co works up river at Elswick and it was demolished in 1868.The Tyne Improvement Commission replaced it with a two-span swing bridge, which openedin 1876; it was built and paid for by Armstrongs.
The foundations of the Swing bridge are concrete filled cast iron cylinders set on bed rock, with granite piers resting upon the cylinders. The iron superstructure consists of a double cantilevered swinging section 86 m (281 ft. in length and weighing 1200 tons. It is the largest of its type in the world. The span rotates about a central pivot supported by a ring of rollers similar to a large gun turret which Armstrong's were well used to manufacturing. The controls for the steam-powered swinging mechanism lay in a cupola perched on top of the centre of the bridge, enabling it to be turned through 180 degrees in just 3 minutes.
Electric pumps replaced the steam pumping mechanism in 1959 but the original hydraulic motors remain in use. With the decline in marine traffic, the bridge now only occasionally needs to be turned, usually for river sightseeing craft.
It was completed and opened for road traffic without any ceremony on the 15th June 1876 and was first used on the 17th July 1876 when the "Europa" of the Italian Navy, passed up to the Elswick Ordnance Works to take on board a gun weighing 100 tons for the Italian Government.
Trade was greatly stimulated after the Swing Bridge opened. Armstrong's Elswick shpyard commenced in 1883 and various other works benefited and coal shipments from northwest Durham became much easier and facilitated the opening of new staiths at Dunston in 1893 and 1903. With the closure of the staiths first at West Dunston in 1934 and then Derwenthaugh in 1960, the number of openings was considerably reduced. When Dunston staiths closed in 1980, openings became infrequent, although swings have increased a little in recent years as pleasure boats pass through.
Addison, Sir William, The Old Roads of England, Batsford, ISBN 0713417145 (1980)
Armstrong, Baron W. G., The Industrial Resources of the District of the Three Northern Rivers, the Tyne, Wear, and Tees: Read Before the British Association in 1863, BiblioBazaar, ISBN-10: 1143076117 (2010)
La Rue, Benjamin Franklin, A Graphical Method for Swing-Bridges, BiblioBazaar, ISBN-10: 0554941821 (2008)
Manders, Frank, Potts, Richard & Peacock, Graeme, Crossing The Tyne, Tyne Bridge Publishing, ISBN-10: 1857951212 (2001)
Permanently viewable and in dailyÂ use
How To Find:
By road: On A167, between the High Level and Tyne BridgesÂ
By rail: Approx 1 km from Newcastle Station
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