17th July 1981. Closing the Gap.
The Forth Road Bridge was opened in 1964; the relevant parliamentary Act was passed in 1947 and in 1955 even a tunnel was considered.
Today in 1981 the Queen opened the Humber Bridge, at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world. As always cost exceeded expectations at (£91 million) and was five years late. (1)
Here again plans had been considered decades before, in the 1930.s, with work begun in 1972.
Less than a 100 years previously, March 1890 saw the opening of the Benjamin Baker and John Fowler designed Forth Railway Bridge, at Queensferry near Edinburgh. (2)
‘The greatest feat of engineering that the world has ever seen’, boasted the Times on the day, but designer William Morris damned it as, ‘the supremist specimen of ugliness’.
The massive cantilevers of the bridge were built to withstand winds of the kind which destroyed the Tay Bridge on the 28th December 1879, then the longest in the world. It resulted in the use of ‘all-steel’ or wrought-iron in place of cast iron used on that bridge.
One of the ironies of history is that the designer of the Tay Bridge, Thomas Bouch was knighted in the same ceremony in 1879 as Henry Bessemer the man who had invented steel making in 1856. Six months after the knighting, Bouch’s bridge collapsed.(3)
The problem was that steel bridges were illegal in Britain at the time being regarded as an experimental metal. Twelve years after the Tay disaster, a collapse on the London-Brighton line brought a Board of Trade Report recommending wrought iron or steel for girders.
None of these bridges would have been constructed but for the skills of the main contractor Sir William Arrol founded in Dunn Street Dalmarnock, Glasgow in 1873, later to expand into cranes by acquiring the Parkhead Crane Works.
However they were acquired by Clarke Chapman, founded in Gateshead in 1864, which moved into crane construction. Dalmarnock closed in 1969. They went on to acquire boiler makers of Wolverhampton, John Thompson in 1970, and International Combustion in 1974, (4)
(1) The Official Handbook of 1974 records ‘A £26 million bridge across the River Humber with a span of 4,626 ft. (1,410 m.) longer than any existing bridge span in the world-is to be completed between 1976 and 1977. The towers are 510.ft.
(2) On 4th March 1890.
(3) Sir George Stokes (Bart), the physicist was involved in investigation of the Tay Bridge disaster and served on the Royal Commission on the uses of cast-iron as well as the Dee Bridge disaster in May 1847.
George Biddell Airy the Astronomer Royal had supplied stress statistics and was to be criticized as a result. Before 1878 there had been no bridge over the Tay. Had the bridge been made of Bessemer’s steel it might have survived the storm.
(4) Clark Chapman merged with Reyrolle Parsons who in turn were acquired by Rolls-Royce in 1989, who in 2000 sold out to Langley Holdings Ltd.