Royal Border Bridge

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Royal Border Bridge
Royal Border Bridge, Berwick on Tweed.jpg
Royal Border Bridge
Coordinates55°46′21″N 2°00′48″W / 55.7724°N 2.0132°W / 55.7724; -2.0132
OS grid referenceNT992532
CarriesEast Coast Main Line
CrossesRiver Tweed
Other name(s)
  • Berwick Viaduct
  • Tweed Viaduct
OwnerNetwork Rail
Maintained byNetwork Rail
Heritage statusGrade I listed[1]
Network Rail Bridge IDECM7-195
Preceded byA1 River Tweed Bridge
Followed byRoyal Tweed Bridge
DesignArch bridge
MaterialBrick, faced with stone
Total length659 m (2,162 ft)
Height38.4 m (126 ft)
No. of spans28
Piers in water13
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks2
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrified25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE
DesignerRobert Stephenson
Engineering design byThomas Elliot Harrison
Constructed byMcKay & Blackstock
Construction start15 May 1847
Construction end1850
OpenedMarch 1850 (1850-03)
Royal Border Bridge is located in Northumberland
Royal Border Bridge
Royal Border Bridge
Location in Northumberland

Royal Border Bridge spans the River Tweed between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Tweedmouth in Northumberland, England. It is a Grade I listed[1] railway viaduct built between 1847 and 1850, when it was opened by Queen Victoria. It was designed by Robert Stephenson for the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway and remains in regular use as part of the East Coast Main Line. Despite its name, the bridge does not span the border between England and Scotland, which is approximately 3 miles (5 km) further north.

The bridge is 659 metres (2,162 ft) long. It is constructed in stone with brick soffits to the arches. It has 28 arches, each spanning 18 m (60 ft). The railway is carried 37 m (121 ft) above the river level.[2] In 1989, the East Coast Main Line was electrified.[3] Between 1993 and 1996, the bridge was repaired for the first time in a Railtrack-led project, which was partially funded by English Heritage.


The Royal Border Bridge was built by the Newcastle and Berwick Railway (N&BR), which was formed in 1845 under the control of George Hudson. The line was authorised by an Act of Parliament and construction had commenced by July 1845. Much of the line was completed within two years but work on several structures, including the Royal Border Bridge, had barely begun.[4]

The line required the construction of several major structures and the Royal Border Bridge took the line over the River Tweed close to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. In 1847, Hudson was instrumental in the merger of the N&BR with the York and Newcastle Railway (Y&NR) to form the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway (YN&BR) whose line would eventually be continuous between London and Edinburgh.[4]

The company's chief engineer was Robert Stephenson. Thomas Elliot Harrison engineered the route supervised by Stephenson who had a hands-on role in the design of the key bridges along the route, although some detailed work was performed by others.[4]

The viaduct, which is built on a gentle curve, is a conventional masonry structure.[3] It has 28 arches, 15 of which are over land south of the River Tweed and 13 over the river. The arches are set out in two groups separated by a stop pier. The bridge has brickwork soffits on the underside of the arches, and is covered by stone cladding. The bridge is 38.4 m (126 ft) at the deepest point of the riverbed. It is 659 m (2,162 ft) long and each arch span measures 18.6 m (61 ft). The bridge contract covered a mile length including the earth embankments.[4]

On 15 May 1847, the foundation stone for the bridge, which was called the Tweed Viaduct, was laid. Cumberland-based McKay & Blackstock was appointed to built the bridge and George Barclay Bruce, a former apprentice of Stephenson's, was the resident engineer responsible for overseeing the day to day work. The Royal Border Bridge required eight million cubic feet (227,000 m3) of stone and the arch soffits required 2.5 million bricks. Techniques employed in the construction of Newcastle's High Level Bridge were used on the bridge. Upwards of 2,700 men were needed to build the bridge.[3]

The bridge's deep foundation were driven into the bedrock, which was covered by about 12 m (39 ft) of gravel, using a patented Nasmyth steam-powered pile driver. The foundations were constructed inside deep cofferdams and steam-driven pumps kept out water.[4][3]

The first elements completed were the 15 land arches and the stop pier which buttressed the remaining arches. The river piers were shaped at water level so that sheets of ice in the river would be broken-up on contact and iron bars were embedded into the masonry for greater strength. These were covered by alterations made to accommodate an extra track.[4]


While the bridge was under construction, temporary timber viaducts were used by early train services and construction traffic.[4] The line was opened before the Royal Border Bridge was completed. The bridge was scheduled to open in July 1849 but was not ready until March 1850.[3] On 29 August 1850, the bridge was officially opened in a ceremony officiated by Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert and the Queen consented for it to be named the Royal Border Bridge.[4][3]

In 1989, during the East Coast Main Line electrification programme, the bridge was modified by British Rail to accommodate electrification gantries.[3] As the Royal Border Bridge had Grade 1 listed status, the overhead line infrastructure was designed for reduced visual impact and was approved by the Royal Fine Art Commission.[3]

After having stood for 143 years on the East Coast Main Line, the bridge underwent a maintenance programme in 1993. Restoration, focused on repairs to the 15 land-based arches, was undertaken as a joint project by Railtrack and English Heritage.[3]

In early 2010, plans to install a night-time illumination scheme as a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Robert Stephenson were mooted.[5] Scheduled to be operational by November 2010, weather conditions, particularly ice, damaged underwater cables, delaying the illumination preventing some lights from functioning. In January 2012, Northumberland County Council applied for a permanent lighting system to be installed.[6] In 2016, the bridge was fitted with colour-changing lights; the installation was completed in time for the 160th anniversary.[7][8]

Royal Border Bridge with 25 of the 28 arches in view
Royal Border Bridge with 27 of the 28 arches in view
A panorama from up-river, showing all 28 arches of the Royal Border Bridge over the River Tweed


  1. ^ a b Historic England. "Royal Border Bridge  (Grade I) (1211052)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  2. ^ Bruce, George Barclay (1851). "Description of the Royal Border Bridge over the River Tweed, on the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway". Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 10: 219–44.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Royal Border Bridge". Network Rail Virtual Archive. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Royal Border Bridge". Engineering Timelines. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  5. ^ Black, David (4 January 2010). "Royal Border Bridge plan lights up tourism hopes". The Journal. Newcastle upon Tyne: Trinity Mirror. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  6. ^ Daniel, Brian (6 January 2012). "Berwick Royal Border Bridge illumination plans submitted". The Journal. Newcastle upon Tyne: Trinity Mirror. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Royal Border Bridge Illuminations.", Retrieved: 25 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Royal Border Bridge Lighting Installation.", June 2016.

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