Cross-border suspension bridge marks 200 years

The Union Chain Bridge, crossing the border between England and Scotland over the River Tweed,  is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone this Friday .

The Friends of the Union Bridge, a charity set up to promote the conservation of the bridge – the world’s oldest vehicular chain suspension bridge – are hosting a ceremony in view of the bridge to mark this occasion, closely following the format of the original ceremony 200 years ago.

The iconic engineering structure was designed by Captain Samuel Brown and when completed in 1820 was the longest suspension bridge in the world until the opening of Thomas Telford’s bridge over the Menai Straits in Wales, in 1826.

A commemorative stone has been cut by the renowned local firm of stone masons, Hutton Stone to mark this occasion and will be unveiled at ceremony overlooking the bridge two hundred years to the day of the original ceremony.

The bridge is jointly owned by Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council. They have been joined by the community group, The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, and by Museums Northumberland to submit an ambitious £8.1m plan to conserve the bridge and deliver a dynamic community and education programme on both sides of the border over the course of the next few years.

A second round funding application for £3.1m has been made to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) with a decision expected in September.

The two councils have committed match funding totalling £3.4m towards the scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by The Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.

Through securing National Lottery Heritage Fund support, it is anticipated the bridge project can deliver numerous cultural, heritage, educational and community benefits.

The Chairman of the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, Robbie Hunter said: ‘The 26th July marks an important date for this much loved engineering marvel.

‘When it was built it kick started a revolution in bridge building, not only was it cheaper and quicker to build than a masonry bridge, but importantly it could cross larger spans. It was the longest bridge in the world when completed and there is a direct link between it and such iconic structures as the Menai, Brooklyn, Golden Gate, Humber and the current longest suspension bridge, the phenomenal Akashi bridge (some 15 times longer than the Union Chain Bridge).

‘It is important not only to this region but internationally that we save this bridge. Its conservation will act as a significant educational tool and economic stimulus to the Borders. To see its demise would be unthinkable and a disaster. We must save it for future generations to enjoy and cherish.’

Simultaneously to the unveiling of the stone, a plaque will be unveiled at the site of the Brown Lenox foundry in Pontypridd by Matthew Jones , Chair of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Wales, where the chains were made for the bridge in 1819. The factory was closed in the 1980s and its site is now a Sainsburys supermarket.

The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge are also marking this historic occasion by furthering connections with the surviving bridges that have at one time held the title of the longest suspension bridge in the world. It is hoped that this will foster friendship, fellowship and mutual recognition between this select group of bridges and promote better understanding and appreciation of how these structures have brought communities together around the world.

The first anniversary communication has already been received from the Japan Society of Civil Engineers. Dr Yukihiro Tsukada, Executive Director of JSCE has written: ‘On behalf of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers , we would like to express our sincere congratulations on the occasion of the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Union Chain Bridge by the unveiling of a memorial stone tablet on the 26th July 2019 , two hundred years after the first stone was laid.

‘The history of the modern suspension bridge including the Akashi Bridge in Japan, the longest suspension bridge in the world, has been built on the accumulation of past technology such as the development of iron material and design and construction technology.

‘The Union Chain Bridge has outstanding historical value in demonstrating the history of the development of suspension bridges in the world and is worthy to be conserved and strengthened for the future. We hope that its value is widely recognized by society and that the planned restoration works will soon get under way.’