Union Bridge (Tweed)

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Union Bridge
Union Bridge
055167 union bridge.jpg
Union Bridge viewed from Scotland
Coordinates 55°45′9.3″N 2°6′24″W / 55.752583°N 2.10667°W / 55.752583; -2.10667Coordinates: 55°45′9.3″N 2°6′24″W / 55.752583°N 2.10667°W / 55.752583; -2.10667
Carries 1 lane of roadway
Crosses River Tweed
Locale Northumberland and Scottish Borders
Official name Union Bridge
Other name(s) Chain Bridge
Maintained by Northumberland County Council
Design Suspension bridge
Width 5.5 metres (18 ft)
Longest span 129 metres (423 ft)
Opened 26 July 1820

The Union Bridge (also Union Chain Suspension Bridge and Union Chain Bridge[1]) is a suspension bridge that spans the River Tweed between Horncliffe, Northumberland, England and Fishwick, Berwickshire, Scotland. It forms one route crossing the Anglo-Scottish border. When it opened in 1820 it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world with a span of 137 metres (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 oldest suspension bridge still carrying road traffic. It lies on Sustrans Route 1 and the Pennine Cycleway.

With the abolition of turnpike tolls in 1883, maintenance of the bridge passed to the Tweed Bridges Trust. When the Trust was wound up, the bridge became the responsibility of Scottish Borders Council and Northumberland County Council and it is now maintained by the County Council.[2] The bridge is a Category A listed building in Scotland[3] and a Grade I listed building in England. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument in both countries.

Before the opening of the Union Bridge, crossing the river at this point involved an 11-mile (18 km) round trip via Berwick-upon-Tweed downstream or a 20-mile (32 km) trip via Coldstream upstream. (Ladykirk and Norham Bridge did not open until 1888.)

Design and construction[edit]

The bridge 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 feet (34 m), 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. Traffic is now limited to one vehicle on the bridge at a time.

The bridge proposal received consent in July 1819, using an Act of Parliament that had been passed in 1802, and construction began on 2 August 1819. It opened on 26 July the following year, with an opening ceremony attended by the celebrated civil engineer Robert Stevenson 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. Until 1885, tolls were charged for crossing the bridge; the toll cottage, being at the English end, was demolished in 1955.


Temporary replacement hanger.

In addition to the 1902 addition of cables, the bridge has been strengthened and refurbished on many occasions. The bridge deck was substantially renewed in 1871, and again in 1974, with the chains reinforced at intervals throughout its life.

The bridge was closed to motor vehicles for several months during 2007. A newspaper report available online (see external links) indicates that the closure happened shortly before 12 April 2007 and was due to one of the bridge hangers breaking. The affected hanger has temporarily been replaced with threaded bar to allow the bridge to reopen to motor vehicles.

In December 2008 the bridge was closed to traffic as a result of a landslide.[1] In March 2013 it was reported that the bridge was proposed to be closed because of a lack of funds to maintain it.[4] In October 2014, it was reported that local enthusiasts and activists had started a campaign to have the bridge fully restored in time for its bicentenary in 2020.[5]



External links[edit]